Smart Kids Being Dumb

I homeschooled my two boys, Noah (17) and Collin (13) from 2003 to 2009 before putting them in school. The school thing did not go well. Collin got on the B honor roll once which was the extent of either of their success with the whole thing. Noah seemed to think that not getting straight Fs was a high enough goal for him. Collin was bullied by both students and teachers. Noah contented himself with trying to make everyone scared of him so they would leave him alone. This last year I allowed them both to start doing online schooling which came with its own new set of problems, but they are finally getting the hang of it. Of course, for those who always KNEW I was making a mistake with homeschooling them, their lack of performance is proof-positive that homeschooling them was a horrible mistake which has most likely ruined their ability to become productive human beings who don’t live in someone’s basement playing video games.
If I had it to do all over again, I would never have put them in school. I would have gone straight to online schools once I could no longer continue homeschooling them myself. Noah had been on track to finish high school a year early had we continued homeschooling and now will barely eek out graduating. Collin discovered that he really was smarter than most people, including a lot of adults, and became nearly insufferable. After being in school, both of them are extremely concerned about the moral and intellectual development of their younger sisters who are just finishing kindergarten and 1st grade this week. They were not impressed with the end result of the school system to say the least.

The best of the week . . .

According to infalible me!  Ha!

I’ve done more writing than reading this week, so this is a bit light, but here goes:

How children’s  play is being sneakily redefined.  I totally agree with this from Alfie Kohn:

1. Play is being redefined to include things that are clearly not free, imaginative play.

2. Younger and older children ought to have the chance to play together.

3.  Play isn’t just for children.

4.  The point of play is that it has no point.

5.  Play isn’t the only alternative to “work.”

When congress does something so idiotic that the people who create internet memes take a break from ridiculing Edward Cullins and valorizing Chuck Norris to say “WTF?”, the people are not amused.  US Congress Rules That Pizza is a Vegetable.

An old homeschool blogger buddy, Henry Cate at Why Homeschool shares an article on the surprising differences between elite achievers and others:

  • The average players are working just as many hours as the elite players (around 50 hours a week spent on music),
  • but they’re not dedicating these hours to the right type of work (spending almost 3 times less hours than the elites on crucial deliberate practice),
  • and furthermore, they spread this work haphazardly throughout the day. So even though they’re not doing more work than the elite players, they end up sleeping less and feeling more stressed. Not to mention that they remain worse at the violin.

Kids with high IQs more likely to become teens and adults who use drugs:

The results may seem surprising at first glance, but the researchers noted that they do fit some established patterns. “High-IQ individuals have also been shown to score highly on tests of stimulation seeking and openness to experience,” they wrote, and it could be that “illegal drugs are better at fulfilling a desire for novelty and stimulation.”

Hmmmm . . .

As I listened to this interview with Mattieu Richard, I kept saying, “yes! this man gets it.”  After a while I started getting a bit irritated that a buddhist monk was sharing some amazing things with the world while we Christians support a cottage industry dedicated to convincing ourselves that the world is only 6000 years old.

Did you know that in Ezekial 16:17 God says that the hebrews had taken the wealth he gave them, made a jewel encrusted dildo with the gold and silver and pleasured themselves with it?  In 1 Samuel 6, the neighbors of Isreal, who had stolen the ark of the covenant, made models of their tumors with gold and sent them, along with models of rats made of gold back to Isreal along with the Ark. Can you imagine? “That there piece of gold looks like a goiter I had once!”  The bible is the most interesting book I own.

From Slate: Four Excellent Habits – The subtle skills that will give you a permanent edge:

Principle 1: Look for bright spots

Principle 2: Find the right gravity

Principle 3: Maintain your bridges

Principle 4: Avoid following the herd

And finally, I have decided that my 12 year old son Collin is much easier to understand and get along with if you just accept that he’s a 16 year old and an 8 year old living in the same body.  And the 16 year old doesn’t like being treated like an 8 year old.

If you blog and have something you’d like me to read and maybe (almost certainly!) include in my weekly list, email the link to me at with “best of the week” in the subject line.

