Education does not mean “learn to do stuff you don’t like”

Education does not mean “learn to do stuff you don’t like”

My brother is getting married to a woman who is so brilliant and kind and amazing that some days I wish I were marrying her.

We went to her dissertation defense. It was something about enzymes and I don’t know what else because I could understand about six words in the whole talk. But it was exciting to watch a bunch of scientists get excited about the discovery she made. Engaged people are engaging to watch.

My son went to the defense as well. He wants to be a scientist and he thought it would be fun to watch someone get a PhD.

Luckily he had a Big Nate book in his backpack. After about a twenty minutes of enzymes he asked me if I thought it would be rude to read it. I told him it’s fine. I whispered, “Half the room has no idea what she’s talking about.”

My son is twelve. He is reading a comic book. Because that’s what he likes to read. I didn’t tell him to sit through the talk on enzymes because he should learn to sit through something hard. You don’t need to learn how to be bored. It comes naturally to all of us when we are forced to do something we don’t like.

Which is why it’s absolutely ridiculous that people think they need to send their kids to school to learn to do stuff they don’t like. Since when do we need to learn to do stuff we don’t like?

Test yourself: Do you eat food you don’t like? Of course not. You look for healthy food that you like.

Do some research: Does it work to get people to exercise by having them do stuff they don’t like? No. You need to try lots of different types of exercise until you find a type you enjoy. That’s what enables everyone to achieve regular exercise.

Look around you: Are the people who are happy in adult life doing things they don’t like or are they doing things they choose to do because they think that’s their best life?

Adults function best by figuring out what they like and doing it. This is true for even the most difficult things in adult life. Here is my experience of the first month of breastfeeding: It hurts, it’s annoying, I got no sleep, I felt like an animal. That said, I chose to do that because my best adult life is being the best mom I can be. So, okay, that month was not great, but I chose to do it.

Here’s a common counter-example: The person who says “I get up every morning to go to work and I don’t want to do that, so you should get up every morning and go to school because that’s what life is like.”

It’s pathetic—really. If you don’t want to wake up every morning then you probably need to re-examine your life. But just because you are choosing to live a life you don’t like doesn’t mean you need to train your kids to do that.

What is probably more true for you, (since this blog skews toward readers who have an examined life), is that you looked at all the choices in adult life and you picked the tasks that you would be best at, based on who you are. The carpenter is not doing something hard for the carpenter—the carpenter loves what he does. But going to an office every day would be something very difficult and not enjoyable for a carpenter.

So he shouldn’t go to an office. In the same way that a VP of marketing should not make cabinets all day. He won’t like it. And he’ll suck at it. And if that VP of marketing has any self-respect, he will figure out how to hire someone to make the cabinets and he’ll spend time marketing the cabinet maker’s skills. Because given the freedom, each of us gravitates to what we are good at and what we like doing.

That’s what education should be: teaching people to gravitate to what they are good at and what they like doing. You can’t learn that in school. Because school teaches you to put up with doing stuff you don’t like.

Why would you want to teach your kids to put up with a life they don’t like?



70 replies
  1. Joyce
    Joyce says:

    Why can’t you learn it in school? Students can go to the classes they like, talk to the teachers they want, and study or do what they want to learn. Not all schools are like that, but more schools can be like that.

    • UnschoolingMama
      UnschoolingMama says:

      I can’t name one school I know like that. That’s not the reality for the vast majority of students before college.

      I’ve worked in schools. It honestly doesn’t seem feasible to me. A great ideal, yes. But something that can actually be implemented and sustained? I’m highly skeptical.

      • Joyce
        Joyce says:

        Yes, it’s not feasible now, but it can happen in a generation, especially in developed countries. We didn’t have internet and Wi-Fi when we were growing up. Now we have online video games and college courses. In the future, children will just go to school to do science lab, play team sports, or build tech stuff.

        So I’m very thankful to read Penelope’s blog. Her ideas may be out of this world, but it makes me think and imagine that our education could be better.

  2. jessica
    jessica says:

    How much does it matter if a kid is coming from an already highly educated family, though?

    Kids coming from Ph.D. families are shown what grit, determination, and doing things you don’t necessarily want to do to get where you want to go are necessary.

    You have to do things you don’t want to do. It’s important that those things are a small part in a big picture.

    Traditional school amplifies doing things you don’t want to do, instead of minimizing it in context.

    • YesMyKidsAreSocialized
      YesMyKidsAreSocialized says:

      One’s education should not be forced. Children learn that they need to do things they don’t want to do. That is what parenting and guiding is for…but not education. One should have complete control over their education. Forcing five subjects in a mass consumer way breeds mediocrity.

