Friday, September 27, 2013

Dismissing a Child's Complaint

Jessica Lahey, a fertile source of blog posts, has a column in the New York Times:

My Son calls School a Waste of Time

A parent writes in saying that her son calls school "too easy" and says it's a waste of his time.  What to do?  Here's the opening of Ms. Lahey's reply:
In my experience, two things could be going on here.
Your son could be a typical young adolescent, whining about the irritating and less than thrilling details of middle school life.
Why does anyone think it's OK to write this way about kids?  It used to be normal to speak this way about women ("oh, those little ladies, complaining about the right to vote!"), but feminists, quite rightly, put a big dent in it. We need a similar campaign for kids.  It's outrageous to propose as the first option that the child's complaints should be belittled and ignored.

Lahey goes on to give really terrible advice:
If, however, he really does yearn for more intellectual and educational challenge, congratulations. You have a motivated kid on your hands. Assuming he is completing the work he is being assigned and meeting the expectations of his teachers, you can go ahead and start talking with him about how to move toward a solution.
This is a familiar catch-22 to gifted kids and their parents; teachers won't allow a child to be considered "gifted" unless he's performing well on the work he's being given now.  The teachers are confusing "gifted" with "good student."  Many gifted kids are not good students, because, like this boy, they find schoolwork pointless and aren't interested in getting a good grade on work that they detest.  It's obnoxious to tell a child he has to perform correctly on tasks that he finds pointless before he'll have a chance to do something he might find meaningful.


  1. Sometimes I think that I should create an "ageism" campaign. Not all adolescents are whiners and not all adults are non-whiners. Equally, we're all just as capable of doing good things: I went to donate blood with my friends (or rather, they donated blood, while I couldn't because I hadn't had enough to drink and I was only just over the weight limit). Adolescents have every reason to be full of angst if adults are just going to box us all into the "angsty whiners" category, because it is thoroughly insulting. Sometimes it's this very attitude that holds us back from self-advocating or can make self-advocating very difficult, almost impossible (as was the case with my school's Student Services department).

    Also, another thing that Lahey left out of the equation: maybe we students get bored because the work is actually really boring, not because it's too easy or we lack motivation. Some boring stuff is fine as long as there's a point to it and students can actually benefit, but this isn't always the case.

  2. Lahey strikes me as a completely unsympathetic person. Remember when she flunked some kid's personal essay because it wasn't revealing enough? She has no respect for her students as fellow human beings.