Principle 1: Look for bright spots

Homework in kindergarten

An example of my 1st grader's homework

So, I have my kids in the local public schools which has real drawbacks and benefits.  One of the things I am struggling with is when – if ever – to push back over some the homework issue.  Like has happened at a lot of schools, homework has creeped down into earlier and earlier grades.  So, my 1st grader has nightly homework and my kindergartener has homework once or twice a week.

There are so many problems with this.  First of all, there has been a bunch of research into the matter and homework has no benefits – not educational, in fostering good work habits – until at least junior high.  The problem is that this conflicts with deeply ingrained ideas about the importance of starting good habits early, the need to practice those habits, etc.  So although it is literally a fact that homework for elementary kids has no benefit, people think that it must and won’t let go of it.  When confronted, people either deny reality or fall back on another admirable goal: parental involvement.  Which leads to the next problem . . .

I am very involved in my kids life without your help, thank you very much!  And I don’t particularly feel the need or desire to document the time I spend involved with them.  And what if we go two weeks without reading together and then devour 4 books in a weekend?  I don’t need/want the schools making me feel like part of their job is to hold me accountable for reading to my kids!  The best predictor of whether a kid will be a reader is whether they see their parents reading and how many books are in the house – NOT whether I spend 20 minutes a day reading to them.  Needless to say I read on occassion (ha!  on ocassion.) and I have a few books in the house.  If I got nothing else right while homeschooling, at least I made readers.  I really don’t need or want the school’s help.  This is the one thing which I have held my ground on, I steadfastly refuse to document time spent reading to my kids – not for bribes of pizza or so my kid can get her gold star.  I’m not going to do it.

But it’s not just the tracking of minutes reading that is a problem.  It’s the homework itself.  The homework is BULLSHIT.  It would be much easier to settle into complacency over sending my kids to school rather than homeschooling if I didn’t actually have to confront the bad pedagogy and pointless drivel which passes for school curriculumn.  Not to mention that it’s pointless to have my daughter “read” the same story each night for a week when by the second night she is reciting it from memory.  This does nothing to help her learn to read.  (And don’t even get me started on spelling lists.)  Seriously, people – sending this crap home each day is not confidence inspiring.

It doesn't get better - an example of my 7th grader's homework

I’m struggling with how to handle this.  I don’t believe in telling my kids things that I know aren’t true, so it’s hard for me to try and convince them that homework actually has a point.  Mostly I just focus on the expectation of the teacher that it be done and the star that the teacher will put on her chart when it is done.  I did finally start sending the names of books Michaela read to me or other family members in lieu of reciting the week’s story from memory (I still let her do that when she wants to – memorization is an important skill.  But it doesn’t count as reading.)  I have started refusing to help her with worksheets like the one above and insist that she figure out what she’s supposed to be doing herself instead.  Do I say anything to the teachers?  I know its not really their fault – and they are so sweet and seem to be genuinely good teachers.  It’s not really even something a teacher can do anything about.  Sending home work with kids is something they are all expected to do.  But there is  pressure on my girls to conform and jump through the hoops to get the grades (good skills to have, but hardly what the main focus should be about).  I want them to be successful in school, but I don’t want them to fall for bullshit claptrap like doing things simply to collect gold stars instead of to learn.  I know that my and even my daughter’s teacher’s power to effect change is pretty limited.  Schools are inherently limited in how flexible they can be.  Other parents no doubt completely disagree with my suggestions.  Curriculum is a huge investment and can’t be tossed on a whim.  Etc, etc, etc.  So . . . anyone have any suggestions, insights, experiences to share?  I’m all ears!


Let’s talk about sex, baby!

Note: A few years back I did some writing for a now defunct Christian magazine.  I never put these articles up here because the magazine owns the rights to them, but now that they are defunct, well, I’m going to share!

In the early ‘90s Salt-n-Peppa famously sang “Let’s talk about sex, baby” and boy, oh boy do we take their exhortations to heart.  Sex is everywhere.  Even young children are constantly barraged with images, information and messages about sex.

Advertisers and entertainers are busy talking to your kids about sex – are you?  If not, it’s time to get started.