  3. Sarah M
    Sarah M says:

    I find it funny that even in college you don’t really get to pick what you want to do until about midway through year 2, when if you’ve been going at a speedy rate you’re done with your generals. I hated science classes (I LOVE learning about the science I’m interested in, but I’ve never been academically ‘good’ at it) and I was forced to take 3 science-related classes for my degree in English. I floundered through all of them and don’t remember anything from them. I’m just annoyed I was forced to pay for all of it (i.e. I *had* to have them to graduate), that I didn’t enjoy, nor did any of the info I had to learn play into any interest or direction of my degree.

    • YesMyKidsAreSocialized
      YesMyKidsAreSocialized says:

      Yes, even colleges and universities remain inside the box. My engineer husband was equally miffed at being required to take sociology courses and multiple English courses for his mechanical engineering undergrad, as were all the engineering students. There are ways around this at many institutions, either clep out of the classes, take AP classes etc. Producing “well-rounded” college graduates is an idea left over from the Industrial Age.

      • Alyssa
        Alyssa says:

        If you are able to give a little more explanation about your thoughts on “well rounded” being an idea left over from the Industrial Age, I would love to here it. I was talking to someone recently about this topic and what you said piquied my interest. :)

        • jessica
          jessica says:

          To have any chance of competing in the next years, a kid needs to specialize.

          All top-performers specialize anyway, so the idea isn’t new. Implementing it in the middle and lower class is.

          That’s all.

        • YesMyKidsAreSocialized
          YesMyKidsAreSocialized says:

          Jessica is right and I will just add that it was expected that one needed to know a little bit about a lot of different subjects. With the Internet and easy access to information, one does not have the need to be well-rounded to be successful. My spouse is an engineer in the space industry and they are not discussing Shakespeare (for example) at work, they are producing, designing, and creating rockets. If for some reason Shakespeare came up, one simply needs to go online and they can find literature and multiple synopsis that could be useful for conversation, one doesn’t need to pay for a four credit college course and resent being forced into the class because it is required for a well-rounded degree.

    • dcline
      dcline says:

      An associated issue I’m surprised never to see mentioned here is getting into classes you want. You might want to take a Greek mythology class to complete an engineering degree because you had some of it in high school and liked it. But you won’t get into it since lots of people had it in high school and figure maybe they can re-purpose a high school term paper for college credit. So instead you get stuck in Indian mythology which you know nothing about, care nothing about and which has a higher than average reading requirement. And this is what you’re paying for.
      It’s been decades since I’ve been to college so I hope that’s changed.

  4. Helen
    Helen says:

    These posts always make me think.

    One of the assumptions embedded in Penelope’s view is that there is no body of knowledge you need to be well-educated. Or, put differently, there’s nothing we all should know as adults.

    I think about this a lot. I don’t find economics all that interesting, but I think it’s a good idea for everyone to understand how the Great Recession of 2008 happened. Science is not my forte, but I think understanding scientific principals is important for evaluating claims (of politicians, of companies, etc.).

    Anyway — if we only follow our bliss, are we not missing out on important information? Are there things we should know and understand because that knowledge and understanding is important to being an adult? And that’s not even getting into the question of whether there are things we should all know to maintain a culture.

    I also wonder if kids might miss some things they’d be interested in, if they were only exposed to it.

    Anyway. I homeschool my three kids and follow Penelope’s blog because she always makes me think about how and why I homeschool.

    • YesMyKidsAreSocialized
      YesMyKidsAreSocialized says:

      There are no “have tos” in our homeschooling household. Our children are exposed to a variety of topics through family conversations, but there are no subjects that are required for our children to be forced to study. We engage in many different areas of conversation, economics of many different time periods not just the most recent blip, scientific principles get discussed daily but are never forced, all our learning is organic. As a parent who is fortunate enough to unschool and have a supportive spouse we approach learning differently than exposure to ideas.

      • redrock
        redrock says:

        I have to admit that I lean towards Helen’s idea of a common body of knowledge. I would not go as far as to subscribe a canon of literature everybody has to read, but I would go far enough to require from everybody a basic understanding of Newton’s laws, the pythagorean theorem, the theory of evolution, what holds the world together, basic difference between economic and political systems in the world, and density functional theory (well, you need not take me up on the latter one). I know from teaching many students over the years that a top down approach following only what fascinates you at the moment (I think Nanoscience is soooo cool – can I come over and do some research? ) very rarely leads to a good in-depth scientific inquiry. Sometimes this can be the starting point. More often then not this approach does not lead to deep long term investment. However, the bottom up approach, leading from a vague interest in physics to a deep involvement in nanoscience is frequently much more successful. Physics gives you a wide landscape of possibilities, however, starting from Nanoscience (or particle physics or whatever) already limits you to a narrower scope of possibilities. Sorry about the physic-y examples, it is simply the field I know most about.

