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.

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

Summer Camp and Peer Socialization

My 9 year old spent last week at a nearby nature center for summer camp. It ran from 8-4 with an overnight camp-out Thursday night. It was really the first time he’s spent that much time in that short a period away from his family. He had an absolute blast, got along very well with the other kids and only had one serious discipline problem through the whole week (which is some kind of record for this kid). And at the end of the week, I came to the conclusion that there is no way in heck I’m going to be sending the child off to school anytime soon.

While I’m pleased as punch that he handled himself well with other kids, I am not nearly so pleased with how quickly and (to me) dramatically, he oriented himself to his peers. Each day when he came home, he was wired up to the point of being completely out of hand. He was rowdy, rude, scattered and largely unresponsive to me and my attempts to get him to settle down. The problem is that he had spent all day getting positive feedback from the other kids for his antics. I actually heard a couple of kids telling their parents that Collin is really funny. Which he is. But he’s also quite over-excitable in a variety of ways. He will feed off the energy of those around him and rapidly become physically, imaginatively and emotionally over responsive. Once he gets going, not only is it hard for him to stop, but being in a state of over-excitement can be rather enjoyable so he doesn’t particularly want to stop. The simple fact is that he just doesn’t have the maturity to manage this aspect of his personality very well yet. And, unfortunately, because he receives positive feedback from his peers for this over-excitability, being with his peers all day only exacerbates this problem.

Now, if he were in a classroom with a decent teacher, he probably wouldn’t be quite as free to get himself wound up as he was in a fun summer camp setting. He would have to figure out how to toe the line (which for him would mean pushing just as far as he could while retaining a plausible claim of innocence for himself). However, simply figuring out when and where you can indulge in your favorite immature behavior isn’t the same thing as learning to actually manage yourself maturely. I’m pretty certain that he’d become one more kid who would say, “my family and teachers don’t know the real me. I’m one way around them, but when I’m with my friends, then I can be myself and I’m totally different.”

Real life is hard. In order to navigate it successfully, simply knowing how to act mature isn’t nearly enough. Our kids need to actually be mature in order to make good choices for themselves when they get out into the world. A young adult who’s “real” identity is peer oriented may know how to act maturely in certain settings, but will generally see their free-er, more irresponsible and immature selves as their true selves. Which in the real world usually means you need to get knocked around a lot before you start to actually become mature. Personally, I think we do much better by our kids to do whatever it takes to make sure that they go into the world already mature rather than letting potentially irreversible mistakes, tragedies and crisis teach them.

The other issue that came up with summer camp, which I found a bit disconcerting, was how quickly he developed a strong preference for his peers over his family. This summer camp included a night of camping out at the end of the week. I would hope, given the emphasis we have placed on family and the primacy of family relationships, that after spending a day and a half away from his family, that he would have some interest in reconnecting with them. Instead, he mentioned (twice) in an off-handed sort of way on the way home from his camping trip that he wished he were an only child. He also added that he wished his little sisters weren’t there so I could take him to the store on the way home. (Which is funny because it’s him and not the little girls who I don’t like taking into stores!) When we got home, before he had even said “hi” to his brother, he was begging to call a couple of the kids he had just left 1/2 an hour ago. For the rest of the day when I would suggest that he go to do something with one of his siblings, he would ask again to call one of his new friends or to invite them over. I guess that this makes some sense. You don’t usually have to sacrifice what you want to accommodate a peer’s nap schedule, temper tantrums or age differences. And when you are acting like a spaz, your peers will laugh or join in rather than telling you sharply to knock it off. Really, hanging out with his peers meant shedding the often uncomfortable bonds of self-sacrifice and self-restraint that living in a family imposes on you. However, that self-sacrifice and self-restraint are precisely the things he will need in order to reach his full potential in life. If he sees self-sacrifice and self-restraint not as natural and good parts of a normal, healthy life, but as impediments he can escape in order to seek his own happiness, he will be at a real disadvantage when it comes to achieving his best in life.

What is most amazing to me is that it is now 3 days since he got back from his summer camp. And he is still out of hand. I can’t even imagine what he’d be like if he were in school. I wonder how much problem behavior on the part of kids and immaturity in young adults is driven by the sort of peer socialization Collin experienced last week. We like to think that the structure of a school setting and the demands of teachers and parents are enough to counter-balance this peer socialization. However, from what I’ve seen of kids and young adults, this seems to be one of those things that would be a great idea – if only we could figure out how to get it to work.

Now mind you, I’m not saying at all that kids socializing with their peers is bad or unnecessary. However, having a kid (especially one as overly excitable as mine) spend most of his waking hours with kids who reward and re-enforce their most immature and selfish tendencies doesn’t seem like a particularly good thing to me. And that’s why, although (because?) my kid got along great with the other kids at summer camp, he’s going to have to be a lot more mature before I’d consider sending him off to school.

So what do y’all think? Am I over reacting? Off base? Right on?

Gifted in Public

My kids and I took a little trip today to a local cave.  It’s a sight seeing sort of place with some cool geology and stalactites and stalagmites and such.  We’ve been there before, but not for a couple of years, so it was new enough for my boys for them to enjoy it again.  I was, however, kind of disturbed to learn that they let the bats that overwinter in the cave stay in the attached gift shop as well.  At least I think they said they let the little guano machines hibernate there – I was a little distracted corralling my girls.

