Why I Want My Kids To Be Bored In School

When I was a young child there was a chart on our freezer. It looked a lot like a Shoots-n-Ladders board and had magnets shaped like cars. The idea was that for each pre-reading or reading step completed the child would get to move a car forward a space. Sadly for the children, there were not actually chutes or ladders, and each square had to be completed before one could move on to the next.

The chart was for my sister and brother who were a year and a half and three years older than me. They were close developmentally and were supposed to work together with a bit of a competitive edge. But there were extra cars, so I got one as well. I wanted to beat my siblings. If I could not beat them, at least I could catch up. I could handle the first few steps, but soon I needed my mother. She would help me occasionally, but it was a fairly low priority since I did not yet need to know how to read and she had two older children who still had a long way to go. But the chart was far from a low priority for me.

I sat down with the books that I could not really read, and I listened over and over again to the song which proclaimed “if you learn these sounds indeed, ready to read then you will be” or something like that. I do not remember how it happened, but soon I was reading without help from my mother. One of my older sisters took it upon herself to help me perfect my skill. She would read one page aloud from Pilgrim’s Progress1 and then I would read the next with her ready to correct or help me as necessary. And that was the end of that.

Except for all the times in my life when I have wished that I really knew how to read. Except for when I have tried to learn how to read other language and realized that I lacked the knowledge of how reading was really supposed to work. Professionals call it “phonetic processing disorder.” They asked how it could have been missed in school. The answer was easy: I never went to school. But secretly I wondered: how many of my learning disabilities were “missed” because I was did not go to school, and how many were caused because I was never taught?

What do you do when a young girl learns to read without learning how to read? You wake up one day and realize that this child can read, even though she was never taught. If you are a normal schoolteacher, I suspect the answer is simple. You allow the child to be bored while you teach the rest of the children how to read. The bored child may find the class to be a complete waste of time, but she will still unknowingly profit from absorbing the phonics lesson and whatever else involved in teaching reading.

But what if you are a homeschooling parent? If you are a normal healthy parent with several other children to teach you will probably be glad that something is finally going right without effort. Give the child more books and get back to working on the children who need you. After all, since when was having a precocious child a problem for homeschoolers? If you are a sadomasochistic perfectionist control freak who wants everything to proceed according to plan, then you could try to force your child to learn how to read the “correct” way. Of course your child will hate you since she “already knows how to read” and may even be hurt academically by your direct efforts to override whatever it was about the child’s learning style that caused her to figure out how to read without your help. That is no good, so let’s just assume that everyone falls into the first group. Just like my parents did.

And that is one of many reasons that I hope that my children will have a privilege that I never got: the opportunity to be bored to tears in school because they are being forced to listen to a teacher explain something that they already “know.”

1. (You think that sounds boring? It actually has an engaging plot. Years later when I decided that my younger sister’s reading skills needed help I made her read the Declaration of Independence out loud repeatedly. And no, I probably do not appreciate how really odd that is. And yes, I do think that it should count as evidence that I really should not be homeschooling anyone… and that older siblings should not be responsible for the education of the younger siblings.)

Image: Christos Tsoumplekas
7 Responses to “Why I Want My Kids To Be Bored In School”
  1. I agree! I was one of those kids who taught myself to read. At least I think I did. All I know for sure is that when I got to kindergarten I knew how to read. But, as you say, I’m sure sitting through those phonics lessons helped me somehow!

    I do think though, that if a family homeschools with only a few children (say three or four), it might be easier to incorporate teaching reading “the right way”, as you say. I don’t know though, since my only experience of teaching was in a classroom, and I don’t have any children yet (well, you know what I mean).

    Good post! :)

  2. KM

    I taught myself too, but had no problems from it. But I went to school too so maybe that was it. This post reminds me of that teach baby to read thing they keep advertising. That thing worries me, can you imagine all the problems it will cause on down the line?

  3. Joy

    Don’t be too tough on yourself, I have the same problem and I went to school ~ but at a time when ‘whole word’ learning was the fad so my knowledge of phonic is pretty poor.

    As for the rest of your post, I think balance is really important~kids who aren’t engaged will disengage and begin to resist and resent the whole learning process. My sister very nearly dropped out of school because she did not feel it was worth her time.

  4. You make me laugh (as usual!). I have never thought @ this before. But it makes sense. From my own perspective, trying to balance writing and some semblance of household order with parenting three little’uns, two of whom are at the “twinning” age, it’s totally believable. I certainly wouldn’t waste one instant teaching the reader to read.

    I *was* one of those “bored in school” kids, but here’s the thing. In twelve years of English class, only once did I think, “Hey, I didn’t know THAT before!” Most of it I thought was utterly ridiculous and a complete waste of time. But I look at my writing through the years and I see it changing. Learning, as you say, happens organically. Even though I felt like I already knew everything that I was hearing, it was probably more that they were talking @ things I’d already intuited or noticed through reading. So English class codified what I had intuited. Which is an extremely valuable thing.

    And look at what I’m doing now.

  5. Tiphaine

    I didn’t really get your point.. Do you think in school they would have caught your learning problem? I am not entirely sure about it..
    I did some afterschool tutoring in NYC and I was astonished by the deplorable “quality” of teaching both in public and private school… it was mostly worksheets… and bad ones on top of that.
    Now I am not saying that homeschooling is the solution!! Many of your other points pointed at other problems possible with homeschooling which are, in my opinion, much more pertinent. Such as parents’ lack of teaching skills! or conflicts of interest with other activities (housework , younger siblings) and general exhaustion..
    anyway I’llprobably need to read this again…
    Great website though. Thanks for sharing! :)

  6. Katie

    I wholeheartedly agree with your penchant that children should attend school! (I’m a teacher.) However, when I was in school, my generation receieved the “whole language approach” to reading instruction, which loosely became, “Give them books and they will read.” (Which, actually, sounds similar to your experience at home.) This approach failed students. Previous generations were exposed to basal readers and phonics instruction without a strong emphasis on authentic literature, which led to boredom with the old drill and kill routine.

    Fortunately, reading instruction has evolved from those time periods, and now it is common place for students to receive instruction in all reading components with authentic literature. With that glimmer, students should receive a foundation that squelches boredom and inspires ‘zeal.’ ;-)

  7. I’m actually the opposite and have been working VERY HARD with my daughter’s principal to ensure that they can keep her challenged. Because she’s so far ahead of the grade, it’s a lot of work for her teachers to keep her challenged and to keep her from getting bored. I want her to remain engaged and challenged and excited about learning – and she won’t if everything is already something she knows.

    Unfortunately, our school doesn’t have anything in place for kids like her – so we’re working from the ground up.

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