        However, if a kid grows up in a family where a broad range of topics are discussed in a daily basis they will automatically see many things and are thus much less limited in choice. But this is not the case for many families…

        • YesMyKidsAreSocialized
          YesMyKidsAreSocialized says:

          Well I think you being an engineering professor makes you a little biased as to what ought to be forced subjects to learn. My sis in law is a phd professor of sociology who equally feels everyone should be educated on criminology and deviant behavior. No disagree that everyone needs to know everything…forcibly. Of course if you have kids who are sponges then go for it.

          • redrock
            redrock says:

            I am happy to add: have seen a painting by Picasso and Rembrand to compare different times in history, know the basics of World War I and II events in history…. and the Pythagorean theorem is really at the basics – just after you learn how to draw a triangle. And I threw in a politics example… what is basic knowledge is always somewhat biased, and the discussion is ongoing. But I was more going for the difference between foundational knowledge and the top of the pyramid knowledge.

            None of the above is really a specialized topic. Except for the density functional theory :-)

    • Vanessa
      Vanessa says:

      You think it’s a good idea to understand how the Great Recession happened because it likely impacted your life in some way. I’d argue that anyone who was in any way impacted by the Great Recession would be motivated to understand why it happened, including those who never studied economics.

      Many of us learned about the Great Depression in school but that didn’t stop us from experiencing more economic downturns in later years.

    • Penelope Trunk
      Penelope Trunk says:

      That part you wrote about everyone should know what happened to cause the recession of 2008. It’s interesting to me because where I live — rural Wisconsin where everyone farms — I was absolutely shocked by how many people had no idea what had happened to cause a recession. Like, not even a basic knowledge that it was somehow connected to Wall. St.

      But there is also a huge body of very basic knowledge that people have here, where I live, that economists don’t have. Like, how do you know when to plant corn? (When you can see oak leaves blooming.) And how do you decide where being one field and end another?(Drainage patterns.)

      The idea of what is basic knowledge is so dependent on where you live. And who you know.


      • Trilby
        Trilby says:

        Everyone should know where food comes from, even if they never have to harvest a crop or butcher an animal. So I think there are some things that should be basic knowledge to everyone, regardless of where we live or what we do.

  5. Kina
    Kina says:

    This post is depressing me. Thinking back about the stuff I was forced to learn, the authorities to obey. It is us adults who need to unlearn what we were told for so long so that we can become effective learning facilitators to our children.

  6. Tracy
    Tracy says:

    OK, so I don’t disagree with the main sentiment of this rant, but do want to comment on some of the details, perhaps just semantics (you know, because I skew towards examining things)

    The post intermixes what I feel are two separate ideas: the idea of ‘liking’ something i.e. finding a natural tendency to/gravitating towards it. Like we talk about INTJs ‘liking’ problem solving or ENTJs ‘liking’ running companies . And then there is the other thing: doing something that you wouldn’t naturally enjoy but you know in the long run is how you want to live life, with the example of breastfeeding. Or say another example could be an ENTJ staying home to homeschool the kids. So in the latter case I feel you are doing something you don’t ‘like’ for good reason, but that doesn’t automatically make it easier to do. So you learn to like it, as we do over and over again. Like I learnt to read the same book over and over again to my kid even though at first I found it mind-numbingly boring. Like I will occassionally eat food I don’t like if a social situation calls for it. So what does it take to learn that, and when does it happen?

    Kids don’t necessarily start off like that, they are more impulsive, so what happens when you ‘need’ them to do something before they are ready? In my case brush their teeth everynight. Just leave it until they are old enough to understand? I know making them do it doesn’t work. So I know it is something they do have to learn, even if we cannot teach it or force the issue. How do I correctly set my expectations for this?

    And so maybe the carpenter IS doing something hard for the carpenter. Maybe all he wants to do is be home with his kids. But his wife is doing that and he needs to earn money for the family. So he is being a carpenter and has learnt to do something he doesn’t like while keeping the big picture in mind. Just like the homeschooler who would naturally gravitate to running a company.

