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Tuesday, October 9, 2012

More about homework, and kids who are just like you

Last week I shared a wonderfully thought-provoking meme about parenting on my FB page. It's had a barrel full of 'likes', because anyone who's ever parented identifies with it so much. Here it is:

Have you been there?

It reminded me straight away of the Homework Dilemma I had with my son. He simply would NOT do it. He would do anything to get out of it, including evasion, distraction and straight out lying. I didn't know what to do.

A few times, I really lost the plot with him over it.

I mean, it wasn't just school homework. It included his 'cello practice, and I was paying a LOT of money for those lessons. The frustration I felt was huge. He had so much potential, and he was WASTING it (as well as wasting my hard-earned cash).

Have you been there?

My 'aha' moment came when I was reminiscing with a friend about our school days. Let me tell you what we remembered.

We remembered skipping class. We spent hours sitting behind the stained glass window of the chapel, where nobody had ever thought to look for truants, writing letters to our respective love interests and discussing our life philosophies.

I recalled hiding in the chapel itself, where there was a wonderful grand piano on which I taught myself to play pop songs by ear. The chaplain, bless his heart, often commented kindly on the music but never ratted on me!

We remembered getting through our Latin exam in the School Certificate by memorising the translation of the set text instead of learning the vocabulary. (That was truly devious.)

We remembered various occasions where we'd challenged our less competent teachers head-on and won some sort of victory against them; my friend recalled correcting the German teacher's faulty grammar by walking to the front, grabbing the chalk and SHOWING him what he'd done wrong on the board, in front of the whole class. (Ouch.)

Ironically, I recalled confronting a draconian French teacher who'd given us a swag of homework over the school holidays and lecturing her on the meaning of 'holiday', again in front of the whole class. (Needless to say, I was in strife for not doing that homework.)

Oh, and while we're there, I recalled that I'd never done a single Maths homework exercise from the moment I realised the teachers never checked up on me... which was in about year 8...

...and as for my classical piano practice, well, I had to be nagged CONSTANTLY about that by my parents... but I still always passed...



Yes, my child was behaving exactly like me. And I had the hide to chastise him for that?

Hypocrisy is not an attractive characteristic in a parent. Sometimes instead of going with the knee-jerk reaction, it's wise to try to unpack what's really happening- and a bit of genetic history can be enlightening. I saw, finally, that by rejecting his homework my son was simply taking care of his own needs, just as I had.

Just like me, he was letting his interests guide his learning. He might not have been doing his Maths homework, but he was reading history textbooks for fun. (He now has a PhD in History.)

Just like me, he'd realised very quickly that there was no point doing boring and repetitive work when his brain refused to engage with it (and with his brain disengaged, he was learning NOTHING). He was better off engaging with something he was interested in, and so directing his own learning to where he was most likely to prosper from it.

And just like me, he was refusing to let bad teaching rule his use of time. He knew the value of what he chose to do instead of homework- whether that was reading, playing outside or engaging in conversation with me and others. He was listening to his own inner voices, not to the strident and self-righteous voices of others- those who expected his compliance as their right, regardless of how little they'd considered his personal character and needs.

So I stopped harassing him about homework. I saw his position through new eyes. Why shouldn't I trust him to know what was right for him, just as I had? My teenage 'inner voice' had screamed against the 'norm' of being a good girl, and following the directives of that voice had led me to the best features of my life so far.

I had a career in classroom music, where my ease and facility at the keyboard and my ability to play by ear were indispensable.

I had a deep understanding of human nature, gained through all those hours talking philosophy with my best friend behind the chapel window, which allowed me to form constructive and supportive relationships with my students.

Acting just like me was functional for my son. He valued his time, and he could see where he wanted to put his efforts. He started seeing this in infants' school, yet it took me till he was in high school to learn to respect his choices.

That had the side benefit of allowing him to carry the can for those choices, and so learn about natural consequence. If he was in strife for his failure to present vital work, he knew there was no way I was going to help him out. It was on his head and he had to deal with the fallout.

There's a valuable life lesson.

Now, please note: I'm not saying that letting your child neglect all their homework is necessarily right for every child. There are exceptions.

Here's one. Perhaps if my son had had a serious and specific barrier to his learning, such as dyslexia or ADHD, I'd have been right to insist he did his homework- as long as that homework was targeting the problem

I think what we need to consider in the homework debate is this.

1. What is your child missing out on by not doing this homework? 

2. What is your child missing out on by doing this homework?

Your attitude to your child's homework needs to be based on the balance between those factors.

And I'll say it yet again- you can improve your relationship with your child by remembering your own childhood experiences. Reminiscing is a powerful parenting tool. And it will help you to avoid those awkward moments!


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