The reasons people avoid talking with their kids about sex are myriad: squeamishness, fear of saying the wrong things, embarrassment over their own failures.  Unfortunately, there is a whole world out there which isn’t embarrassed to talk to your kids about sex and they don’t care if what they have to say is right or not.   With so much noise, you can’t afford not to be in on the conversation.

If the idea of talking with your kids about sex is off-putting, consider something reassuring: your children need good, accurate information about human reproduction, but they can get that out of a book.  A lecture explaining the function of “Tab A” and “Slot B” isn’t what they need most from you.  What they need most from you is discussions about human sexuality.  They need to hear what is and isn’t OK and why.  They need talk about love, commitment and purity.   They need an ongoing discussion with Mom and Dad about what it means to be a healthy, Godly sexual person.

This may seem like an impossible task which pits our cultural milieu against God’s unbending plan for sex.  However, you and God have more influence than you might think.  Polls asking teens and their parents what they think about sex have consistently found that parents and God come out better than might be expected.  A recent survey done by The National Campaign to Prevent Teen Pregnancy found that the number of teens who listed “parents” as having the greatest influence over their decisions regarding sex outnumbered those picking the next five choices combined.  Additionally, 90% of teens say that providing a strong message in support of abstinence is important.   71% also think that religious leaders have a role in teaching about sex.[1]   Your kids are listening and open to God’s message.

What should you say to your kids and when?   We would do well to head God’s words in Deuteronomy 6:7 “Impress [these commandments] on your children. Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up.”  Ideally, your conversation should start as soon as they ask questions about babies and notice differences between men and women and continue on through to adulthood.  This is certainly a different approach than the traditional “birds and bees” talk at adolescence.  However, a billboard along your path advertising “Gentlemen’s” Clubs doesn’t care about your child’s tender age.  Don’t wait until everyone else has had their say to speak up.

As to what to say to your kids, these core principles should guide you:

  • Stay positive.  God created sex as a beautiful gift, not something dirty or dangerous when used within the boundaries he proscribes.
  • Stay biblical.  God created sex for marriage.  Period.
  • Encourage the avoidance of temptation.  The enemy loves to use our God given desires to harm us.  When we play with temptations, we are cooperating with that mission.
  • Teach God’s superior vision of masculinity.  Almost any male is capable of virility.  However it takes real manliness to practice respect and self-restraint.
  • Teach God’s superior vision of femininity.  A woman who gives her body away will always find someone to tell her she’s beautiful.  A woman with strength and character will be found beautiful without giving her body away.
  • Allow for God’s mercy.  Romans 3:23-24 says “All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified freely by his grace. . .”  If you speak condemnation over those who fall short, your child will see you as hard of heart and close his ears to your words.  God freely offers grace – you should to.

Whether your child is 6 or 16, there’s already a conversation about sex going on.  Make sure you’re in on the discussion!

[1] Bill Albert, (2007).  With One Voice: America’s Teens and Adults Sound Off About Teen Pregnancy.WashingtonD.C.: National Campaign to Prevent Teen Pregnancy.



Today I’m thinking about school – Update

Last week, I wrote about my irate child who was very unhappy about being back at the local public school.  As I basically said, I can’t say that I blame him.  But, I have been uncomfortable with the idea of him returning to homeschooling because I still think he could have a good school experience.  So, here’s the update:

After thinking about it for a while and talking with the school principal to get his take on what the core of the issue might be, I decided that my son has not ever reconciled himself to the concept of necessary evils.  And that this was not a problem that started with or was limited to being at school.  So, I talked with the boy about it. 

When I asked him how he thought we should respond to necessary evils he said, “fight them?”  Ding!  Ding!  Ding!  We’ve found the problem!  So, we talked about how there will always be necessary evils and its rare that we can do anything about them.  And how middle school is pretty much a giant jumble of necessary evils all gathered in one place.  Which makes it the perfect place for him to learn this lesson. 

