Saturday, December 13, 2014

The UnGifted

Recently a reader commented that her kids didn't really want to do their evening at-home academic work. This comment really struck a nerve.  If I could summarize my entire world-view of children, parenting, and my blog it's this:  "It's a parent's duty to produce a gifted child whether the child wants to be gifted or not".

In this family, I am assuming that the kids definitely don't want to be gifted.  This is an assumption because I've never asked them and don't really care what their opinion is on extra work.  Also, they are boys and what boy wants to sit there reading a boring book or doing boring math?  Certainly not me.   All I know is that their behavior is way better when they do extra work instead of start playing and end up fighting, and extra work has a way of improving grades and test scores if done right.

I read through some articles from a few years ago to see if I documented the nightly battle to get kids to do their homework.  Fortunately, I only have a few dozen articles on this topic, but I could write 100 more.   Instead, I found my series on "the 99%" wherein I researched families and children that are in the 99% and listed their secrets.   I concluded that a child is in the 99% academically not because the child is special, but because the parent does not give up.

Last Thursday, we attended my 4th grader's first band concert.   It was like the music man in that the kids were awful and all of the parents were proud.   I was shocked to find out that one of the children dropped out.  As it was told to me second hand, "He didn't really want to be in band..."   Are you kidding me?  What parent would even ask their 4th grade boy what he thinks?  I tried to think of all of the valid excuses a child might have.  "Dad, none of my friends are in band", "Dad, I really hate playing the clarinet", "Dad, I would rather spend an extra hour a day doing math", "Dad, I don't like that boy who's parent writes a blog".  I have a response for each of these and none of my responses involve letting my child not do band.  I'm really disappointed because this particular child is going to be the most successful of all in terms of years in graduate school and my son, who will be a top salesman, needs friends like this.

The band parents had a discussion about practicing, and some of the parents commented that their children were really gung ho about practicing early on but they practice less and less now.  There seems to be a consensus that this is up to the children.   Keep in mind that all of these kids are in the top gifted program in Chicago, maybe the country.  I sense a train wreck in the making.

My kid practices every night because he has to.  It's up to me to lay awake at night trying to figure out how to make him want it.  Lately, I got out an old clarinet and practice with him.  It's the high point of my day.  I wish I didn't quit band in the 7th grade.  In a few months this will get old and I'll try something else.

I convened the Parent Advisory Board from Competitive Parent Magazine on this topic and the results are mixed.  My experience is that it takes about 6 weeks of hell to get kids caught up and to the point where homework or practice goes smoothly and quietly.  My wife says it never goes smoothly and quietly.  The Guy From Work commented on sports and says it's definitely up to the child, and then he repeats his lecture on the topic and it's pretty clear to me and the children that it's not up to the child.

In the mean time, I'm assuming that my kids don't want to do stuff that they need to do, like study and be in band.  I'm also assuming that they lack motivation and organizational skills to successfully practice on a daily basis.   I'm further assuming that they will some day thank me for helping them do it and not letting them quit.

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