Wee Bot Does Not Compute

In case there is any doubt, I love my son. I do. I may blame him for my thinning hair, but I think the world of him. He’s incredibly intelligent and capable of anything that he puts his mind to. The problem is that he doesn’t often put his mind to anything at all. Public school was certainly not designed with that boy in mind. It has been a struggle for him since day one. Correction – it has been a struggle for us. It hasn’t been much of a struggle for him because he couldn’t possibly care any less about it.

He’s butted heads with teachers and hidden homework because he didn’t want to do it, and his grades have suffered. If he would simply complete his work and turn in assignments, he’d be a straight A student. He’s exhibited an impressive and glorious level of apathy as to whether he succeeds or not. For the first two nine weeks of sixth grade, he skated through his math class with a low D. In the final two nine weeks, he let that slip to a high F. We warned him that he had better run his math final like a rock star or he would flunk the class officially.

Yesterday, his report card came in the mail. He finished the year with a 58% in math. He had not brought his grade up by a single point with his final test. It was clear and obvious to me that his laziness in the class had put him so desperately behind that there was no way that he had any hope of continuing on. This called for desperate intervention on my part. A quick Google search returned several websites with printable curriculum for home schooling. I located a sixth grade math class with printable worksheets including randomly generated exercise problems and coordinating answer keys that looked fairly full-featured. I know my son can learn this stuff. Can I cram a year’s worth of math into his head in two months? I can’t think of a single reason that I shouldn’t try.

I told Wee Bot of my plan to get him caught up in math. If they force him to repeat the previous class, he’ll be prepared for it. If by some miracle of No Child Left Behind they decide to advance him despite his poor performance, he’ll be ready for seventh grade. I told him that he was going to have to do this since he made the decision to blow off math class. His choice was whether he would participate and make it painless or drag his heels as he did through the school year, in which case he would basically do nothing but math all Summer long. His choice.

The first three sheets were basic addition and subtraction. The addition was multiple numbers and both were algebraic in form. His first attempt was a failure to a classic degree. He made solid F’s on two and a low D on the third. I pointed out a couple of tips to improve his work and sent him with fresh worksheets. He came back with an average 16-point improvement. I wrote in the correct answers and told him to study them and see if he could figure out what he had done wrong. With the next attempt he improved again. At this point, he has finished several weeks of sixth grade math and is making an A average.

Several weeks worth. Of math. In two days. A average.

I was right! For a while I feared I was living in parental “my kid is awesome” denial. He proved that fear wrong. His performance is not only becoming more accurate, it is also accelerating in speed. At the rate he’s going, he’ll have sixth grade math knocked out in time to start picking up some seventh grade math. One way or another, we stand to get him caught up in time for the new school year in the Fall.

This brings several questions to mind. First of all, the home environment is obviously a far better learning environment for him than the classroom. With Jennifer working full time and me starting a business, I’m not sure how we would do the whole home school thing, but if that turned out to be the right thing to do, we’d have to figure out something. Secondly, since I’m putting him through the curriculum, I wonder what hoops I’d have to jump through to claim that as him retaking and passing sixth grade math so he could join his peers in the next level. The third question is the same as the first: If home schooling is right for him, what are we going to do?!?!?

Sorry. I know this isn’t supposed to be a Daddy blog. But, there you have it. I just want my boy to realize his potential. That’s not too much for a parent to ask, is it? He really is a good kid, he’s just not much of a self-starter. For years he’s said that he wants to be an astronaut. I’ve told him that he needs to get good at his math and science and keep up with the target shooting. He could fast-track himself through the Air Force ranks and wind up in space very easily. He’s just got to apply himself. The last two days make me think that he’s starting to believe me. Why oh why don’t they come with a manual when they are born?

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11 thoughts on “Wee Bot Does Not Compute

  1. Homeschooling is absolutely the right thing to do.

    The problem is that it’s not always possible or practical.

    They’ve got us between a rock and a hard place. We’re already paying for our kid’s education. If we don’t use that which we’re already paying for, unless you live in one of the few places with vouchers, you’re going to have to pay AGAIN to actually get your kid educated…either by not working so you can do it yourself, or by paying for private school.

    One thing to consider though: You are running your own business. If you choose to homeschool, you don’t have to do your schooling during standard hours. If you can be flexible with your business hours, and flexible with his school hours, that could work out well.

    I have a friend who home schools. They have standard “school times” for routine purposes, but it isn’t necessarily on the same track as a regular school day, and they can flex it whenever they want for special occasions.

