"I don't think that being a strong person is about ignoring your emotions and fighting your feelings. Putting on a brave face doesn't mean you're a brave person. That's why everybody in my life knows everything that I'm going through. I can't hide anything from them. People need to realise that being open isn't the same as being weak."

- Taylor Swift

Saturday, November 20, 2010

the kid is smart. why is it failing?

There is a common misconception that smart kids shouldn't fail in easy work because it is, well, easy for them, and they'll finish in no time at all. And so, it is only right for harder work to be given after they have complete easy/standard tasks.

Not so.

Some of the worst marks I have received when I was little were subjects I was actually quite good at - and for a variety of reasons - so that the gap between my spelling and maths tests wasn't big (I always had this idea in my head that if I was doing badly at the subjects my parents knew I was good at they wouldn't be too fussed about my bad math marks), so that my marks were comparable to the rest of the kids, because it was an act of rebellion, and of curiousity - what does it feel like to fail a spelling test?

But most of the reason is pure boredom.

It may seem reasonable to expect a kid who is very good at English to finish the easy stuff that you know it can do with it's eyes shut in about three seconds, and then you can dig out some harder work.

But what sense does that make? I cottonned on pretty quick that the teachers knew that I was beyond some of the stuff in class, and so I reasoned that the only reason that they could possibly be giving this crap to me is because they hate me and want to make me suffer. The world hates me. Wah. If you know a kid can do it, why make them do it again? I always used to hate it when the grade three teacher would give us grade two work and say 'just checking that you know it still.' It never made any sense to me.

From your point of view, the kid should spend fifteen minutes at most on this 'easy stuff' that they 'simply must do'. Fifteen miserable minutes. Is that too much to ask?

The answer? Yes.

Think of it from a child's point of view. When I was younger, days seemed to last for a milennia - and because when you're younger, a single day is a much larger percentage of your entire life than it is when you're older. A bored seven year old wasting fifteen minutes of his life doing shit he hates is like an adult wasting three hours before getting to the 'good stuff'.

And then, as you get older and fifteen minutes may not seem like a century, you start feeling like you're running out of time. Why should I waste my time on this? I should be out conquering the world! Teenagers and older children start to see school as a barrier between them and a life - and that is true for even the most academic who really must rely on education to have any sort of quality of life - a year or so ago I told my mother, much to her utter shock, that I was dropping out of school the second I turned 16 - the legal age to drop out in Australia. Giving boring work during school further fuels this belief that school is a sadistic invention of adults designed to torture the younger generation.

A kid, or anyone, for that matter, is not programmed to accept work that is too hard or too easy for them - by 'too hard' I mean beyond challenging and into the frightening realms of 'impossible', and by 'too easy' I mean something that is not quick and simple but long and fidgety and boring. Boredom has been a large element in my schooling, and I resent that - primary school was basically made up of English that was too easy, maths that was too hard and sport that was simply useless. When a kid faces twelve years locked up in an institution they sometimes have a very bleak view of life and of adults. Teachers are the saddest people with the most pathetic social lives or IQ - and these are the adults that we most frequently associate with.

Right now I'm slightly pissed off, even though I know I shouldn't be - I managed to wriggle my way out of math and science FOREVER. But the source of my annoyance is that I am still forced to endure it for three weeks. Three weeks is too long a time for me, a teenager, to endure tolerably, but it is not long enough to learn anything particularly useful. So, I wonder, why bother? Why not let me live my utopia now? Why must I wait through something hard and boring for something I want? That is the topic, dear reader, of this rant.

So next time you say 'Finish this off and I'll give you some harder/easier/funner work.' Have mercy. The only thing worse than hard work is boring work, because boring work is an utter waste of time. If I dropped dead right now all I could boast of is half a life wasted on math sums.


Mermaid said...

I resent this.

Most of my relatives are teachers, I assure you they have social lives. Also, lol english

Adelaide Dupont said...

"When a kid faces twelve years locked up in an institution they sometimes have a very bleak view of life and of adults."

Certainement! I would probably argue that it happens sooner, at the beginning of the 12 years. Whether it is common, or worst-case scenario, I'll leave up to you and your imagination and reason.

There is a really good example of this, which shows the importance of the Zone of Proximal Development (which most educators might know about, and most good educators know how to use to their advantage and the student's advantage).

On pages 62-63 of the 1984 edition of Annie's Coming Out (the joint biography of a young woman who was locked up in an institution for some fifteen years):

"I learnt something that day, and that there are at least 2 reasons why students don't co-operate, apart from sheer bloody-mindedness. The first and most obvious reason is that we are going too fast and the student can't keep up. The second reason is that we are going too slowly and the student is bored".

(You can replace "fast" and "slowly" with "easy" and "hard", and, yes, the time element is important. The late Anne McDonald said: "Being physically handicapped [or having a chronic/life-limiting condition] alters your expectations of time").

The English language has borrowed a great variety of descriptive words for boredom. Three I like to use are: ennui, torpor and tedium. The physics concept is probably inertia: the state of not moving while in space.

How does it feel to fail a spelling test?

Well, I would feel something like, "I failed. Why am I smart?" In that sense, intellect can be something of a burden, and it probably wouldn't particularly matter that I am smart in other things.

And many good teachers that I know seemed to know about differentiation of work. That is, work in depth or in breadth. That was a better use of time than the straight repetition might have been.

One of my new favourite books talked about a Thomas from the Renaissance who felt just this way - that he should be out there conquering the world, and doing things that people today might not do until their 20s and 30s.

You make the point about the most academic relying on education to have "quality of life", rather than schooling (or in addition to schooling).

The maths and science will probably be there if and when I am receptive to it. And then I could live out my dream with a good conscience and consciousness.

"Half a life wasted on maths sums" does seem like a doomful and baleful prospect!

And at home, it's just the reverse. One of my favourite scenes in Claudia and the Sad Goodbye was when Mimi said, "Why not do the bad work [and that was maths and science] and then English?" That was a gentle incentive to do the hard and challenging work first, for whatever reason, if only because of the sense of accomplishment. Then your mind rests.

And aren't many states doing the "leave school later to increase student participation" schtick? (especially for those who are at risk of disengagement).