The Gift of Learning – Part 1 (of 6)

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  daydreaming instead of learning

A Day in the Life of…

I want you to imagine something with me:  Imagine that you arrive for the first day at your new job, anxious and excited and not sure what to expect.  You’re greeted by your new boss and he welcomes you, gives you a name tag and assigns you a desk.  He then proceeds to tell you the different rules you have to abide by in your job and by the time he’s done, your head’s spinning.  He then hands you a schedule that outlines what tasks you’ll be doing at what time.  You look at it, and realize that there are tasks on there that you have no clue what to do, and not only that, there are weekly tests to determine how you’re doing on your job.

He then shows you around the building, and shows you the 8 different jobs you’ll be doing – some are thankfully familiar and easy for you, but others are daunting because you don’t understand how to do them.  Some use your hands, others use your creativity, still others use your verbal skills, and some use your ability to manipulate numbers.  You are told that you are expected to be good in all of those different jobs and you will be tested to make sure that you’re up to speed.

By the end of the first week, you’re mentally exhausted, and beginning to tune out, and to top it off, your boss hauls you into his office to lecture you about your poor attitude – he’s noticed your attention seems to wander during your jobs, and on top of that, you keep talking to people when you should be working.  He sends a note home with you to show to your spouse just to make sure that you smarten up the next time you’re on the job.

Over time, you notice that there are some jobs you seem naturally good at, and so you gravitate towards doing them and do them really well.  But there’s others that make your stomach sink because no matter what, you just aren’t any good at it.  You tried to get some help, but your boss is too busy and gets impatient with you because he thinks you’re just being lazy.  So you just try to avoid having to do them as much as possible, until he notices and gets mad at you for being lazy.

You go home withdrawn and tired, and to be honest, a bit cranky, and your spouse snaps at you for having a bad attitude and would you just smarten up.  You just want to tune out and play video games.

You manage to stumble through your first few months of work by trying to stay low-key and not catch the boss’ attention.  But then the first performance review is done, and while you’ve got some great marks on those jobs you love to do, you’ve got some pretty dismal grades on those jobs you just don’t understand.

You go home, and your spouse looks at your review, skims over the great marks, and begins to ask you why you got such poor marks on those other jobs.  You can tell your spouse is starting to get upset, so you mumble something to try to get him or her off your back and then slink off to your video games.  You feel like a loser and you want to quit your job and never go back.  But unfortunately, you don’t have a choice.

And so you dread going to work each day, falling further and further behind, until one day, your spouse decides to help you out by getting you remedial help for those jobs that you aren’t good at.  That sounds like a dreadful plan because now you have to spend even more hours on something you hate to do and just don’t get.  Yikes!  But to please your spouse, you do it, and after several months of the remedial help, you start to get it a bit and you start being able to do those tough jobs a little better.

But just when you think you have it, your boss announces that you have MORE of those tasks to do and that they will be even more challenging.  Your heart really sinks and you give up and stop trying – maybe you can just do enough to get by, and sure, everyone thinks you’re lazy and have an attitude problem (and you know what, it’s probably true), but you’re just biding time until you can quit.

Thankfully, parents, this is a scenario that will rarely, if ever, happen to us, because we know in adult society that we can’t all be generalists skilled in every area of learning and mastery.  But this is a scenario that’s all too familiar with some of our kids, because we inadvertently apply tremendous pressure on our kids to be good at everything.  Every day, they’re expected to shine in math, reading, writing, spelling, speaking, memorization, comprehension, problem-solving, socialization, sports and following verbal directions.

And do you know what happens to those kids who can’t shine at everything?  They feel stupid, and we as parents inadvertently reinforce that when we consistently focus on their C’s or D’s and are after them to improve in that area.

All Kids Want to Succeed

Here’s an important truth for us to remember about human nature:  we are designed to WANT to succeed.  No child wakes up in the morning, saying to herself that she’s going to mess up today.  Kids HATE disappointing their teachers, parents and themselves.  We are also designed with very unique minds that are gifted for some things and not for others.  We will naturally gravitate towards those tasks that we’re good at doing and can succeed, while avoiding those tasks that we’re not good at doing and we don’t think we can succeed.  How many of you have two left feet and can’t dance for beans?  What do you do about it?  You AVOID dancing if at all possible, right?

And that’s what kids will do as well – but they will often get labeled as lazy or unmotivated.  I had a really sad conversation with a parent the other day, whose child was struggling in school.  This child was only 8 or 9, but she had decided to put her in a much tougher and “academic” school to try to straighten her out.  She complained of her child being strong-willed and stubborn and how she was just so unmotivated to try hard at school.  My heart broke for that little girl, because she was heading into a lifetime of low self-esteem, fear of failure, under-achieving or over-achieving and perfectionism, and a focus on her performance and meeting OTHERS’ expectations for her sense of worth.

Kids who can’t seem to operate their minds to meet expectations feel terrible about themselves, while their worried parents lose sleep over their child who reads with little understanding or has trouble making friends or who is out of focus in school.  Some kids end up paying huge prices for having the kind of mind they were born with.  Through no fault of their own, they are the owners of brains that somehow don’t quite mesh with the demands they come up against, requirements like the need to spell accurately, write legibly, read quickly, work efficiently, or recall multiplications facts automatically.

On top of that, they will be evaluated ruthlessly on how well they do on everything.  Their intellectual ability is boiled down to a list of test scores that will determine their destinies while shedding little light on their true strengths, weaknesses and educational needs.  Too many kids today equate education with humiliation.  And all too often, parents blame the kids for their perceived failures, as if they’ve committed some sort of academic sin or immorality!

The good news is that they can do better, but if and only if they are better understood by adults and then helped to succeed.  The GREAT news is that there is much that parents and teachers can do to redeem such kids, all of whom possess remarkable strengths waiting to be tapped.  All of us are born with a natural desire to learn, a curiosity to understand the world around us.  As influential adults in our kids’ lives, it’s critical that we help them harness their natural abilities to learn rather than hamper them by placing too many demands on them or expecting them to learn a certain way.

So as I begin a 6 part series on The Gift of Learning, please stay tuned to learn more about how you can help your kids succeed.  There is a lot of confusing information and misinformation out there about learning, learning disabilities, ADHD, etc, so I will do my best to help you navigate through a basic understanding of learning differences and styles, learning problems and how to help your kids when they’re struggling in school.  You’ll be hearing my personal biases throughout these blogs as I advocate for your children.  Having worked with many kids over the years, you will also hear my heart for them.  I am still learning so much from them, all of whom are fearfully and wonderfully made – all of them unique, with beautiful minds that just need to be understood and cultivated.  I hope that this series will help you gain a balanced perspective, and help you to treasure and enjoy your children as the gift from God that they are.


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