He decided that although he doesn’t like it, if I felt so strongly that this was a problem he needed to master, he would stop his campaign to go back to homeschooling – for now.  I agreed that if I saw that he had learned to deal with necessary evils in a healthy way, we could revisit the issue.  But I’m pretty sure that once he stops fighting and freaking out over all the dumb things that just can’t be changed, he will start to adjust perfectly well. 

So . . . alls well that ends well.  for now!

BTW Just because I know some people are so enamored with their own black and white view of the world, I am perfectly well aware that I can just make my kids do what they are supposed to do.  And I do that.  All the time.  (See the part where I forced him to stay in school and then go back to begin with.)  However, my kids are fellow human beings.  They deserve to have their feelings and ideas dealt with respectfully and with compassion.  And I think it’s very important not just to teach my kids to do the right things, but how to be the sort of people God designed them to be.  Making my kids do what I say – even when they protest – is EASY.  Teaching them how to approach and think about life is much harder, much more important and much more profitable to all involved.  So yes, I do discuss things with my kids and getting them to understand and choose wisely for themselves is central to my concept of being a decent parent.  Which is why this was ever a topic for discussion.  Just an FYI for those of you who might be tempted to offer opinions because you already know all the answers.

Today I am thinking about school

It’s the start of a new school year and 2 of my children are happy to be going to school, 1 is irate at having to go to school and 1 is happy to be starting online-schooling just as soon as his computer arrives.  My irate child went to school last year, was miserable and comforted himself with the idea that he would not, would not, would not go back again.  But I sent him back anyway.  I think he could do well in school.  I think he could make friends.  I can’t believe that there isn’t one other kid in the school who would like my son as a friend.  And everything he is complaining about is pretty normal: dumb rules, unfair teachers, kids who are obnoxious and mean.

Here’s the dilemma I am wrestling with: these are all normal parts of middle school, but are they acceptable?  Is my son who is having a hissy fit saying, “I don’t care if this is normal for these people.  It’s stupid and idiotic and I don’t want anything to do with it” actually speaking out of wisdom?  He gets accused all the time of not being willing to just suck it up and deal with it.  Which isn’t entirely fair; he sucks it up and deals with it and keeps putting one foot in front of the other.  He did it all last year.  I do make him do chores and be nice to his sisters.  But he just refuses to learn to do it happily or quietly.  Like I told the middle school principal this morning, if he figures out a way to get him to do that, let me know because nothing I’ve done has worked.  He’s gotten much less obnoxious about his protests and more willing to try things your way rather than trying to walk away from an unpleasant situation.  And honestly, as he grows up, I think he will have to learn to be more realistic, tactful and less emotional, but not being willing to quietly take crap will serve him well.

So, I don’t know what to do.  The kid has to learn to make peace with necessary evils at some point.  And I hate to respond to his near-hysteria by just saying, “fine – whatever you want.”  (He wants to be allowed to do online homeschooling.)  But I really empathize with his struggle to deal with the necessary evils that are particular to middle school. They are not the sort of things which have useful parallels or would even be allowed to take place in the real world.  So why is it OK for me to insist that my kid go through them just cuz that’s the way it is?  I dunno . . .

This cartoon is so right for my irate child – not only does he hate school, but he taught himself to read using Calvin and Hobbes books.  Perhaps reading materials with less anti-school bias would have been better?  LOL

All Praise the Kids?

Interesting story in the NY Magazine this weekend about how praising kids harms and sometimes helps them.  Much of the research about praise isn’t new to those of us to pay attention to such things, but for many people the reality of how praise can help and harm kids runs counter to what we’ve been taught to believe.

The first thing that researchers have discovered is that when we praise kids insincerely (ie giving everyone a medal for participation rather than for achievement), we lose a lot of credibility.  The kids know they haven’t done anything special and view all praise as suspect.  Which actually makes even genuine praise far less effective.  Often kids will decide that the only messages which can be trusted are those which are critical.  Which (as some of us have learned the hard way) can be a problem because not all criticism is accurate and often kids haven’t been taught how to deal productively with criticism anyway.   So you get a kid who discounts anything good which is said to them while whole heartedly believing any negative message that comes their way.  Not exactly what we want.