    • Vanessa
      Vanessa says:

      If a child isn’t ready to brush his teeth, the parent relies on their bond with the child to gain cooperation. We always had a bedtime ritual of bath, brush teeth, stories. They love story time so to get to that part of the evening we first had to brush teeth. An unrealistic expectation would be for a parent to send their child to do their bedtime routine fully on their own before they are ready.
      I think the point is that life offers all of us plenty of experience in doing things we don’t want to do (wait in line, sit in traffic, run errands in the cold, go to Costco- gosh, can you tell I hate errands?), but our education doesn’t have to be that way. Many adults prize their time curled up with a good book. How many of us want someone picking out our books, especially if they were on topics of no interest to us? Would we still value that time of the day or week when we get to curl up with a good book? Studies show that we don’t retain what we learn anyways unless it is of interest to us.

  7. JW
    JW says:

    I want to agree, but I can’t. A person who only does what they like is shallow. This path may lead to great earnings potential, but at the cost of many other things.

    Shallow people study only what interests them. That means they take their advice in other areas from easily digestible sources, like popular news. This is dangerous. Much of what is reported in the news, in research (especially in social sciences and preventative health) is very wrong or at least misleading, and always contradictory.

    Success in the world of work is great. But it’s not the only end: I know many rich people who are quite unhealthy; who are tragically politically-correct for no reason other than an utter lack of engagement. Yet they are very, very good at what they do, at what interests them.

    Your position, Penelope, is a false choice between school as we know it (unacceptable) and the pursuit of what interests you (leads to shallowness). There has to be a middle ground. People should be free to ignore what they don’t like, but they should at least know what that choice means. Entrepreneurs know; you accept being cut off from the world at large for the obsessive pursuit of one thing. We accept this as an unfortunate tradeoff. I feel children should grow into a basic awareness of when they are making this kind of decision.

    • Vanessa
      Vanessa says:

      I study what I’m interested in learning. I only read fiction that interests me. Studies show that reading fiction improves empathy. Why not let kids choose to read fiction that interests them, especially if it leads to a greater ability to understand others and share their feelings (which I’d argue is the opposite of shallow, meaning people who don’t have much emotional or intellectual depth)?
      In the book Einstein Never Used Flash Cards: How Our Children Really Learn and Why They Should Play More and Memorize Less, the authors cite plenty of studies showing that kids made to study information that doesn’t interest them promptly forget what they’ve learned. It doesn’t stick. Yet, I don’t believe we are all shallow human beings. I’d argue there are other ways to prevent shallowness in our children, like reading them fiction.

    • YesMyKidsAreSocialized
      YesMyKidsAreSocialized says:

      Wow, shallow? I guess by your strict definition that myself and pretty much everyone I know is shallow. Such harsh judgment, I wonder why and how you came to these conclusions… That I disagree with.

  8. Gretchen
    Gretchen says:

    Sometimes you don’t know what you like or not til you get deep enough into it to realize you do. For example the food thing…”Do you eat food you don’t like? Of course not.” That may be because once someone is a (mature) adult they have tried a lot of things and KNOW what they like or don’t like. I, like many, request that my kid at least tries different foods. I respect her choice not to like it, but lots of time foods—and subjects—are acquired tastes.

    • jessica
      jessica says:

      In the context of education it would be like if the kid hated broccoli and you force fed her broccoli everyday for hours at a time instead of feeding her spinach, cabbage, Brussels sprouts until there was a veg found suited to her taste.

      • Gretchen
        Gretchen says:

        It’s a weird analogy. The education thing is more about method than subject, to me. Worksheets, rote memorization, etc etc etc. I don’t know what kind of crappy schools people have experienced, but this has not been my child’s experience at our school. I feel like her teacher goes out of her way to accommodate my spirited, creative child.

        • Kristin
          Kristin says:

          Your child sounds like she is still in elementary school. It gets way worse in high school. Do teachers support spirited children one they get to high school? My guess is they normally require conformity.

          • Gretchen
            Gretchen says:

            She is. Uhm…the “spiritedness” matures away in developmental normal children (that’s my belief). I just chalk it up to her being a little kid still. She’s gifted and eccentric, but no “issues” (ADD, autism, etc.) I trust she’ll get with the program and won’t be shouting out answers, making animal noises or pretending to surf on a rug in the classroom by the time she’s in highschool. Part of my job as a parent is to teach her how to “play the game”…the world is not a friendly place to weirdos. It’s better to CHOOSE to be weird on your own terms and turn it on and off when you want than to just be weird all the time and expect the world to accept it. (This is all for developmentally normal kids…I know nothing about those on any kind of spectrum…)

        • Kristin
          Kristin says:

          Gifted children rarely want to do the work that is given in school. They see it as stupid and a waste of time and they wind up miserable because of it, and they often get in trouble because of it. The spiritedness changes form once they get to high school — it never goes away. Unfortunately you will have to tame that spirit to keep her in school and it sounds like you are doing a great job.