What was interesting about this trip for me, however, was to watch the reaction me and my kids got from the various people on the tour with us.  You see, half of the group was attending through a local Young Mensa field trip group.  The other half were just random folks who had the bad luck to take the tour at the same time as us.  My kids were the youngest ones there and, as usual, they made a spectacle of themselves.  My girls (almost 2 and 3) did get obnoxious towards the end, but that was just a part of the problem.  You see, my boys are just very outspoken – quick to answer any question, even the rhetorical ones.  And they ask enough questions to get a reference librarian to tell them to give it a rest.  Plus they say odd things like, “I find these stairs more disconcerting than I remember them being last time.”  (The 9 year old.)  or “I can’t wait to get off of these stairs so I can put my feet back on terra firma.” (The 13 year old.)  The (almost) 2 year old pretended to be a cat-dog (a puppy that meows)  most of the time and dramatically warned us, “no touching” if we got too close to walls or “look out – monsters!” when we were warned about a creepy part coming up.  The 3 year old suggested that there might be a tiger behind a gate leading to a dark area she couldn’t see and pointed to every calcium carbonate formation in the place.

What I noticed and what I finally have something of an answer for, was that half of the group did not seem to enjoy our presence.  One older woman in particular repeatedly glared at me and my kids.  Her husband kept shaking his head at us as if to say, “what has this world come to?”  These are the responses I have become quite familiar with: the disapproving looks, the stares which seem to say “why don’t you make them shut-up!”, the averted eyes which indicate that we’re embarrassingly weird.  I get them everywhere I go it seems.

However, I noticed a quite different reaction from the folks with the Young Mensa group.  I caught of lot of knowing smiles and some rather reassuring nods from the parents whose kids had already made it through the younger, more rambunctious years.  They too probably knew what it is like to have kids who talk too much, ask too many questions, are too smart for their own good and unnerve the more normal people around them.

I live in a part of the country which is largely populated by much more somber, serious and conformist people that I am used to.  There’s a joke which captures the flavor of a lot of the people here which goes: “Did you hear about the Norwegian farmer who really loved his wife?  Yeah, he felt so passionately about her that he almost told her.”  We, on the other hand, are from Chicago.  We were socialized by intense, argumentative Poles, lively, talkative Irish and rowdy, playing-the-dozens African Americans.  Even if my kids weren’t the sort who go around using words like “undulate” and “non-sequituer” in a sentence, we still wouldn’t fit in real well here. (more…)

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

African American Homeschoolers

Joanne Jacobs points us to a story in The Village Voice about the growing number of African American homeschoolers.  If you can get past the first paragraph which is as bad a display of provincial ignorance as one is likely to ever encounter, it’s an interesting, in depth story.  Given the abysmal job the public school system is doing of educating African American boys in particular, more African Americans homeschooling their kids can only a be a good thing.

As a multi-racial family my experience has been that homeschooled parents and their kids are extremely tolerant of racial diversity.  We’ve never had rude comments from any homeschool parent or child regarding race.  Unfortunately this was not our experience during the relatively brief time that my oldest son was in school or even as we move through our community in non-school settings.  For us, homeschooling has been a good way to avoid having our kids exposed to race as a negative.  The one thing which I have found annoying is a pretty pervasive assumption among other homeschoolers that because they are not concerned with race, race is no longer and issue for any minority.  I can see where this attitude could be off-putting to a minority parent testing out the homeschool waters, but really it’s a sadly common notion in the world at large anyways.

If you are interested in checking out some of the African American homeschooling organizations and voices out there can check out these links:

The National African American Homeschoolers Association

African American Homeschoolers Network

African American Unschooling

Someone should notify the authorities!

My 3 year old daughter has been advocating for everyone in the house to play something she is calling “kissing tag”.  I guess she wants us to chase each other around and try to kiss each other.  I have no idea where she is getting this from, but obviously, as the person charged with ensuring that we have a safe learning environment I should implement our “zero tolerance” policy and label her as a sexual harasser post haste.  Future colleges and employers have a right to know what kind of perverted soul they could be dealing with. Thankfully, my 8 year old, Collin, is old enough to know that girls have cooties and has refused to take part in her nefarious schemes.  Otherwise I’d have to call the police on him.

Homeschooling Blahs

I don’t know what’s going on lately, but I’ve had the hardest time getting motivated to do school work with the kids. Instead of them complaining, I’m the one going, “But I don’t want to do algebra! Do we really have to do biology? Can’t I wait to do the times tables with you?” Sigh.

Of course, for some reason, this time of year tends to be a bit wearing on me. It’s the interminable wait for spring, I suppose. Any other long-time homeschool moms who’ve had to work past the point where you’re the one who doesn’t want to do school?

BTW, don’t you love this picture? It’s one of my favorites, but I’m too lazy to look up its title and artist at the moment and my mind’s drawing a blank, so anyone who would like to leave the info in the comments section would be a god or goddess to me 🙂 It really has nothing to do with anything, but I put “tired teacher” into google images and this is one of the pictures which came up. Funny.

Update: It has come to me!  The painting is called Flaming June and was painted by Victorian painter Fredric Leighton.  ‘Cause I know the masses were just dying to know that ;p

The Carnival of Homeschooling Is Up!

This week’s Carnival of Homeschooling is up over at A Pondering Heart.  Thanks to Jocelyn for putting it together.

If you have a chance, check out Barbara Frank’s post on interviews with women who tried to have it all and are older and wiser now.

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