Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Doing School

If you have a child, I have a book you need to read - and I don't say that lightly. If you interact with a child, I have a book for you to read. While technically it's about stressed out high school students, it has messages for parents of kids of all ages.

When your child gets home from school, do you ask him how the test went? Do you schedule activities to make sure your kids get the best opportunities and aren't bored? Do your kids have the same definition of success that you do (go ahead, ask)?

Last night, our school district brought in Denise Clark Pope who wrote Doing School: How We Are Creating a Generation of Stressed-Out, Materialistic, and Miseducated Students. She spoke for slightly over an hour and then took audience questions.

It was powerful. Like I need to reevaluate how I do almost everything with my wee ones powerful. The statistics she quoted were really scary. The level of cheating because kids feel there is no alternative, the tiny minority that feels that homework is actually useful, the kids who check out because trying and failing is too painful, the schools where the average hours of sleep across the entire student body is under five.

And it's happening everywhere.

Kids need to get good grades and be involved in lots of activities. That way they can get into a good college. Then they need to study hard so they can graduate and get a good (read: high paying) job. Then they have to work tons of hours so they can someday be happy. And that's what being successful means.

God help me if the wee ones grow up thinking that this is success. While having enough money to live definitely reduces stress, working hard at a job you dislike can create more stress and unhappiness than being completely broke. I want the wee ones to love what they do in life -- and by life I mean so much more than the hours they spend at work. I want them to feel fulfilled. I want them to have meaning in their lives. And I want them to take the time they need in order to find it.

I went to Northwestern. I was that kid who took all the AP classes in high school and did tons of extra-curricular activities and had the leadership roles you're "supposed to" have. I got to school, and I didn't know how to fail and I was afraid to try.

I was lucky that I finally got it when at Northwestern. I figured out how to enjoy what I did (it took me all of eight weeks to drop the high pressure program I started and find a better fit of a major) and spend time with friends and things I loved. I have friends who never figured it out, and many of them still aren't happy today. While there are times that I am stressed out by work, it isn't drugery that I detest, and it isn't the only thing in my life.

So how do I make sure the wee ones figure this out before I did? How do I get them to be resilient and creative and questioning and self-seeking? Denise Clark Pope walks through all this in her book, which is a really easy read. And I need to go read it again because there's so much more to get out of it.

While kids should be presented with opportunities with extra-curricular activities, as parents we need to limit it. They need downtime to play and figure out things on their own. And as parents, we need to step back and let them. And that's the lesson that's the hardest one for me. But if I don't let the wee ones fail safely now (and that means I won't be running to school with a forgotten lunch or assignment), they'll never learn how to fail and then bounce back with a creative solution.

There is so much more in this book, so many lessons for us as parents. And when the wee ones get home from school when there's a test? I'll be asking if they felt the test was a fair test of their knowledge, if they felt they learned something from it. It's the learning experience I want to create joy in, not the grade I want them to fear.

And the wee ones? Nope, they won't be going to Northwestern. I want them to find a school that's a good fit for them. They'll end up in the right place in life regardless of what school they attend, and the studies bear that out. I was afraid to ask the questions to find a good fit, but I was lucky that it worked out. Had I known now what I had known then, I probably would have gone down an entirely different path. I don't want the wee ones to have that question someday.

And I don't think you do, either. Doing School will help you develop the child you want to raise. And the emphasis is that it's not too late. You can reel in the college senior or start with the two year old. Thank you, Denise.

This Q&A sums it up so much better than I have. But if you read one book this year, just one, make it one that counts for years to come.


morninglight mama April 22, 2009 at 10:10 PM  

You mentioned this book before, so it's definitely on the list! I'm going to check my library listings right now. Thanks!!

Mary~Momathon April 23, 2009 at 12:12 AM  

Asking kids questions and being interested in what they are learning at school makes all the difference!

One thing I like to do is read whatever they are reading. I can almost always find it at the public library.

Sarah April 23, 2009 at 5:41 AM  

Thanks - I'll have to check it out!

Ryan Ashley Scott April 23, 2009 at 6:16 AM  

I love "parenting" books. I'm kind of an addict, it started before I even had a child. This one sounds like a good one (I don't always agree with the books). Focusing on the important stuff - the actual important stuff rather than the nit-picky - well, that's what kids will see and put their focus into, as well. Thanks for sharing.

Pam April 23, 2009 at 8:37 AM  

Those are good points. My daughter is 16 and feeling lots of pressures to do all these things.
I'll have to check into this book. Thanks for sharing.