    I know you didn’t ask for help with this aspect of it…and every kid is different; what worked for me may not work for you. But my son went through a phase like this in middle school (6th and 7th grade). My (now ex) wife was a nurse who cared deeply about her patients, and I was active duty military. Neither of us felt that homeschooling was practical for our situation.

    My approach was this: For homework, I contacted the teacher and this is what we worked out: At the end of each school day, My son was required to write down every homework assignment for that day. He was required to present this sheet to his teacher. She would initial it to let me know that she’d reviewed it and he had written down all the homework correctly.

    After he got home, he was to do his homework. After I got home, he was to present the sheet to me and his completed homework (or he’d better be working on it when I got home if it wasn’t finished yet). I would verify that he’d completed the assignments, check his work and offer any help that was needed, and then initial the sheet saying I’d verified.

    The next day, he would present the sheet to his teacher with his homework so she could verify that I’d checked his work and the cycle would start over.

    Of course, at first, he had trouble remembering to bring the sheet. When he didn’t bring it home, he would still have to do homework. The first time, he was required to write out, longhand, single spaced, as many instances of “I will not forget my homework assignment sheet” as he could fit on one full page, front and back.

    The second time it was two pages.

    The third time it was three.

    I don’t think he ever got to number four.

    The bottom line was that he wasn’t getting out of any work by not bringing his homework sheet home.

    In fact, not bringing the sheet home entailed extra work, because on the days he forgot, the next day he was required to complete the homework he’d missed, even if he got no credit for it. He wasn’t getting out of it no matter what.

    As far as the grades go. I know that his intelligence was at least average, so with any kind of effort at all, I don’t think expecting “C”s was unreasonable. Therefore, when he’d bring home his progress reports or report cards, if he had anything lower than a “C” he would owe me manual labor.

    The point was (and I explained this to him repeatedly to make sure he got it) if he didn’t get an education, the only kinds of jobs he’d be suited for would be manual labor jobs…so I was going to be darn sure that he knew what he had ahead of him if he didn’t start performing in school.

    I had him scrub the grout between the tiles in the bathrooms with a toothbrush.

    I had him clean the algae off the foundation of the house with a scrub brush.

    I had him cleaning under and behind the stove and refrigerator, behind the washer and dryer in the garage, in the attic…

    Basically, any dirty, grungy, hard job that I could think of, he did to make up for his poor grades.

    This was all on top of his normal chores.

    He got the point.

    He’s now 24 years old. He graduated from Old Dominion University, class of 2010, with honors, with a degree in music education.

    He’s thanked me many times for getting him on track back then.

    It wasn’t easy. It took a lot of work and follow-through on my part, and I hated having to be “the bad guy” all the time during that phase.

    But it was worth it.

    If I had to do it over again, I’d have found a way to do the homeschooling thing…especially with the state of our public schools now (they weren’t great then…they’re abominable now), but under the circumstances, I think things turned out OK.

    Sometimes you’ve just gotta do the tough love thing. They’ll hate you for it now, but they’ll thank you for it later.

  2. Go for the homeschooling. You have said that it’s kind of hard being by yourself anyway and this will give you a different type of outlet during the day. You get him set up, have him working on assignments, and check them when you’re at a good stopping point for your work. Then Jennifer can act as Q/C when she gets home.

    If you made that kind of progress within two days where he suffered through a whole year…..

    But check out this article on the Khan Academy before you go that route…. http://www.nas.org/polArticles.cfm?Doc_Id=2029

    Khan might be good at math and science stuff but definitely stay away from history, etc.

  3. Let me give it to you from my perspective – the kid who was bored in school.

    The problem isn’t that he is lazy or apathetic, when I was in school I just didn’t see the point in most of it and math most of all. When the teachers tell you to do the material because you are supposed to do the material, it really didn’t give me a reason. Once I learned – from a VERY good teacher WHY it would be helpful and was challenged to do better, I did better.

    I had teachers tell my parents that I was a great student to have in class because I always asked good questions, knew the material and always read beyond what was required. They would always finish with “Now, if he would just turn in his homework…”

    It’s hard as hell I would think with a bright child, but he needs to be challenged by what he is learning. I know nothing about home schooling except that we are thinking of it for Matt and I can see that it would make learning a lot more personal than what he is getting now.

    • Instinct–I had the exact same problem with Weebot, now Teenbot’s father! He’d sit and stare off into space instead of doing his homework that he wouldn’t have had if he’d done it in class! Both he and his brother learned less in class, I think, than they did in life. Naturally curious and investigative, they have figured it out. I love your manual labor approach, however. Wish I’d thought of it.

  4. Heh.

    I did exactly what your boy does – hid homework, refused to bring home detention slips to get signed, avoided putting in any effort in school. My parents were at their wits’ end, and one of my teachers sent me to a child psychologist to get tested for ADD. Per the psychologist, I wasn’t suffering from ADD…I was bored.

