“Of course, a child may not know what he may need to know in ten years (who does?), but he knows, and much better than anyone else, what he wants and needs to know right now, what his mind is ready and hungry for. If we help him, or just allow him, to learn that, he will remember it, use it, build on it. If we try to make him learn something else, that we think is more important, the chances are that he won’t learn it, or will learn very little of it, that he will soon forget most of what he learned, and what is worst of all, will before long lose most of his appetite for learning anything.”
~John Holt~ Teach Your Own
Whiny children can be very annoying. You know what’s worse? Whiny parents. Parental whining in my world, and probably in the ‘schooled’ world as well, goes something along the lines of, “I just can’t get him to do anything.” (You have to imagine this being said in a high pitched, complaining tone, effectively adding the ‘whine’) This is followed quickly with, “He’s driving me crazy because all he wants to do is go on the computer all day.” Aha! So it’s not that you can’t get him to ‘do anything’. It’s that you are having no luck coercing him into doing what you want him to do.
When this complaint arises, as it did today at a gathering of homeschoolers, I first allow the hair that has risen on my neck to return to its’ normal position, and then I encourage the parent to let the kid play the games they want and use the computer. It will feel like that’s all they do, but they will tire of it and find other interests as well. I often use Pam Sorooshians brilliant article “The Economics of Restricting TV Watching of Children” which talks all about the ‘utility’ of TV or computers, and how if it is restricted, it never loses that utility – that number one desire in the child’s mind. But if it is allowed without restriction, its’ utility will lessen. Everyone sat nodding in agreement, then two seconds later began discussing how their kid needed to be regulated on the computer. Their kid was different. They’d never stop playing on line games unless forced to. I’d say that never is a very long time, and I doubt anyone has the stamina to stay on the computer non-stop for all eternity.
Most of these parents are people I like and get along with when we are discussing books or films or anything but the learning process. There our paths part. Most of them know that my approach is different from their own. Mostly I’m very laissez faire about the whole thing. But when the whining starts then I can’t help myself.
The quote from John Holt at the top is one I’ve used before. The book Teach Your Own is a treasure of wisdom. Sadly John is no longer with us, but his words are. Maybe I’ll just buy a dozen copies and hand one to any parent who begins to complain about ‘getting’ their child to do something. Especially if it’s said with a little too much whine.