The other major finding is that praising a child for some sort of innate ability decreases motivation, self-confidence and performance.  The reason is that if something is an innate ability, it comes naturally and with little effort.  If this is the case, then putting forth effort is a sign that one is lacking in innate ability.  Then when the child fails (due to lack of effort, of course) the message that is seen as a sign that the child lacks the innate ability to do something, so no effort will fix it anyways.  When this cycle is in place even extraordinarily bright children become risk-adverse, under-perform and lacking in confidence.

There are three keys to making praise work.  First, it must be sincere.  Sometimes this is really easy like when your kid wins a prize.  But other times, you need to look more closely for those things your child does which are valuable, but aren’t usually given a lot of attention.  For example, if you take your child to the store and they hold the door open for people, say please and thank you, look people in the eye when they are spoken too, etc they can be praised for being polite and considerate.  On the other hand, if your 12 year old brings you a drawing that isn’t very good and asks what you think of it, you need to resist the urge to say, “wow – that’s a great drawing honey!”  Instead, just talk with them about the picture: “why did you choose those colors?  What’s happening in this scene?  What made you think of this?”  Often, a kid will value the chance to have their work taken seriously enough to be discussed that they will walk away satisfied and motivated to keep working on their artwork.  But, if they insist on a judgement – good or bad? – be honest without being discouraging.  Something like, “I don’t think you’re ready to find a buyer for your art yet, but you have a good eye for color (or character or whatever) and I bet that if you apply yourself you will keep getting better.  You may surprise yourself with what you can do!”  Which actually leads us to the second point . . .

Praise should focus on effort and potential rather than innate ability.  A child who is told “you’re smart/talented/likable/etc” without having put an effort into developing those skills will fall into the trap described above and not have real confidence in your praise or themselves.  If your child brings home a good grade, instead of saying, “look how smart you are!”, they need to hear something like, ” it looks like all that hard work paid off.  Good job.”  I do believe that simply as a matter of self knowledge a child who has a particular talent or ability should be told that they have that ability.  A smart kid should know that he is smarter than normal.  A talented musician should know that they have an unusual aptitude.  And so on.  However, being smart or talented or pretty or whatever should not be introduced as a form of praise.  A smart kid is no better than a kid who struggles to learn basic math.  A pretty child has no more worth than an awkward child with unattractive features, etc.  These are not things to praise a kid for, imo.  Instead, they should be introduced as a form of self-knowledge and a way to encourage a child to apply themselves.  In our house, a kid is never told that they are smart without it being connected to the fact that this creates an opportunity for their efforts to bear more fruit than most people have a chance to achieve in some areas.  The ability isn’t praised – the effort and discipline needed for the ability to be worth anything is always the object of praise.  Innate ability is neither earned or within our control.  But effort and strong character are.  Praise directed at that which takes effort rather than that which is not earned or controlled is encouraging and rewarding.  In order to do this sort of praise effectively, we must look at the third facet of effective praise . . .

Praise needs to be specific.  Many couple has been frustrated because the husband tells his wife “your beautiful” – perhaps with regularity – and yet the wife neither feels beautiful nor seems to believe the sincerity of the compliment.  The wife may even completely befuddle her husband by claiming that he never compliments her!  The problem is that “you’re beautiful” is a very broad, generic statement.  It is one of those things which encompasses so much that it means very little.  Instead, if the husband can to substitute compliments like, “Your hair is beautiful today./Those jeans make your butt look great./I love the way your eyes light up when you talk about something you care about./Your skin is so soft./etc”   A husband who became adept at pointing out the specific details of what he finds beautiful about his wife will find that a handful of such compliments will have greater effect than saying “you’re beautiful” a million times.  It’s just human nature.  So if your kid plays soccer, compliment him on his hustling or passing ability or how he communicates with other players on the field rather than just saying, “you’re a great soccer player!”  This creates confidence in the child that your praise is sincere.  It also lets your kid know that you care enough to really pay attention, which means more to a child than any particular word of praise ever could.

