Thursday, November 6, 2014

Is this hard enough?

Do children need to struggle to learn?  

Perhaps it is shocking, but I don’t think they do.  I think they need to be exposed to intellectually stimulating, creative, well written or produced, thought provoking, challenging material.  

When I was in 6th grade we moved from Massachusetts, where no foreign language was taught in elementary school to Connecticut, where Spanish began in grade 3.  I was three years behind and had to catch up quickly.  Every night my Dad would sit with me, my Dad who does not speak one word of Spanish.  I remember tears.  I remember worry.  I remember intense embarrassment when I pronounced the J as a J in class and received no correction from the teacher but a room full of laughs and snickers from my classmates.  I also remember love.  My Dad was the one who took it upon himself to teach me to read when I was 4.  I have vague memories of his flashcards and phonics.  He took it upon himself (I’m sure my Mom had lots to do with this behind the scenes) to teach me Spanish so that I would not be frustrated and embarrassed and for that I am truly grateful.  But you know what?  I never did learn Spanish.  I don’t remember my letter grade that year but if I did not get an A for effort, I was robbed.  My Dad did not recieve any accolades for his work with me either.  He did it out of love.  Looking back 30 years, I learned some lessons from this experience.  I learned perseverance.  I learned about courage.  I learned about the stupidity of a system based on rules.  Why the school could not give me a waiver until 7th grade when I could begin a language in year 1 is still a mystery to me.  But I never did learn the language that my father and I spent so many hours trying to decipher.  

This concept came to me recently as I was struggling with my continual dilemma of “is this hard enough?”  Karen and I were texting back and forth, as we usually do when we are working out an issue related to homeschooling our daughters. 


I texted:
 "I remember the classes I struggled with, but I did not necessarily learn in them.  I remember a theory (I forget the psychologist) who I learned about when I was in school for teaching who felt there is a space between complacency and frustration where the learning occurs.  Too easy, no learning, too hard, no learning.  So I guess it all comes down to are they learning?....and yes they are."  

The psychologist is Lev Vygotsky (1896–1934) and the term that is used for this is the ZPD (Zone of Proximal Development).  This was pulled from deep within my memory but brought to the surface by some conversations I have overheard or read online.  I have my own theory that the harder the class or course and the greater the level of frustration of the participants, the greater the bragging rights of the parents.  It seems that parents like to claim their child’s achievements whether it is an academic award they won, an athletic trophy, or record they set, and yes, how much homework they do, and how much they struggle to learn.  To me this is akin to adults sighing loudly over working a 60 hour work week or lamenting about how long their commute is or how their lives are spent in cars shuttling their children from activity to activity.  We have become so codependent on the lives of our children that we actually seek validation from their struggles.  We have forgotten the joy in living, so we try to find validation from the struggles of living.

Don’t we think it is time to change that paradigm?  I think we can do better.  I think we can do hard things, things that teach us perseverance and commitment and the value of hard work from actually being in the community and working.  Do you want to learn history?  Go to the source or find a great museum.  Do you want a strong work ethic?  Get a job, or volunteer.  Do you want to learn a language?  Find someone who speaks it and become friends.  Want to learn responsibility?  Get a pet.  Want to learn how to write?  Read great books.  Want a better vocabulary?  Listen to great books.  Want inspiration?  Spend time in nature.  Want more time?  Waste less time.  

Life does not have to be as hard as we make it.  Learning does not either.


Phyllis said...

You are a wise (and wonderful woman for sharing your wisdom.)

Jessica said...

I debated over publishing this. It was just a rant in my journal but I want to remember this when I get caught up in what I read or conversations I am participating in that it is not about AP this and AP that and how many hours of homework and GPAs and SATs. I just read an article about the mental quality of life for South Korean children. They scored lowest in the world and their academic pressures are some of the highest. I don't want to discount quality of education and quality of materials available to children. I value education tremendously, but the longer we home educate and the older my children get the deeper I feel that there is a better way.

Cassie said...

Yes, yes, yes!

