People who know me know my second love after homeschooling is lifting and that I love listening to podcasts while swinging a kettlebell around on my back patio in the mornings.
This morning, I was listening to one such podcast (The Paleo Solution by Robb Wolf) when two things struck me very clearly. Call it an endorphin rush if you will, but it was almost as if there was crystal clarity in my head about two very important things (that had nothing to do with paleo eating, by the way – sorry, Robb!) in that moment. It all just seemed to fit – and I pretty much wrote this entire blog post in my head.
Also, after yesterday’s epic rant about the classroom model, I felt like I had to elaborate so as to not lose those five followers I have in the blogosphere.
All right, so here goes. It all makes sense in the end – bear with me.
No Matter How Right / Good / Experienced You Are, Someone Will Question and / or Laugh at You
The first thing that struck me pretty early on was when Robb was talking about Brazilian jiu-jitsu, which – as I understand it – is something like mixed martial arts and he said that the bouts lasted five to ten minutes. Now, as someone married to a guy who used to do this kind of thing, I know how long five minutes can seem in a bout. Also, if you’ve ever even punched and kicked a bag for two minute rounds, you know the clock pretty much stops dead. (And the bag isn’t even punching back!) Anyway, trust me – five minutes is looooong and ten minutes is an eternity.
What made me almost choke with laughter was that during this exchange, the guest, who is in own right is a pretty well renowned bicyclist, laughed and said,
“But it only lasts five minutes.”
And that made me think about the reality of life in general and homeschooling in particular for a few minutes. Because it’s often like that.
People who have no clue what the other person is doing or how hard it is or how technical it is will often pipe up and say things like that. People who recommend homeschool advice, people who ask stay at home moms what they do all day, people who assume unschoolers are lazy, we really have no clue.
We have no clue. It’s all hard and it’s all different and just because you’re proficient at one thing doesn’t make you proficient, educated or experienced enough in everything else to have an opinion about it. This goes for the soccer mom and it goes for the school-at-home mom.
The next time I want to give advice to a mom who does not want to teach without textbooks, I’m going to think of this bicyclist saying, “It only lasts five minutes.”
And then, I’ll shut up. Well, I’ll try.
But the point is, it will happen. It will happen often enough that you will shake your head and wonder why such a stupid thing came out of the mouth of someone who is otherwise so smart. And the answer will be, well, because. Because he’s a person and people can be incredibly well-meaning and insanely intelligent but also amazingly silly.
And as a homeschooler, you have to be able to let it go. If you take every piece of advice, comment, awkward dialogue personally, if you begin to believe it, you will fail before you even start. You almost have to have the reaction the podcaster had in this case, which was to say, “Yeah,” and move right along to the next thing.
Competition Isn’t The Best Way
Now, now, before you start to roll your eyes, I’m not talking about this as an economic policy. Also, I’m not a fan of banning keeping score at a sports game and giving everyone a consolation prize. I’m referring here to the knee-jerk idea of using competition to teach a skill, a character trait, a new concept or even basic information.
Why do we think that lining children up and asking them to say the right answer and giving them a prize is the way to make them learn something?
Well, because it works. And therein lies the rub. Yes, it works. The caveat is that it works for some. The even bigger caveat is that it works some of the time.
Certain people have personalities that are driven by competition. As Robb Wolf put it, “men will die for points.” He gave the example of Crossfit gyms that put people’s names on the board that have timed bests – most reps in five minutes, most deadlifts, burpees, whatever. And he found that these gyms attracted that kind of personality.
On the face of it, that sounds like a good thing, right? What’s the harm in getting better, faster, stronger? However, there is a flip side.
And the flip side was that these very same people interested in elite athletic training, these same people driven by competition were not as interested in learning proper form, were not concerned with preventing injuries, indeed were not interested in anything but the focused attention on winning, almost to the detriment of their health.
Additionally, gyms that catered to this personality not only LOST the majority of people who were interested in being healthy and increase mobility and could be helped without resorting to competition, but they also eventually went under. And this was because in Robb Wolf’s own words,
“At some point I don’t care how tough you are, how wired up you are for suffering. At some point you decide that you’ve had enough of that and you leave which is a real shame for these gyms because that’s usually somebody that’s been in a gym 2, 3, 4 years and then they end up peeling out and that’s a huge shame.”
He would know. He helped to co-found the very first and fourth Crossfit gyms in the world.
To bring this back to homeschooling, however, is it possible that at some point, our children could simply want out of the so-called competition? When there’s no one to impress? When there are no stickers, no candy, no prizes, will they still remember what they learned? I’m all for tests, but they are not the be all and end all of everything.
Does this seem too far-fetched? Am I stretching the analogy too much? I don’t think so.
Competition might work for short amounts of time, but getting students to learn based on competition alone increases class participation but does little else for learning. If we accept that children are unique, it’s time to dump the competition model and find something better.
(If you’re interested in listening to the podcast I have been referring to in this blog post, you can listen to it here.)