Thursday, May 10, 2012

Some Homeschoolers Lack Comparison

There is a problem that some always-homeschooled kids have that I have never seen written about by others. I've mentioned it here and there, and it's discussed in person sometimes.

This problem has reared its ugly head in our home yet again. I thought we had slayed the dragon.

The problem is the kids lack comparison to other students. I am talking about the child's perception of self, not talking about a homeschool mom comparing what their kids are doing in comparison to schooled kids.

Homeschooled kids are unable to assess where they stand, how they fit in, how they measure up against their peers. I underscore this is most applicable to always-homeschooled kids.

Those of us who have shirked a lot of testing and assessment, or who have actively sought to not rank and rate our kids based on test scores may find it kicks us in the butt when our kids display negative self-esteem. I never tried to insulate my kids from disappointment by not testing them weekly in every subject but I just thought the method of expose, memorize in short-term memory, test, see score, and move on, then forget the info, was just stupid.

Without a basis for comparison, kids who may fall prey to this situation think that any struggle they have to learn is a sign of a defect or low intelligence. One of my sons thought that his struggle was uncommon when in fact it is common indeed.

My older son recently went on a rant that he feels he is stupid at anything and everything. This kid just finished Algebra I in five months by doing two hours a day and he did just fine. This kid has medals for competing in his sport. This kid has medals for his robotics team and has learned a fair amount about robotics in the about 200 hours he has put in in the last five months. I reminded him of the gold medals he won every single year in grades 6-8 for Science Olympiad for events he worked hard to compete in.

He has silly notions like doing math on paper is for dumb kids. He can do most all of it in his head, including Algebra I. He does not realize the natural talent in his ability to do mental math.

Last week this kid revealed that he was under some strange impression that every single fact he has ever read or heard in his entire life, he thought, should be in his long-term memory for each access to pull up at any given moment. He said that he felt his inability to do such a thing was proof that he was stupid. He thought that because he forgot some things in Algebra I already which he hasn't looked at for months, that he was dumb. I showed him the A grades on the assignments and he brushed it aside saying that what good was a grade if he forgot it already.

I had to sit down and explain the school game way of doing things. You are exposed to information; you crank out some assignments and are tested. They write down the test score and you move on. So long as you don't fail, you are done with it. You move on and on and you forget much of what you ever were exposed to. That is normal for a brain for that type of school learning.

My son's response was that was a ridiculous idea and a stupid idea, and how could schools do that to kids and call it learning? I said that is just the way it is.

We have had other conversations about learning and school and education and career preparation. We had discussed how some jobs require a certain college degree but what you learn in college may not ever be used on the job, or just some small portion of it. We become experts at what we spend most of our time doing and the truth is that what people do for careers or jobs seldom is what they learned in high school or any school or college. We also may become experts at some hobby that is fun for us to do in our free time. What we use often or care most about or feel excited about also sticks better in our minds.

I am very surprised that this child of mine who seems to not be the type to constantly compare himself to other people is struggling with low self-esteem due to feelings of not measuring up to others. He is making this up in his own head and it is maddening to me. It makes no common sense (and I told him so) because he does have some grades and even medals for competitions to show that something he did was deemed very good or even one of the top three in a statewide or regional competition.

I have never overly praised my kids or said they did some fantastic thing when all they were doing was typical average stuff. I give compliments and tell them I love them all the time, and I give them unconditional love. I am trying not to blame myself for my son's illogical self-perception.

I can't help but ask myself if I put my son into school would it be helpful for him to see what other kids are like, how other kids struggle, how even smart kids have to actually put forth effort to learn the hard stuff or what is not their natural talent or interest area, to see someone who truly has a low IQ, or to observe a capable kid who just doesn't put forth effort fail tests and assignments?

Sometimes these challenges come out of the blue when we least expect it. I am seldom ready for such discussions when they come from left field. I just try my best to talk about it at the time. Later after I ponder on it awhile I may have new insights and I'll initiate another discussion. This one really threw me for a loop though, because it left me questioning whether keeping my kids out of school really was a good idea, and also whether they have had too much of an alternative education that somehow backfired and resulted in a low self-esteem when it was meant to inspire and to instill a love of what I consider to be a deeper true learning experience than what I consider to be the mainstream path of "the school game".


Roman said...

Hi -

I really like your posts!

I just feel compelled to say this: We parents tend to take what the oldest child says very seriously. We think - what have we done wrong? How can we fix this? Later, when the second one says the same thing, we realize it is a rite of passage. A growth phase. Maybe even hormones!

Everyone feels this way sometimes - adults included. It is normal. Try not to let it upset you. I think it has absolutely nothing to do with homeschooling. In fact, I bet he has many, many days without feeling a need to compare himself to others. Would he have that at regular school? No way. It would be a constant onslaught - wondering and being reminded of where he ranks in every facet of his life.

Moments of insecurity are invaluable - they help us mature into mindful adults.

Jocelyn said...

Thank you for your heartfelt sharing. Two of my kids have struggled with this, and it's thrown me for a loop as well.

Two things come to mind. 1. Having the child take an outside course can help them know that they could do it if they needed to. And 2. This is not the end of the story. I believe that once our kids are much older, they'll have a better perspective of how their gaining critical thinking skills in the manner that they did will really serve them well.

KC said...

I'm not sure it's a matter of homeschool vs. public school. People just get unrealistic expectations of what 'smart' people should be like. I still struggle with the fact I'll never be the best at anything. I did well in school, scored in the top 93rd percent on my ACT's, am a decent musician and artist, but have a really really hard accepting that and I've been around people to compare myself to my whole life. :)

It's just something that I've had to come to grips with over the years. And I still have bad days where I'm like "I totally suck." But, most days, I can realize that my expectations of myself are completely unrealistic. So, even knowing I'm 'smarter' than a lot of people, also knowing I'm not 'the smartest' is still hard for me. It's totally lame, but, it is what it is. I like to think it gives me humility. :)

Trace said...

What about comparing himself with himself? What I mean is - he can keep track of his own progress in any given subject and look back to see how proficient and capable he has become over time. Self esteem comes not from comparing our efforts with others, nor from being praised or complimented - but from realizing that we are indeed capable of learning and progressing and eventually mastering skills (in short - self reliance).

A really good book that I would recommend reading is called the Self Esteem Trap...