Saturday, June 22, 2019

A note on GAT Parenting

Many people have stated that Augustine, a 4th century theologian, was the most brilliant person of the first millennium. While I'm not overwhelmed by his work, there is a case to be made that he is the genius of this time. However, it's his mother that I find a much more fascinating and useful story.

He had a mother named Monica who was a very devote religious person. As Augustine grew up, left the house, and began his career, he became the opposite of a very devote religious person. Therefore Monica prayed. Time passed, no results. So she continued to pray for many many years. Finally, when she was old, Augustine became super religious and Monica was declared a saint for her efforts. Many people consider Monica the official saint of 'not giving up and continuing to pray until her prayers were answered'.

Unfortunately, these people are wrong. Monica is a saint of a much more important lesson to GAT parenting. I'm a little bit disappointed that current theologians have missed the whole point of Monica's life and the importance of the backstory here.

Monica was an awful person. Augustine was married to a woman he loved and had a child he adored, but Monica did not approve of the wife because Augustine's wife did not her share religion. Augustine's wife was more into paganism and atheism. Therefore, Monica broke up the marriage and drove the wife and child off, never to be seen again. This isn't a good example to set for any religion. Monica's evil efforts were performed right in the middle of Monica trying to convert Augustine and in the midst of her prayers that he become a 'good' person.

The real lesson of Monica's sainthood and the importance to us is that her long trial was not so much not giving up in prayer, but changing her prayer from "please give Augustine 'my' religion", which was as awful as she was, to "give Augustine a real religion worth having". Her long life of prayer was really a long life of converting herself from a bad person, an example not worthy of following, to a good person who everyone would like to emulate. In other words, the real conversion was hers, and this was a necessary condition for converting her son.

Back to GAT

In the event that this is not obvious to you, I'm going to spell it out in detail and then share my story which is similar if not identical to Monica's.

A short but useful definition of a GAT child is one who knows how to learn, using this skill to teach himself and ending up way ahead of peers who don't have this skill. Children are all born GAT, but their ability to learn is usually beaten out of them by parents who want to do the work for the child, risk-adverse hovering parents who think GAT means knowing stuff and being better on a standardized test because they know more stuff than their peers, impatient parents who want to skip the mess of learning and just tell stuff to kids and make kids practice it. If you want a car for your child, you have to buy it. If you want your child to be a strong learner, the child has to buy it with their own efforts. There are no shortcuts, no endowments, no advantage to being rich, unless you happen to be rich because you're a strong learner, well educated, and know to mentor your employees, in which case being a GAT parent is a forgone conclusion.

If a parent-child GAT team is frustrated - frustrate for whatever reason this parent 'thinks' is the cause of their frustration, the actual cause is that the parent has killed learning and now their child is not meeting expectations as a strong learner. Go read the Monica story again, which is true, by the way, and it's exactly the same thing.


Here's my story. When I started down this road with a 5 year old, we decided to tackle math and reading. I had a vague notion of what GAT was and a lot of math in my background to help me overcome my ineptitude as a math mentor. For reading, I handed him a 60 page book and asked him to read it to me, figuring out he would learn to read as he went along. For math, we just jumped right into 2nd grade math. In Kindergarten. Before we actually did any other math other than count to 5.

My heart was in the right place, but my parenting skill set lacked even the merest shred of competency. My choice of methods was ill informed - I decided to do it because 99% of other people were not doing it. There was a lot of yelling and crying, much frustration, and little progress. If things weren't going as planned, I just got more worksheets and tried different material. It turns out that the only correct expectation that I had at the time was that this would work. All of my methods sucked, and not just deficient and counter productive, more like way off the mark.

The change

At this time, I decided to solve the Prime Number Theory. I'll spare you the details, but after 5 years I ended up with a sieve that performed faster on the PC than other sieves, and I found a few special properties that a researcher in Australia missed in his paper on sieves (which he probably spent a few weeks writing).

I also gave up on my approach - which was not making anyone happy, and developed the zero expectation, do a few problems slowly, make the kid do all the work, and never check the answers approach that I've mentioned repeatedly. This is the opposite of school curriculum, and that's why I wrote Test Prep Math, what with it's convoluted questions designed to force the child to read the question more carefully. The errors in the solutions to the first few editions directly stem from my attitude toward rewarding a child's hard work by telling them that they got the problem wrong, which is a foregone conclusion because I would never give a child a question they could get right. There's no learning in that.

In other words, I created a learning environment, which I totally needed, not to mention the child. You can learn a lot if you do a few math problems or one unsolvable number theory. You can't learn anything trying to perfect division so that your child is better than other children on division problems.


I'm not 100% sure what 'after' holds. We're right in the beginning of after, and I created a whole new website to help me figure it out, but it appears to be going well. We study for big tests five problems at a time, a few days a week, and usually get them wrong. A lot of learning takes place during that 45 minutes. I expect 2 things - nothing from the child, and to spend an hour counting the number of correct answers above the 99% level when I see the results. By court order, I'm required to call out a bunch of great teachers who actually taught my children 'stuff', but I encouraged them not to do their homework, which they did anyway. It's a balance.

In terms of stress level my kids aren't afraid of the consequence of falling short - because is this house, there are none. I've got one child who is always stressed out late at night trying to finish a big project, because he expands the scope by a factor of 10 and shoots for 'way beyond'. I blame myself for this. The other kid


  1. Hi! Whats ur new website?

    1. I'm so behind on articles.

  2. I have followed you from almost the beginning. I remember some articles in which you thought only bots were reading; nope I was reading as well. I had printed out and used your original booklets (yeah from way back). After using many of your ideas throughout the years, now my children are doing extremely well in school. I just wanted to say thank you. You have been an extremely important part in my children's education.

    1. Thanks anonymous. I'm glad to hear that, and I'm not surprised. There's the chance that the secret is an engaged parent who values education, thus making me a charlatan. My kids are also doing well, and have become very independent. I would love to survey the parents who did the program to find out how their kids are doing.