          • Gretchen
            Gretchen says:

            “Gifted children rarely want to do the work that is given in school. They see it as stupid and a waste of time and they wind up miserable because of it, and they often get in trouble because of it.”

            yes, this is a bit of what’s happening now…
            but, as I said, her teacher is very flexible…
            I believe that the child (unless she has some substantive developmental/behavioral issue) should be coached to operate within a general range of social norms… so we’re working on that : )

    • YesMyKidsAreSocialized
      YesMyKidsAreSocialized says:

      “Sometimes you don’t know what you like or not til you get deep enough into it to realize you do. ”

      Right, and sometimes you know right away that you are not at all interested in what the topic is. The point for this particular post is that one’s education doesn’t equal “being forced to do things”.

      For the middle ground areas, exposure to topics through family conversations is a great way to inject new information and exposure to concepts, ideas, facts, history etc. But I won’t “force” my kids to sit there and listen to people talk. They are kind of young for that whole sitting still and listening to a lecture, and they need to be free to move around since that helps them process information. I have come to find out that a lot of my friends children are the same way, they need to move while they are learning, or fidget or draw. I always need something else going on while I am trying to accomplish something, TV noise, music etc.

      I have attended lectures that I was really into and was sad it was over, and other lectures where I kept trying to calculate the best way for me to exit the room without being too distracting, writing letters, practicing my signature… etc.

      I’m confused about the comparison between food choices and education choices, they are not even remotely comparable.

      • Gretchen
        Gretchen says:

        “I’m confused about the comparison between food choices and education choices, they are not even remotely comparable.”

        Wasn’t my idea…it was initiated in the OP.

        Re-reading this post, I am struck by the child’s wisdom/gut instinct to ask if it would be rude to read the comic (it was) and how disappointing the answer was.

          • Gretchen
            Gretchen says:

            Here we go…
            Everything is subjective.
            My subjective opinion is that, yes, it is rude for a 12 year old to read a comic book at a dissertation. Not everything in the world has to be riveting at all times to everyone. They were there for her, it wasn’t about him and whether he was bored or not. Plus, there’s all kinds of buzz now about the creative value in being “bored”…

            The comment toward the end by Gena has a lot of good points.

        • YesMyKidsAreSocialized
          YesMyKidsAreSocialized says:

          My reaction was to check out the comic book to see if my daughter Savannah would be interested. But she doesn’t like black and white comic books, she needs color and visual stimulation.

        • Kristin
          Kristin says:

          It wasn’t rude. The speaker knew the boy, and he is 12. I think it is great he brought something with him to keep him occupied in case he got bored, and its great he got this glimpse of what it would be like to give a dissertation. My 11 year old boy could not have sat still in that environment for 10 minutes! Congrats to him for making the effort!

          • jessica
            jessica says:

            I’m going to second (or third?) that I don’t think it was rude at all.

            He’s not an adult. He was responsible enough for his age to bring something (a book at that) in case he was bored.

        • Gretchen
          Gretchen says:

          OK, maybe it wasn’t rude. I don’t know…I don’t know how long the thing was…how many other people were there…what kind of room it was in, etc. My personal feeling, not knowing all the details would be that if you’re going to go to something like this, you are the type of person who would go to something like this, the appropriate age, mentality, etc., and so it seems odd to sit there and read/do some other activity. But I guess it only matters what the woman giving the dissertation felt like.

      • jessica
        jessica says:

        No, I was comparing forcing a kid to eat and study one thing they don’t want to when you could find a plethora of other options and let the kid make the choice.

        That’s how we do it in my house.

  9. Katarina
    Katarina says:

    This is the headache of unschooling, I suppose. I mean, every parent wants to feel like he or she isn’t setting up his or her child for failure or even resentment for the life choice the parent made. Believing that people will gravitate to what they like and instinctively be drawn to engage to the degree that they achieve a level of competence to build a life is a little scary. There are many nuances to life and learning and growth and change. To everything there is a season. Sometimes doing what you hate leads you to what you love because you realize your preferences. No one achieves anything without self discipline. All of these issues are connected to character which is extremely subtle. Rote learnimg is pointless, everyone agrees. And sometimes people dislike things because they assume that they cannot do it or they just need a guide to get started. There is no clear cut answer and each person is different. That is why home schooling has the potential to be liberating.

