Wednesday 2 April 2014

It's not helping your kids

A home educating pal-o-mine had an educational philosophy which was for the relevant parents to "Shut up and get out of the way".  I've elaborated mine a little here, although what I actually did for the girls was close enough to shut up and stand aside - SUASA. This is not to say we did nothing for them. No, they spend hours of the early lives in the car being shipped to ballet, drama, library, music, play-dates, the river, the arboretum, home-ed gatherings.  During those journeys conversation occurred over and around whatever talking book was on the car tape-deck - far too much Harry Potter in my opinion. Later, our pal Lulu, organised the HEN transition year mid-teen marathon which shipped her girl and ours and a dozen others all over the island to cultural, historical, scientific and political venues once a month for a year (and a half).  Then there were/are 3000 books in the house and Dau.I certainly read more than half of them before she left home. But most of the adult input was The Conversation meandering up hill and down dale wherever the questions drove it and always taking in a little of what could be seen from the vantage points of that developing and emerging landscape of ideas. The great thing is that there was never home-work - which might be defined as a dreary assignment required by someone else to be completed to that someone's schedule.

This was in sharp contrast, and largely in (over-)reaction to, what happened with The Boy who went to almost as many schools as I had homes as we schlepped back and forth across the Atlantic and North Sea.  When we finally came home to Ireland for good when he was 14, the Head of his Nth school said that, to thrive in the Irish system, 3 hours of home-work would be required.  Consultation with teens in other schools suggested that this was 'normal'.  I'm afraid that I did try to 'help' The Boy with his ekkers which meant that I tried to impose my idea of self-discipline on him in exactly the way that had riled me up when my own father had applied that treatment to me.  The Boy wasn't having any of that, and by way of civil disobedience and a few rows, encouraged me to back off.  It is not surprising that, with a professional biologist in the house, he achieved his lowest grade in that subject in his Leaving certificate.  Me attempting to change that was perhaps the lowest point in our relationship. My bad, but I did learn.  With home-education there is no sensible way to incorporate homework - and good riddance.

In the same issue of the Atlantic that had a piece on (not) protecting your child, there was another called "Don't help your kids with their home-work".  This reports research finding that helping with the homework can be counter-productive because you know less about trigonometry than they do; but also because the way you were taught a generation ago is different from how kids are taught today - so your attempts at 'help' only help to confuse.  They also report that helping your children choose academic options is worse than letting them alone for this task.  With 20:20 hindsight, I should surely have let The Boy choose his own courses rather than trying to make it easier for him by advising/telling/ordering him to choose a soft option like biology rather than, say, physics which he may have done well in.  After all he finished up becoming an engineer (which could be called practical physics) whereas I failed the only physics exam I ever took.  One of the few ways you can help your youngsters in school is by throwing shapes to get them into classes with high-reputation teachers - this is what middle class people do all the time: they network for their own advantage among other professional people.

So here's some advice.  Treat (your) children like real people: don't talk down to them. Have patience - eventually they will want to do something other than whatever it is you don't value. Don't foist your own failed ambitions on them. Don't assume that college is the best option. Kindness trumps credits.

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