When I was in college I had a hard time focusing on prescribed topics. I couldn’t handle the feminist reading of The Republic. Seriously, I could barely even understand the Cliffs Notes reading of The Republic.

On the other hand, I took an art history course and I become obsessed. Each painting we studied lead me to study fifty related paintings. I had to know everything. For my final paper I stayed up for days cutting out pictures to illustrate my points about the depersonalizing of the human form.

My professor wrote a note to me at the end of my paper that she couldn’t believe I cut up a book to illustrate my paper. “Do not cut up books!” she wrote. Next to a D.

I wanted to tell her not to worry. I had ten books on the topic. But whatever. I got a D and kept reading them.

So it’s no surprise that I drag my kids to the Art Institute in Chicago a lot. I grew up here with the Thorne Rooms. And the outstanding collection of Impressionist paintings.

I told my kids “It’s Seurat! Go up close! It’s all dots!”

They tried hard to get as excited as I am about art.

But really, I can’t say that the museum was a hit. By the time we were done with my tidbits about water lilies (Look! See how he lost his eyesight?) the kids were done.

I didn’t understand the core of the problem of my kids at the Art Institute until I started homeschooling.

Which brings me to this question I received a few days ago:

Hi Penelope,

I love math–I want to impart some of my love of math to my kids. You may disagree that math doesn’t need to be taught but it’s just that simple:  I love it. If possible I want to share my love of it with my children.

But I don’t know how. I have looked around but everything seems like it would bore my son who currently doesn’t love math.

So I need ideas, just a hook to enjoy something that I think makes life a lot more fun if you can enjoy it.


And, here’s my answer. Which I know because I know my kids would rather eat Art Institute food than look at Art Institute art:

Dear Jared,

Don’t try to change your kid.

“Impart a love of learning” anything is shorthand for wishing you could have kids who are more like you. And it’s usually evidence that the parent is not doing what they love. You probably feel special that you love math and you want your kid to be special.

You know the phrase those who can’t do teach? Nowhere is that more true than in the realm of pushy, overbearing parents. It’s the parents who are stuck in that rut of feeling like they are not fulfilling some mythic potential so they have to use their kids to fulfill their dreams.

Don’t force feed learning. You wouldn’t like it, so why do it to your kids?

Not everyone can love math. I love beach volleyball.  I think it’s elegant, like a dance. And strategic, like chess. And it’s very healthy and it encourages social relationships. But does this mean I should teach every kid volleyball even if they are not interested? Of course not.

I don’t think your son needs to learn math any more than he needs to learn volleyball. No child really learns things that don’t interest him, so why would you want your son to do that? Your son is smart and curious and will find his own things to love to learn. He doesn’t need to love what you love. If you want to do math, do it for yourself.