Although research has found that the way praise is often done is actually harmful and counter-productive, I think it’s important that parents not decide to just give up on the idea of praise and building their child’s self-confidence altogether.  Our children depend on us to show them who they are and part of this is pointing out the good parts.  And our kids need our approval like they need air to breathe.  If a child doesn’t believe that he has earned his parent’s approval – that they think well of him and see good things in him – then nothing anyone else says to them and nothing they accomplish will mean much.  When a parent withholds praise, perhaps out of fear for breeding arrogance or because the child’s ability’s are not focused in areas the parent values, it can be crippling.  If the world tells a kid that he is brilliant, but his father never does, he will just tell himself that the rest of the world is lying or foolish.  Because if he really was brilliant, his father would have told him as well.  So, let’s keep giving our kids the praise they need and earn.  Let’s just do it the right way!

How being gifted means being different

gifted childrenOver the last couple of years I have spent time off and on doing research into giftedness and living with unusually high intelligence.  It has been far more interesting and enlightening than I expected.  So I figured I would share some of what I have learned with y’all.  Today I will focus on some of the differences which tend to be characteristic of those with unusually high intelligence.  Tomorrow, I’ll get into why so many gifted people have a hard time recognizing themselves as gifted and why it is so important for them to understand their giftedness and teach their children to do the same.

First, the differences.  I always figured that high intelligence was just about how a person learns new information and skills.  What I have found out, however, is that high intelligence entails not just being able to learn new things quickly and easily, but affects a person’s entire experience of life.  People with unusually high intelligence take in and acquire information differently, process that information differently.  They frequently experience emotions and physical stimuli more intensely than others.  They have motivations and drives which others often find odd or bizarre.  In short, being unusually intelligent tends to create a whole life experience which is markedly more complicated and intense than what most people experience.

Psychologists who deal with highly intelligent people label these areas of high instensity and complexity “Overexcitabilities” or OEs.  (more…)

The Platypus and Evolution

For people who are interested in these things, there is a fascinating article in the Washington Post about the genetic code of the platypus.  Scientists just finished mapping the odd animal’s DNA and not too surprisingly, it’s odd.  What is particularly useful about this is that scientists have been able to map segments of the platypus’ genetic code which are similar to those found in birds, mammals and reptiles.  Over the ages, and at crucial times in the evolution of life, there were probably many transitional animals bearing the imprint of multiple orders of animals.  We are just lucky to have this one living example to give us a peak at how it worked itself out.

One of the things which I also found interesting about the article is that it repeatedly refers to evolution in anthropomorfic terms.  Evolution is referred to as trying things out, working out how to do something, deciding, etc.  One of the things which people often do not realize is that evolution is not nearly as random or unintelligent as it is sometimes portrayed.  For example, we know that there are genetic sequences which can cause similar but different outcomes in different animals, depending on how it is tweaked.  For example, the platypus makes milk which is a variation on a milky substance which its ancestors made to keep their leathery eggs from drying out.  In other animals, we see that light sensing cells can evolve into organs which detect electrical currents.  So rather than being a completely random process, evolution seems to have given life genetic sequences which act something like one of those tool kits with the different bits and sockets that can be changed out.  The basic genetic sequence is about the same, but can be easily modified to fit different needs.  This would accelerate the process of evolution as slight mutations in these genetic sequences are far more likely to be useful than completely random mutations spread over the entire genetic sequence.

Anyhow, there’s your science lesson for the day.  Hopefully I didn’t mangle it too badly.  🙂

10 year old boys are right: word problems are evil!

A couple of years ago, I stopped trying to get my older son to do word problems. He just didn’t get them. Plus, they often required really convoluted thinking to figure out. I decided that once he knew algebra and knew how to create equations, we’d give them another try. Now he’s in algebra and we’re starting to re-introduce them. Knowing how to create an equation definitely makes it much easier to do word problems.

New research seems to back up my decision to drop word problems. Researchers have conducted experiments which showed that students who were taught the abstract concepts underlying math problems, without real world examples were better able to apply what they learned than those who were taught using real world examples.

So, I guess all the kids who have ever looked at a problem about two trains leaving the station, traveling in opposite directions and said, “this is dumb!” might be right.

HT: Joanne Jacobs

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