  10. Chris
    Chris says:

    Penelope Trunk. A homeschooler. I didn’t know her before. This one is my favourite from the text above: “If you don’t want to wake up every morning then you probably need to re-examine your life. But just because you are choosing to live a life you don’t like doesn’t mean you need to train your kids to do that.” Huh, I guess I am now (or for last 7yrs) re-examining my own life again. Re-examining, re-shaping and re-designing. I did it many times before. But now I do it together with my sons. Hopefully being a good lesson for them. Thanks Pen :)

  11. Kristin
    Kristin says:

    Kids do not have to be taught how to do something they hate every day. I hated getting up for school every day when I was a kid, and I hate getting up for work every morning now. It never gets better. I never get used to it. In fact, I am normally late because I hate coming in early every morning. One may then say that perhaps I learned eventually that if I stick it out in school for long enough, I will be paid back with a nice job. But what if all that hating and sticking it out only teaches kids to go into the wrong kind of job? I wound up eventually learning that things like art and music and pottery weren’t valid careers because they weren’t valued in school. I loved those things but I didn’t go further in them because I thought I should pony up and get a real job. So I went into the sciences and yes I got a “great” job that pays well, but I wish I had done glass blowing instead.

      • kristin
        kristin says:

        I would love to, but I moved to a city that has an oil industry so I can work. It does not have a teaching glass blowing studio. I’ve thought of opening one, but it’s hard to work, homeschool, and open a glass blowing studio.

  12. Sophie
    Sophie says:

    “Life sucks, better learn that early.” Lots of parents tell me that is why they send their kids to school.
    But when I look closely into their lives it looks more like “my life sucks, that’s why I send my kids to school”.
    Sad. Sad. Sad.

    Also, one can impose sitting.
    No one can impose learning no matter how many hours of imposed sitting.

  13. Maria
    Maria says:

    I disagree. People dont send their kids to school to learn stuff they dont like. They send kids to school to have an experience, so we can learn to identify topics, people, skills we like and dislike, things we are good at and these we are not so good at. I went to a normal school, and yes I hated some topics, like biology, I always knew I will never do something related to biology, but today I am happy I learnt what a drosophile melanongaster is, and I still remember it! It is just a funny word to me. But I was always a happy kid going to school, I loved it! (Ok no so much getting up early in the mornings!). It is the same way with work now, somethings I love and some I dont like,, but hey I like my paycheck at the end of the month, and better I like my career and the flexibility I have to skip time here and there to dedicate to my own business. Is just like school, I skiped a lot of school days and classes (without my parents knowing) so I could hang around in the mall or in the city or talk to my friends. But i never failed a grade, never ever. So , summary I think the effectiveness of schools depend of how parents guide kids at home. My mom had a rule, you can party, but no drugs, no pregnancy and the day you fail one class you will see the consequences. It worked. I enjoyed my time, I was happy before, and I am happy now!

    • Amy A
      Amy A says:

      My kids’ dad also loved school. He was an athlete, self-confident (which is different than having self-esteem), got along with almost everyone, got good grades, enjoyed the academic competitions in his classrooms. From what I gather, school was a game he enjoyed playing and was good at it.

      But the game of school doesn’t transfer very well to real life where no one cares if you are good with math and history. No one cares you were an excellent athlete in high school. And working the crowds (more below) doesn’t equate to having healthy intimate relationships and knowing how to deal with feelings.

      Being able to jump through hoops as a kid makes an adult who knows how to jump through hoops. Either the adult will continue to think jumping through hoops is how life goes (life is a btch, then you die), or the adult will figure out life doesn’t have to suck.

      Being around hundreds (or thousands) of people every day doesn’t teach people or relationship skills. It forces kids to figure out how to deal with crowds. And it depends on your nature how you handle crowds. If you are highly sensitive (notice the seen and unseen everywhere you go) and value privacy like me, you learn to be as invisible or unnoticed as possible. If you don’t notice every little thing (or else you live with some level of oblivion) and enjoy games with strangers, you learn to work the crowd to your advantage.

      I myself couldn’t focus on academics very well while being surrounded by crowds of strangers (some of whom grabbed my butt or threatened to beat me up or watched me pee over the stall wall, etc.–at all 13 schools, public and christian private). All my energy went into survival.

      When kids’ dad says to me, “The kids are missing out on all the good times I had in school,” I start digging with him. What exactly was so great? Is it possible to obtain the good parts without being submerged in an institution? The conversation doesn’t last too long because he probably doesn’t ruin his happy memories (by reevaluating exactly what happened from an adult’s perspective, and with me who always digs below the surface)–I think he holds onto his perspective of his childhood memories dearly.

      He hates having a professional job but is locked in the mindset that he must keep doing it. School had to have played a part in this because I always encouraged him to do something he enjoys.

