School

11/25/13

Dalton has started refusing to go to school.  My sister thinks that all of his problems are caused by my failure to teach him to properly manage his time.  She has arranged to take us both to see a therapist to discuss this.  In the meantime I have been researching the possibility of home-schooling Dalton.  This is what he claims he has always wanted to do.  Perhaps it is what he needs.

But I find myself now feeling like I need to defend myself.  How can I deal with this?  So I write.  I give this to my sister to read.  She says it changes nothing.  But I am posting it here for the record.

I didn’t have enough time to write this as well as I wanted to, but I have done this in order to clear my thoughts and also because I often feel the need to explain myself since so many people fail to really understand my unconventional thinking.

To first state the facts, Dalton, after missing too much school, got behind on his work.  He told me he had things under control, but then I learned that he had not been doing his make-up work.  He manages to keep up with his daily work for the most part but when he gets behind, he gets overwhelmed, stressed out, extremely anxious, depressed, and unable to cope.  So he has missed more school, not wanting to go back and face his teachers until he is caught up.   His anxiety gets extreme; he has headaches.

I have been told that because of my ADHD I have let him down by not teaching him how to manage his time adequately and not making him do his work.  I have also been criticized for not making him go to bed when he should (among other things).

Perhaps I could have helped him better, but I touched base with him daily, encouraged him, offered to help, and was told that he “had things under control.”  I believed him.  And he wants to manage his homework independently.  He gets very upset if I try to manage it for him or insist on a rigid schedule.  And he mostly does manage it – except when he gets behind.

He does not always manage his time in the best way; he procrastinates and at times is kept up later than I would wish because of it.  It is not perfect, but he mostly does what he needs to do.  He would do fine if he never got sick and missed school.  And realistically, especially based on his history, this is not likely to happen, so an alternative solution is necessary.

As for my forcing him to do his homework on an arbitrary schedule, that does not work well.  The times when I have tried, he has not been able to focus and accomplish anything.  When he does it according to his own timetable (with my guidance), he does much better.  I do not need to motivate him to do his homework in most cases because it is important to him to get it done so that he feels competent and confidant at school.  Not doing his work makes him anxious and ill.  When he was younger, he often could not cope with going to school at all if he had not done his work.  He has learned and is learning.  Managing time is something that most people have trouble with and is an ongoing effort in most cases.  His refusal to do things when I want him to has nothing to do with time management.

I do not believe that what this is about has much, if anything, to do with ADD.

Dalton has done remarkably well in a school system that is severely dysfunctional and ill-suited to most kids and especially to kids who are extra smart and sensitive, like my son.  All it does is stress them out and discourage them.  And in some cases, it makes them sick.  It did me, and it seems to be true for my son as well, despite my encouragement and my efforts to provide him with a positive experience.

Dalton recently told me how it feels for him.  He wishes that school was more interactive, more hands-on, more time spent doing the work, where the learning and the work go hand in hand, but instead they have to sit there and listen for hours and then are given a stack of work to go off and do that then, out of context, is simply meaningless and irrelevant.  He feels like sitting in class is just a waste of time and then after hours of being at school, the last thing he wants to do when he finally gets home is schoolwork that seems meaningless.  I totally understand.

Who could deal with this?  To expect kids to deal with this day after day where there is no intrinsic motivation, is insanity.  It goes against human nature.  Trying to force my child to deal with such an unpleasant thing would be dooming him to dysfunction and misery.  I do not believe that children should be required to be miserable.  I do not believe that misery is required in order to learn or to be a responsible individual.  And I do not believe that it is my ADD that has created this situation.  Perhaps my ADD has simply made me more aware of the situation.

I have written pages and pages in my journal about what I think about school.  But rather than dig up all of that, I have found an article that very succinctly expresses my sentiments.  In “School is a prison – and damaging our kids,” author Peter Gray says:

“The top-down, teach-and-test method, in which learning is motivated by a system of rewards and punishments rather than by curiosity or by any real, felt desire to know, is well designed for indoctrination and obedience training but not much else. It’s no wonder that many of the world’s greatest entrepreneurs and innovators either left school early (like Thomas Edison), or said they hated school and learned despite it, not because of it (like Albert Einstein).

“It’s no wonder that, today, even the “best students” (maybe especially them) often report that they are “burned out” by the schooling process.

“Most students — whether A students, C students, or failing ones — have lost their zest for learning by the time they reach middle school or high school.”

And he goes on to say:

“We’re not surprised that learning is unpleasant. We think of it as bad-tasting medicine, tough to swallow but good for children in the long run. Some people even think that the very unpleasantness of school is good for children, so they will learn to tolerate unpleasantness, because life after school is unpleasant. Perhaps this sad view of life derives from schooling. Of course, life has its ups and downs, in adulthood and in childhood. But there are plenty of opportunities to learn to tolerate unpleasantness without adding unpleasant schooling to the mix. Research has shown that people of all ages learn best when they are self-motivated, pursuing questions that are their own real questions, and goals that are their own real-life goals. In such conditions, learning is usually joyful.”

This is a very good article and I found it to be validation for what I have always inherently believed.  I think everyone who has anything to do with a school-age child should read this.

I found another article, written in 1969, entitled “School is Bad for Children,” which expresses similar concerns.  Schools were bad then and they are bad now.  While some things have gotten better, other things have become worse – the increase in the amount of work, for instance.

