Welcome to the first edition of GeekMom Debate! GeekMoms are nothing if not opinionated, so we’re giving them a chance to present different sides of the same topic. For another take on the question of dealing with kids who hate school, read Alisson Clark’s post My Kid Hates School. I’m (Mostly) OK with That.
As an adult, I am a good student. I had a graduate school professor once tell me, “I’ve never had someone pay such…such rapt attention to me before. And your papers…are a pleasure to read. You make me feel like a very good teacher.”
This is in stark contrast to the twelve years of low-average report cards still archived in my mom’s bedroom dresser drawer, all reading identically: “polite student, loves to read, tends to daydream, does not work to potential,” like the droning chant of a dozen disappointed matryoshka nesting dolls. Academically and emotionally, I self-identify as a late bloomer and I am sure my experiences with education have shaped the decisions I’ve made for my children.
My younger son asked recently, seemingly out of nowhere: “That reminds me! About school: What’s wrong with laughing? Why can’t there be laughing and learning all the time?”
“You can have both laughing and learning. Just not always at the same time,” I replied. “We have to learn that not everything gets to be fun. Sometimes, you just have to suck it up and deal.”
For a long time, though, my children were neither laughing NOR learning in school. My bookshelves at home are a hard-covered testimony to our journey: The Explosive Child, From Emotions to Advocacy, Overcoming Dyslexia. All of this reading was not changing one important thing, however: my children hated school.
“I hate this place, Mommy,” they would tell me in their piping, Disney-woodland-creature voices as I dropped them off in the morning. “Back to prison,” they would moan–the one time of day these two seemed to come together to agree on anything.
And then, each night, we would embark on another two-hour, tear-filled psychological journey through the five stages of grief on our way to completing homework assignments that the teachers perkily assured me should take “no more than twenty minutes” but required hand-eye coordination and literacy and numeracy skills that my sons were just not developing at the same rate as their peers.
Ultimately, special education supports and services were provided to my children at school. But even then, they still disliked school, did not find most of the work they were asked to do meaningful, appropriate, or remotely enjoyable. To them, work was done only to avoid parent-imposed negative consequences: loss of TV, loss of video games, loss of computer time. There was no ownership or pride in what they were doing.
Was this a healthy way to develop?
I wanted my sons to develop the critical thinking skills and “positive habits of the mind” that ultimately shape personal character — to learn to be “fair minded,” “inquisitive,” “empathic,” and “confident.” Yes, I knew the dangers of allowing my children to think that the world was always an accommodating place. I believed that children thrived when working to meet high expectations. But I felt like my children, because of their learning disabilities, were giving up on learning.
So, I listened to what my children were saying and decided to homeschool them. For two years, we visited every museum, aquarium, and hands-on science program in our region, passed history books back and forth as we read together in pajamas on the couch, watched Shakespeare on video and re-enacted the best deaths, and participated in countless programs with local homeschooling collectives.
My plan had never been to homeschool indefinitely. My goal was simply to engineer learning experiences that were pleasurable and relevant, reignite this flame. Reboot our sense of joy and intellectual curiosity.
Last fall, after two years of care and growth, they returned to public school. Back to the same services and supports they’d left. They were complimented on their profound depth of knowledge on certain topics and chastised for their unwillingness to follow rules that did not make sense to them. They met or exceeded academic expectations. And they seemed … happier. More willing, more receptive, more curious.
This year they entered high school and middle school.
“How was it?!?” I asked after their first day, before they could even get through the door.
“Long, but actually very interesting,” my older son said. “Fun!” was my younger son’s more concise reply.
All right, I thought as I listened to them and laughed. THIS we can work with.