      Yes, for some it is much easier to jump through the hoops than venture away from the crowds. I think school teaches this–and maybe it’s especially sticks with those who liked the game of school.

      My kids’ dad is our go-to source for anything history, politics, math and science. But I don’t credit school for that. I credit his natural curiosity– he’s always reading about those topics on his free time.

      None of this is meant to discredit your happiness. I would guess that you could be happy pretty much anywhere. While I can’t relate to that, I imagine that must feel pretty awesome.

  14. Gena
    Gena says:

    I have trouble with this post because there are so many unconsidered dimensions and a comparison of long years of school with one lecture (with the mother by his side that can help him gain insight from the experience).

    I think in homeschooling, it is the cumulative impact/explanations kids get every day that counts. When we see a carpenter who tells us “see, I should’ve gone to school but this is all I know and I have to feed my family” (which happened to us recently) you discuss with kids the importance of planning and then perseverance. You don’t just assume he loves doing it. Also, from personal experience, you only know what you love after trying many things you don’t love. This is why one of the key elements of my homeschooling job is exposure. Which school won’t do by teaching its outdated curriculum and teaching to blindly follow rules. And this exposure – picking what you like – doing what you love is still a very tricky thing and cannot be understated. I don’t want to overwhelm, I want to expose to things that may potentially stick, choices are endless AND there’s that 10,000 hour thing you need to do to be good at something, which by the way sometimes you didn’t like in the beginning but you later love to do! All this is definitely not clear cut for any of us.

    Being a geeky homeschool mom, my kids would’ve probably watched a tonne of enzyme videos and done some projects/experiments so they could use this talk for educational purposes the best they can. We do this before we go to any museums now: learn all we can and then kids really enjoy the experience and playing the curator. If it was still boring, I would urge them to watch others, take out the most from this unique experience, also teach them respect – the years it took this lady to get to this point and try to understand/feel her excitement.
    I would be much more careful with setting up an automatic “rule” in a child’s mind: boring – comic book. I would rather they use every experience to open their mind. (which btw school does not do: there are no explanations why something might be of value and how applicable it is to the future). Plus, since your son is interested in science, it would be good for him to know how this talk became boring: she had to follow the rules of academia in her presentation so they would grant her the PhD, she would’ve probably done it totally differently had she had the choice.
    I like though that your son checked in with you – what if instead you told him some of the reasons above and not let him read his comic book? How would he react? Is there potential that he would get other value and possibly not even think it’s boring?

    • Gretchen
      Gretchen says:

      I like this comment. I was trying to figure out a way to say maybe he should have just sat there and took it in as much as possible, whether it was boring or not, out of respect or something…without sounding bitchy or combative…but this comment alludes to the value in that.

    • redrock
      redrock says:

      A PhD exam is a once in a lifetime event (for most academics) to go through – you cannot equate a PhD exam to what it is like to be a scientist like you cannot compare your wedding to what it means to be in a marriage. And no, it was most likely not boring because it was necessary to adhere to rules but because the topic was highly specialized. To get the complexity of a topic across and to explain what you worked on for years to a group of people there really is only one way to do it and that is to give a presentation to them. And then the people in the room ask questions. Or they ask while you are presenting. And then discussion ensues.

  15. jessica
    jessica says:

    Yesterday we went to the library where they were offering a crafting course. It happened to be building dinosaurs out of clay. Cool. I really wish they’d just open up schools in this way: come get what you want, here’s our schedule, see if you can fit it in your day.
    My son didn’t like the way his dinosaur was turning out. There were a couple of super achiever girls making full on scale models. I look over about 10 minutes later and my son had made a replica of the other kid’s model, in a different color. I asked if he copied the other person and he said yes. I think, “Great, because yours really wasn’t turning out well.” I say, “Ok.” He then made miniature versions of the scaled dinosaurs with distinct differences and ended up with a whole family. Everyone else built one. I’m assuming because that’s what they were instructed to do.
    During the mini-lecture about dinosaurs, my son started talking about how dinosaurs would protect their young and the methods they would take. I didn’t know where he learned it and was intrigued myself.
    Of course, the typical questions start getting asked “So, what school do you go to?!” He’s always quite content to say he doesn’t go to any school. And then out in the ‘real world’, I’m reassured that I’m doing the right thing.

  16. Pirate Jo
    Pirate Jo says:

    When I first headed off to college, it seemed there were was a list of jobs I would enjoy and a list of jobs that would pay me enough to live on and those two lists did not intersect anywhere. Granted, I really didn’t know what options were available to me. Swear to the FSM, I was IN COLLEGE and thought engineers were the guys who drove choo-choo trains.