I am happy you did publish this. I agree whole heartedly with "I think we can do hard things, things that teach us perseverance and commitment and the value of hard work from actually being in the community and working."

The longer we homeschool, the more I see that an organic way of life learning from our community, work, interests, and activities is a much more sustainable way of living and "learning all the time" beyond childhood, adolescence and into adulthood.

Learning how to navigate through life already presents us with more than enough challenges. -Goodness, motherhood and homeschooling has continued to teach me more about this than anything else! - Learning for the love of learning ought to serve as a reprieve from all that.

Jessica said...

Thank you Cassie! My fingers hovered over the publish button on this one but so many things have recently brought this to mind that I felt I wanted to share my thoughts.

Karen said...

I have thought about this so many times since we text about this. And I KNOW it to be true. I am so glad you posted it Jess. I have seen it time and time again with Keilee. She learns when she has to seek but not when she has to struggle over and over. <3

dstb said...

This is a topic that I struggle with. I LOVE what you do with your girls and I read your blog because I would like to emulate what you do. But then I go into panic mode about whether my son will get into college (which is what his plans are).

If I use history as an example...looking at the chart above, I wouldn't say what we do produces anxiety. More likely it produces boredom because it is more of a textbook approach. I love what you are doing with the "100 objects", but I have two problems. First, my son is not that crafty and would not be that interested in creating the pages that your girls have that show the depth of their learning. I'm not sure what I would have him do as a substitute. Second, I would like him to take the SAT subject test in the spring. As I mentioned in previous comments, I see this as a way to validate any grades I give on transcripts and also as practice for other standardized tests. I worry that without the more textbook approach, he wouldn't do well on the exam.

And I do realize that passing those exams is not the be all end all. For my peace of mind, this is the direction I feel I have to go. I feel like his transcript needs to look at least somewhat like a public school transcript. I know this is just me and this is not the only way to do it. I applaud what you are doing, I just find it so hard. Whenever I go in that direction, I panic and then feel like we are way behind!

So, please keep posting about what you are doing and I will continue to use those posts for inspiration. Maybe I can change my mindset at least a little bit!


Jessica said...

Karen, I hope you know how much I appreciate our conversations! I always hang up feeling like I have something new to investigate or rethink.

Jessica said...


I understand the feeling of uncertainty. I get them when I am around other parents who are pushing high stakes homeschooling. Our plans are for college or possibly culinary arts school for Lilah. Most likely they will not take the traditional route. Our plan is 2 years community college + 2 years at a 4 year college or university. Luckily we have so many choices where we live the girls do not have to move away from home and incur the debt of housing costs. Unless scholarships were offered, I cannot see the financial sense in incurring $100,000+ of debt before you are 21 (or for Greg and I should be pay for it). Also doing the CC route will allow them to bypass many of the standardized tests that universities require and allow us more freedom in how we approach high school. Being homeschoolers, they do not have any of the self-consciousness I know other high schoolers have about going to community college first.

That said, I do know two families who have completely unschooled and their children went to Smith, Vassar, and Amherst. Very good 4 year schools. The mother of the Vassar student said her daughter's interview was mostly focused on her portfolio. This gives me reassurance that we are going to be okay.

I will keep posting because there are so few families sharing how they homeschool high school. Do you have any other blogs that you follow that you would share with me?

dstb said...

Hi Jessica,

Besides your blog, there are a few others that I read that show how they homeschool high school. The first one I would try is Blog, She Wrote by Heather Woodie. Every Wednesday, she has a blog link up called Finishing Strong where people link their posts about how they homeschool their middle and high schoolers. Through that, I have found several other blogs that I lke.

I have read Barb McCoy's blogs for years. She has one called Handbook of Nature Study and another called Harmony Fine Arts. Her kids are grown and gone, but she still posts and I have found her very encouraging.

I've really cut back on the number of blogs I read because, as you mention, there are so few sharing what they do for high school.


Post a Comment

Don't You Just Stay Home All Day?

It’s funny because last night at youth group some of the kids friends were discussing homeschooling and really truly felt that we stay home...