Gina April 23, 2009 at 10:05 AM  

I have to get this book. My school district is so guilty of the "teaching to the test" standardized crap that she mentions.

Jen April 23, 2009 at 11:28 AM  

Sounds like a great book....I'll have to check it out. From what you're saying it sounds a lot like Love and Logic Parenting. You should check out those books too....they have some specifically for kids under 5 and it's really good reading. I got a lot out of it! It has the same failing while they are young and teaching kids to think for themselves and be responsible. It's scary to be a parent....not knowing what our kids are going to have to deal with in the future. I don't remember life being so scary when I was younger....

septembermom April 23, 2009 at 11:42 AM  

This book definitely sounds like a must read for all concerned parents. I also fear that kids today "play the game" at school. They go through the motions of classes and activities without any true passion or interest. Kids are becoming overscheduled these days.

Irene April 23, 2009 at 5:50 PM  

I will definitely check this out!!! Thank you!! I think there is SOOOO much wrong with the way kids are raised now. I honestly think we need to go back to some of the standards and practices of yesteryear. Things are really, completely out of control.

Femin Susan April 23, 2009 at 8:41 PM  

Sounds like a good book. Will suggest it to mom .

Angie's Spot April 23, 2009 at 10:01 PM  

Thanks for the recommendation! I struggle daily with worrying about turning my kids into stressed out over-achievers. I try not to over-schedule but it's so hard when I want to ensure that they are exposed to all the opportunities out there available to them. I'm off to Amazon to find that book. :-)

Anonymous April 24, 2009 at 8:06 AM  

I have not read her book as of yet but am told that it is a 'slow read'...However, I too saw Denise speak, in IL and she was amazing. She spoke for over 2 hours and I could have listened for another 2! What i didnt understand was why there were only 150 or so people at the presentation she gave. Maybe it is that the parents of the school district i am in need to be 'get it'...I am a single father with two middle school children. This is a MUST read for any parent with kids in school!!

Dawn Parsons Smith April 24, 2009 at 1:28 PM  

I am a homeschool parent and I am always making sure that our learning is enjoyable:) They "get it" when they like what they're doing and can see it's usefulness:) I will definitely check out this book! Thanks for sharing!

Michelle April 24, 2009 at 9:58 PM  

morninglight mama - Go. Read. It's worth it. Oh, and then let me know what you think!

Mary - Yep, it's huge. And making sure you're interested in what they're learning and excited about vs the grade :)

Sarah - It's well-worth the time to read.

RAS - Didn't everyone with the "What To Expect When You're Expecting" book? And then it just snowballs from there!

Pam - 16 is not too late. That was definitely one of the points she made. I hope it helps!

Gina - Yep, and it isn't just your school district. It's pretty much across the board, I think.

Jen - I will have to go check that one out. Actually, I'm off to go reserve it at my library now! Thanks!

septembermom - That is a much better synopsis than I gave :) Going through the motions is endemic unfortunately.

Irene - I was out with friends tonight, and we were talking about how things are so different for kids now from what they were when we were growing up.

Angie - That's such a struggle, isn't it? And you can't go back to fix it if you make a mistake!

Anonymous - The read wasn't so bad. I was actually pretty surprised, as well, that there weren't more people in attendance -- and the number of people who left about three quarters of the way through. Definitely a must read, along with a few others in the same genre.

Bee and Rose - That is something I worry about regularly -- how nice for you not to have to worry about what they're interested in.

Angela April 25, 2009 at 9:49 AM  

Yep, we don't yet have kids, but I am routinely horrified by the scheduling and activity levels I see in some of the kids we know. I don't say that judgmentally, it's just that it does not seem (to an outside observer) that either the parents OR the children in question are really enjoying these super-structured, hectic-scheduled, eating-in-the-car because we're always late for something, type of lifestyles. I'm thinking back to when I grew up - I never had more than one activity going at a time. Yet I still took piano, gymnastics, summer camps, brownies/girl scouts, etc. and never felt deprived (then or now). I just think some parents feel compelled to expose their kids to absolutely everything, and it definitely has a price tag attached :-( I'm hoping that I will remember my own advice once we actually have kids, LOL!

Michelle April 25, 2009 at 8:00 PM  

Angela - It's a hard one, as times have really changed since we were growing up. You don't want to stick out too much, but ... it's far too easy to fall onto the other side. Don't let the peer pressure get to you, too!

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