    My parents did what you just did – force fed me the material until I brought my grades up.

    To cut this short: he’ll figure it out. You aren’t failing him…in fact, you’re doing him a favor by changing the way he’s being taught. It’s evident the public school system is what’s failing him.

    If you can manage homeschooling, it might be the right direction to take. That’s a huge IF, though. Do keep one thing in mind: you can structure his day entirely differently compared to the way a normal school day is structured, and you might even be able to get that worked around YOUR schedule.

  5. IMO the school has failed not your son….

    obviously from your short effort WeeBot is MORE THAN capable of learning math… the school just sucks at teaching it.

    my guess is he’s just way too bored. Why bother learning or trying when they’re spoon-fed the same info day after day. Sound more like he’s just tuning it out.

    our kids have been in parochial school, but it’s becoming too much like public school. We’re not happy with their education at this point and looked into other private schooling options, but with cost running over $12K per child for a good private school it’s cost prohibitive.

    Home Schooling is becoming the best choice for our kids…. certainly not the easiest for us. I’ve been researching curriculum. it’s a daunting task but I’m lucky to have some close friends who are teachers to help me along the way. I’m learning that the amount of time needed to teach a few children who are happy and attentive is a tiny fraction of the time needed to teach a large group of unhappy, distracted brats

    IMO Public school is a very bad babysitting service…. slowing crushing children’s creativity and curiosity.

    good luck on finding the answer that works for you son and your family


  6. Gotta say I agree with MrsSciFi about Public schools being a very bad babysitting service. I remember going through classes in HighSchool, doing the next class’s homework. I hated math, science, history (go figger…joined the Navy in the nuclear power program, and am now an avid history reader)…they were all just rote memorization. Ask a question in class, and I would get the “weren’t you listening, I just said that not five minutes ago” exasperated response, at which point the teacher would generally write me into the “problem child” or “idiot” student category. Navy schools weren’t much better (passed by the grace of God and His marvelous gift, Mt. Dew). After reading a book about Patton, I found out that my problem wasn’t stupidity or just a poor memory (the latter is certainly there, though), its dyslexia. But none of my teachers (or therapists….long story.) recognized/understood/cared. I just learned differently. So even though our spawn is only 2 years (and change), the wife and I are already looking at private schools or putting her in a homeschool group of some sort. She’s smart for her age, and I don’t want her to turn into some public-school clone.

    Sorry, just venting. Homeschool and a home business could work really well together, from what I’ve seen happen with various friends who’ve tried it. You can play each schedule around the other, and the kiddos get personal one-on-one attention from someone who knows and cares about them and has a personal interest in their education. Good luck!

  7. I used to work for a homeschool academy. I just wanted to give you a little bit of encouragement here. :-) From what I saw with students, by the time they had either a) been homeschooling for a while or b) were older (say, junior high or high school) most curricula are actually something he can do on his own. Now, if the public school didn’t teach him sh*t, which is likely, then he’ll have some catching up to do. BUT, most publishers do their junior-high and high school curricula so that the student can pretty much work on his/her own without alot of parental involvement until it comes to answer-checking time. Many, many students learn more this way. (Also, as an academic advisor, I used to encourage parents to do exactly what you did–make extra copies of the sheets, show kids how you’re grading and what they did wrong, and let them go back and cement it in their minds. It works wonders for alot of students.)

  8. As someone with the strange combination of 34 on the ACT and a 2.7 GPA in high school, I can’t commend you enough for actively seeking a solution. I still wish I had a way of explaining to him that jumping through those homework hoops equates with having college become actually affordable.

  9. I, also, had a couple of brilliant boys who tended to be way ahead of their teachers most of the time (seems to run in our family). I don’t really think there’s a “one-size-fits-all” answer to the bored-at-school problem. But it sounds like the solution that you and Jenni have come up with for now fits well in your case. Sometimes the plan needs to be tweaked, however, so keep that in mind.

    What we tried to do with our guys was to give them as many different kinds of experiences as we could to keep their curiosity aroused. We’d take them out of public school for a week or so at a time (taking their homework along) at least once a year and go on family road trips to historical locations, museums, natural wonders, etc. Even when we went to visit family or friends, we tried to include some sort of cultural experience into the itinerary.

    We probably could have done more; maybe that’s always going to be the case. But even so, I think mine turned out well. They’re resourceful, creative, intelligent, strong thinkers who picked amazing mates. And it’s gratifying to observe the way they handle life and all it’s challenges. To me that’s success. Proud of you, Son.

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