One problem that we’ve had with Teen Bot is the fact that he turns his brain off over the summer. Just like clockwork, in the spring, he’s so well checked out that he spends the entire first nine weeks trying to wake from his mindless slumber. If you have been reading my blog for some time, you may recall that he had a problem with sixth grade math and consequently had to spend last summer learning sixth grade math. That was such a blazing success that we decided to pull him from local school and enroll him in K12 virtual school instead. Although I am periodically freaked out by the thought that this completely prevents the option of me rejoining the traditional workforce (removes my ‘safety net’ in case I can’t make the holster thing work), I have no regrets about the decision on his education. This last school year was by far his most successful. Not only did he get rolling more smoothly from the starting gate, which I attribute to the summer math keeping his mind active, he made better grades, learned more material, and had less busy work overall. I know there are things that he misses about the classroom experience, but he seems to be happier and more self satisfied than when he was doing brick and mortar school. This summer I’ve charged him with doing a few projects to keep the brain limber. I’m not setting out to keep him busy until class starts in the fall, I just don’t want him to succumb to the video game, drooling stupor as in years past.
Several weeks ago, Borepatch (who has every blogger except me in his blogroll, and who clearly doesn’t read my blog :P) pointed out that Soviet history is not very well taught in today’s schools. Indeed, where it is even mentioned in modern curriculum, it is pretty well glossed over. Not only that, this history is fascinating. The kid’s writing skill has lagged and could use some good practice. Sounds like we have a project for Teen Bot! So, I chatted with him and told him my idea. I wanted him to do independent research about the history of the Soviet Union. I wanted him to write up a paper of what he learned, and provide references, and this should be a two-page minimum deal. He dug his heels in harder than he has for anything before.
Sure, he downloaded a few books to his Kindle Fire. He even read a Wiki. He would claim to have read all this information, but had nothing to show for it. This went on for weeks. I had a feeling that he was lying about the volume of his information intake, but had no real evidence. However, one morning earlier this week he had his Kindle on the back porch while the dog was in the yard. He’d been out there for a while and I popped out there to check on him. His nose was in his Kindle and I asked what he was doing. He told me he was reading Russian history as I snatched the Fire from him to see the game he was playing at the time. Busted. I confronted him and told him that I suspected this was not the first time he’s misled me on how he was spending his time. He sheepishly agreed. I calmly told him that I’d hang onto his Kindle for now, as I could see that it was a distraction, but that I’d gladly give it back to him when he made a little progress on his project. And then, I left the ball in his court.
In anticipation of spending the night with his grandparents, this morning Teen Bot asked if I would give his Kindle Fire back for the weekend. In response, I asked him how much progress he’d made on his project. “Oh,” he said, “Point taken.” He shuffled off and continued to do his own thing. But, I wasn’t done. I walked to his bedroom door.
“You know,” I said, “taking your Fire was not a punitive thing, and I really didn’t expect to still have it by now. I honestly thought you would make some progress on the day I took it.”
That’s when the hormones took over. His eyes welled up as he told me exactly how unfair and unreasonable this assignment is. He didn’t see why he needed to do it at all. History is boring, he doesn’t see why he has to write a paper instead of just telling us what he learned, and he “didn’t recall agreeing to it in the first place.” Now, it’s no secret that he has bumped heads with me recently. This is new to me, but I’m starting to get used to it. I reminded him that when I asked him to do this in the first place I had told him that he could either get into it and would probably enjoy it, or do a half-ass job of it and be miserable. He needs to write so he can get better at writing. Furthermore, this was not a request, nor was it optional. I told him that I wish he would give it a chance instead of clinging to the presumption that it was going to be boring and suck and he hates it. He told me that I had it all wrong – that history is just really boring to him and he didn’t see how this would be any different. Somehow, I convinced him to see that he was saying the exact same thing as me.
Then, I had him turn to the search engine where we found this page. Doing a quick scroll through it, I told him that he wouldn’t find anything in great detail, but that this timeline would hit some highlights and big events that he could do further research on elsewhere. And then I said, “Oh yeah, Chernobyl! Did you know that there was a major nuclear meltdown of a power plant in the USSR?” He stared at me with a shocked look on his face and said no. “Yup. People still don’t live there because of the nuclear fallout. Would you like to learn more about that?” He agreed that he would. “Did you know that if people complained about the government like we sometimes do, they would send state police in the night to drag them away, never to be seen again? Would you like to know more about that?” Now I had his attention. “Did you know that they would teach some of their people to speak English with an American accent, and teach them our mannerisms so they could come here and learn our secrets and report back to Mother Russia? Real spies – just like in the movies but for real. Did you know that? Does that sound boring?”
All of a sudden, he was on board. Stuff got real for him. No longer was this just stuffy text about some people that lived long ago on the other side of the globe. He still doesn’t know anything about the Cuba Missile Crisis yet. All of a sudden, he’s writing this nice little article about Lenin. It’s a little rough, but it’s a great start! He’s nowhere near done, but he cares now. Needless to say, I gave him a pass for the weekend, and he now has his Kindle Fire back. As an alternative to a two-page written paper, I said that if he posted multiple shorter posts about this on his blog, that would be acceptable. We’ll let you know how things come out.