Our school system is built on an archaic belief system which has very little to do with the way kids learn.  Boys, in particular, often have particular difficulties and there is some good information about this at PBS Parents Guide to Raising Boys.

I have for quite some time wondered if the regular school system was the right choice for Dalton.  I have had very definite concerns about the way things are and I’m not really surprised that he has problems with it.  However, I have tried to guide him through school in the “normal” way to the best of my ability.  Mostly he has done OK and remarkably well in some ways.  But I refuse to force him to deal with the system if it is not working for him.

Dalton is an exceptional individual.  He is very smart, perceptive, creative, sensitive, compassionate, and capable; he gets along well with people.  He is a good boy.  But school has always been a challenge for him – not academically and not socially for the most part – but because it is often a distasteful drudgery that sometimes seems unbearable.

So Dalton gets sick a lot and misses too much school, then he has a hard time getting back into it and gets behind, which has increasingly become a problem the higher he gets in school because there is increasingly more work.  When he is not behind, he does manage to keep up with his work and is easily capable of good grades.  When he gets behind, he gets overwhelmed, gives up, freaks out and shuts down.  This is not a bad thing, but is because he does care and does want to do well.  He is simply too intelligent and sensitive to be able to cope with it and I understand this very well.

Dalton wants to learn, he wants to succeed.  He has no trouble doing what is required when he has the motivation and isn’t wiped out from being in school all day.  I really think this situation has less to do with time management, and everything to do with motivation.

Kids are not blank slates waiting for us to program them like little robots.  They are unique individuals who simply need guidance to let them be who they are.  Some kids can handle certain things better than others.  I do not believe in trying to force them to be someone they are not or to make them conform to illogical systems that make them miserable.  By forcing our kids through this system, it only adds to how dysfunctional and absurd so much of our society currently is.

Thankfully, there are apparently more and more people out there who feel as I do.  In the Peter Gray article I quoted above, he also says this:

“In our culture today, there are many routes through which children can apply their natural drives and instincts to learn everything they need to know for a successful adulthood. More than 2 million children in the United States now base their education at home and in the larger community rather than at school, and an ever-increasing proportion of their families have scrapped set curricular approaches in favor of self-directed learning.”

I am grateful to have found a possible alternative situation that might work well for Dalton.  He is considering the idea but seems to think it might be the perfect thing.  In fact he said that it seems “too good to be true.”  I have no doubt that Dalton could do very well in such a situation and I have no fear that I am not completely able to oversee this successfully – ADHD or not.  While it remains to be seen if this is, in fact, the best choice for Dalton, I can envision it being a much better situation for both of us.  I want to see my son thrive and I know that he can if given a fair chance.

Peter Gray ends his article by saying:

“I don’t mean to paint self-directed education as a panacea. Life is not always smooth, no matter what the conditions. But my research and others’ research in these settings has convinced me, beyond any doubt, that the natural drives and abilities of young people to learn are fully sufficient to motivate their entire education. When they want or need help from others, they ask for it. We don’t have to force people to learn; all we need to do is provide them the freedom and opportunities to do so. Of course, not everyone is going to learn the same things, in the same way, or at the same time. But that’s a good thing. Our society thrives on diversity. Our culture needs people with many different kinds of skills, interests and personalities. Most of all, we need people who are pursuing life with passion and who take responsibility for themselves throughout life. These are the common denominators of people who have taken charge of their own education.”

Finally, the goal now is to this week help Dalton get caught up enough on his required work so that after the break he can go back to school and be able to hold his head up and finish out the semester with passing grades.

In the meantime we will be getting more information about this alternative arrangement.  There is an information meeting we will attend on December 10th before any decision is made.

The school is currently working on trying to arrange some counseling for Dalton.

What I see happening is that he needs a different kind of situation – one where he can work at home at his own pace in a self-directed way.  He will acquire new skills in doing this, but he believes (as do I) that it will be much more motivating and pleasant.  We shall see.

As for the other concerns:  Dalton believes he should be able to stay up late and sleep in late on the weekends.  Within reason, while I know it is better to have more regular sleep habits, I cannot see this as a problem.  As long as Dalton handles his responsibilities, then he can manage himself.

I do not believe that this is about my not making Dalton do his homework.  It is not about him playing video games.  Video games are not necessarily a bad thing, despite all the negative opinions out there.  In fact I found a couple of good articles about ways that video games are actually beneficial and I have been increasingly hearing more of that.  Here are two that are worth reading:  8 Reasons Video Games Can Improve Your Child , and Taking Play Seriously: How Video Games Can Have a Positive Effect on Our Kids.

More and more I am hearing that the rise in ADD in children has a lot to do with our school system.  In a NY Times article The Not-So-Hidden Cause Behind the A.D.H.D. Epidemic, the author states that “Nationwide, the rates of A.D.H.D. diagnosis increased by 22 percent in the first four years after No Child Left Behind was implemented.” There appears to be a compelling correlation in the rise of ADD to what is going on with our schools.  It is something to think about.

Please believe me, I do want what is best for Dalton and I will do everything in my power to make that happen.  But what might appear best to someone else is not necessarily what I see as being best.  But I do know my son.  And I do respect my instincts.

The next thing is that Dalton needs to be allowed to have his say and a lot of this will be up to him.  He needs to be heard as well.  And I have not filled his head with my opinions or notions, trust me.  He has not heard any of this from me.  But I have observed and I have listened to him.  And what I am learning from him is exactly what my feelings have always been on the matter.  And I want to give him a better chance than I had to really thrive and spread his wings.

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