My 14-year-old burst out of the office. Well, he sulked out of the office more than bursting, actually. With an eyeroll he said, “Mom. <insert exasperated groan> I’m ‘learning’ about bar graphs now. As if I haven’t known bar graphs since I was 7!”
My response, “Well, you just had a really challenging chapter of Math, isn’t it nice to have something a little easy for a break?”
“Umm . . . No! It’s a waste of time.” Eye roll, eye roll, groan.
I told him to just skip the videos, do the quiz to make sure he actually knew the content, and then move on to the next chapter. He said that he was just going to do it because sometimes the instructor snuck in a little bit of new stuff or different vocabulary that he’d need to know later. I reassured him that he’d pick up on it and it’d be fine. He insisted that he had to do the lesson as is.
Oh, the struggles of a gifted, perfectionistic, rule-bound learner.
As the universe often does, this particular week I’d heard from several of my gifted clients about the stupidity of doing work that isn’t challenging. And I have to agree with them.
Our kids want to be challenged. They value learning new material. They think about the preciousness of time and want to fill it with meaning, purposefulness, and significance. They find repetition and slow pace and simplicity to be tedious, mundane, and irritating.
We know that when gifted kids are engaged in novelty and depth in learning, their whole brains light up. They enter flow and neurochemicals reward the work with pleasant emotions, joy, and warm fuzzy excitement coursing through their systems. Why would they ever settle for anything less?
And yet, many of our gifted kids are also fairly rule bound and concrete. This certainly doesn’t apply to all of our gifted kids, but it does to my oldest guy. If the course lays it out a certain way, that is the way it has to be done. He will die on the cross of meeting expectations while mumbling about the injustice and stupidity of it all until his last breath. He knows and voices the irrationality and stupidity of it, but he simply . . . must . . . follow . . . the . . . rules. What an uncomfortable internal conflict.
As the adults in these kids’ lives, maybe we should try to help.
First, lets challenge the notion that kids don’t want to learn. I know I, personally, still have this ridiculous school-aged belief rooted deep down in me that learning isn’t cool and kids really just want the easy way out. I’m almost feeling shame for admitting that I still have that internal nudging, because most of me knows that’s ridiculous. I’ve seen gifted kids make things more complicated and complex because they can’t tolerate the easy way. But, that little girl in me who hid her love of learning because she heard repeatedly that kids aren’t supposed to like school and saw that eager learners were chastised and ostracized by her peers still voices her opinion every once in a while. We need to acknowledge the cultural messages that are given to our kids and internalized by ourselves and challenge them.
Second, lets challenge our kids. When they are complaining that it’s boring, let’s believe them. If they’ve had the fortune of having their whole brains light up, they want more of that and we should help them advocate to get it. Educating at home allows for more freedom to do this, to adapt the curriculum, to focus on child-led learning, and yet I know I have to regularly remind myself not to fall into my own traps. My own trap of perfectionism. My own trap of rule-boundedness. My own trap of “I-spent-money-on-this-curriculum-you-will-finish-it-or-I-wasted-my-money”.
The easiest way to challenge our gifted kids is to follow their lead. Help connect them with resources, but otherwise, get out of their way. They want to read 1920’s books outlining the basic techniques of every magic trick known to humankind? Get them the books, cards, coins, and find local magic classes and clubs. They want to learn about the weaponry of the Civil War? Help them find the resources. Follow them and strew opportunities in front of them.
Third, lets advocate and teach them how to advocate for themselves. Instead of saying something is stupid, help them learn more effective ways to say they aren’t being challenged and would like more.
Fourth, lets model breaking the rules. Show that it’s okay to bend rules and living by the spirit of the law rather than the letter of the law. Teach flexibility. Model flexibility. Teach the importance of trusting your gut, following your instincts, and prioritizing your needs. Model all of those things. Show that simply doing things that are expected don’t lead to ingenuity, innovation, or growth.
Let’s value lives lived with purpose and meaning and stop wasting our kids’ time.