    So I majored in accounting because I needed a degree that would get me a job and totally hated it.

    But then, “Sometimes you have to work hard and do something you don’t like in order to get what you want, nothing worth having is cheap, and nothing worth doing is easy.” So I viewed my hatred of accounting as an obstacle I had to overcome, not a sign that I was studying the wrong thing.

    My friend Kara majored in English because she wanted to spend her four years in college reading good books. Then she switched to photography because she liked taking pictures. When she got out of school she couldn’t afford a place of her own and regretted her major. I knew there were things I would have enjoyed studying – I just knew they were hobbies and I would never be able to pay the bills with them.

    Besides, “Work sucks, or no one would pay you to do it.”

    In the work world, I’m now 45 and didn’t so much mind accounting as I hate corporate life and culture with its silly hierarchies and rigid conformity. It’s not just about the tasks you perform but the kind places you will work. Someone who enjoys building things with his hands might enjoy building cabinets in his own workshop but hate doing it for a company that builds cabinets. I simply hate being managed.

    I am semi-retired now and only work half of the time anyway, so work doesn’t bother me much now that I only have to do it two weeks out of each month. I spend the rest of my time enjoying those hobbies which are largely the same ones I enjoyed when I was college aged.

    I am debt free and never had to get married or put up with roommates in order to be able support myself, so that’s something, since I hate living with other people. Lots of trade-offs in life.

    • YesMyKidsAreSocialized
      YesMyKidsAreSocialized says:

      I may be one of the only people here that gets the FSM reference. I LOL that you thought engineers drove trains.

  17. katkins
    katkins says:

    So late to the party, but this post came back to me at 4am…

    I wouldn’t say that the comic book was necessarily wrong in this situation, but I do want be awfully careful about giving my kids the message that boredom and other minor ills are intolerable. It worries me that we rush to medicate things that are not dreadful just because we can, and as a result our kids become more fragile than they need to be.

    For example, my bro-in-law got into the habit of handing my kids his iphone every time he came to visit or ride along in the car, because he thought they needed to be entertained. Also, my kids rush to the band-aids when they get the tiniest scrape…no blood, just in a panic to “fix it.” Have we taught them that a sub-minor injury is cause for panic by child-proofing their world?

    What happens when a time comes that they need that intestinal fortitude? Will they just collapse?

  18. Anon
    Anon says:

    i found that as a child school for me was always learning something *until* I didn’t like it. I loved playing the violin until violin classes made me jaded of it. I loved math until it became a chore. I loved the books we read, 1984, catcher in the Rye, The Time Machine, all the Shakespeare, I enjoyed reading them, until we had to discuss the, tirelessly in class and write essays about superficial questions that had nothing to do with why I actually read the books. School taught me to be jaded, to run out of steam. To get “senioritis” from everything I did in my life for more than a few years.

  19. MH
    MH says:

    I know plenty of people who regret that they didn’t stop to learn things they thought they wouldn’t need. Exposure is good otherwise my kids would only eat mac and cheese every god damn day. lol

  20. Rachel
    Rachel says:

    Have you read this? If not you HAVE TO. The whole thing was so perfect. But here’s the part that reminded me so much of what has been so paradigm shifting for me from your writing/help:

    “…In my experience, when I’m tempted to reach for control or coercion as a tool (the conventional go-to answer), it usually means that I haven’t taken the time to understand the other person’s point-of-view (because if I had, I’d understand why they didn’t want to do it in the first place) or I am trying to get them to take care of my needs (it’s something I want, but I don’t want to do the work myself to get there). ”

    Also, I’ve heard you write about how research shows kids with chores get long term benefits. What do you think about that in light of this perspective? I have a friend who has like 20 of those flat magnets on her fridge and her kids drew a bunch of different “chores” on each one and every day they choose two to do before they can move on to free time. This works great for them, and would for my two youngest, but my eldest (almost 8 year old) is SO incredibly ODD. I just can’t get into a “you have to do A before B because it is as if that equation somehow inexplicably pulls her into a power struggle, just knowing that I am requiring something of her seems to provoke her to the opposite. I think if I left it as a choice she would do “chores/cleaning” sometimes and not other times. If my daughter cares about/chooses the chore/cleaning she does it to an incredibly well done level. But she doesn’t care about cleaning very often, is the issue I’m looking at, I guess. So maybe the key would be to find chores that she cares about doing consistently? And on the other things just let them be choices?

    I am leaning toward calling that “goal accomplished”, but am wondering what is it about chores that benefits kids in the research?? I guess that’s my question because it seems like usually chores are considered a required do-it-even-when-you-don’t-want-to proposition.

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