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Observation as a parent of a gifted child: laziness March 23, 2012

Posted by mareserinitatis in education, gifted, homeschooling, math, older son, societal commentary, teaching.
Tags: , , , ,

The older boy couldn’t seem to make it out of bed to get to high school on time, and when there, couldn’t make it from one class to another in the allotted amount of time.  He was spending time in between classes socializing, and outside of school, he wasn’t doing his homework.

In the past week, however, he’s been getting up at 7 a.m. without fail so that he can catch a ride to the library and study economics for a few hours each day.  He’s made it through two chapters, including doing all the study guide problems and writing out definitions for vocab words.

His plan is to finish the economics course by the middle of May so that he can take the CLEP exam.  This was the course *he* really wanted to do.  When we were going through the list of possible topics, he picked it out and said he wanted to do it.

Lazy children don’t do these things, so he’s obviously not lazy.  On the other hand, it was pretty obvious his high school classes just weren’t doing it for him.

When we went to a specialist in gifted assessment, she said, “I don’t believe in lazy.  Kids aren’t lazy, but they can be unmotivated when presented with something that isn’t sufficiently interesting and stimulating.”  That was about seven years ago, and I didn’t believe her.  I started to wonder about it when, in sixth grade, the only class he did well in was the only one that was accelerated: math.  For the record, he really isn’t all that crazy about math.  It wasn’t until last year, after the older boy studied like crazy for his US History CLEP exams and passed them, that I had to admit that she was right.

Now I’m wondering what he’d be doing if he’d been able to accelerate at the high school.  The school doesn’t allow students to take AP classes until their junior year.  Doing early enrollment at the college (without his GED) wouldn’t have been possible without his counselor signing off.  (Given she fought my parents tooth and nail when I was in high school, and he had the same counselor and was doing poorly, I doubt that would’ve ever happened.)  But looking at him, I’m seeing what a huge mistake they’re making with these policies.

I feel like I ought to tell them this.  But I am also tired of fighting it and feel like it’s just better to focus my efforts on my own kids.  This mental fatigue is the kind of thing that makes me see why so many people pull their kids out of the system.  There’s just no energy to deal with it, especially when it’s obvious what the solution is.  The school, in the meantime, has mired itself down with pointless rules that keep people from excelling, and in some cases, succeeding.


1. nicoleandmaggie - March 23, 2012

My mom joined the school board. It’s amazing what kind of concessions you can get for your kids (and other kids! She brought back 8th grade algebra and formalized a 7th grade algebra to high school geometry in 8th grade transition so it wasn’t only Asian boys who were allowed to do it, among other things… too late for me, but my sister benefited) when you’re on the board. Also your kids are able to get away with more stuff. *cough cough*

I don’t have that kind of energy. So I make money so we can buy our way into a better situation.

mareserinitatis - March 23, 2012

I have basically found that the easiest way to handle my kids education is to supervise directly. I think that means I’m a control freak. On the other hand, this isn’t terribly conducive to having a career, so I’ve had to relent a bit.

I volunteer to do a math project with my younger son’s class once a week, and I think the teacher has gotten to know me better because of this. It has really helped, especially since we got off to a bad start. (I really was pushy about him doing his math at home, which didn’t sit well with her for a while.) Also, younger son fits in socially much better than older son, and that makes a huge difference.

nicoleandmaggie - March 23, 2012

I don’t think I could do my son’s education. He’s just too tiring for me.

I used to do pull-out math for inner city 4th graders (I did a lot of, “Ms. X, did you realize that this quiet Hispanic girl is doing better on her homework than the Asian kid you’ve put into pull out? And when the black girl gets in trouble for calling out the answer without being called on, she’s always got the right answer?”) and did pre-algebra and algebra for the migrant kids who spoke enough English to not need the English summer program. That was really rewarding.

2. GMP - March 23, 2012

Your post inspired a few tangential thoughts…
(None of this is intended as a criticism. I am just musing “out loud”…)

One thing that is probably obvious to everyone who is an adult is that there are many things that one needs to do in life that are not particularly interesting or stimulating (e.g. no matter how much you love your job, there will be parts that suck sometimes for a long time and sometimes a lot).

Some people (and kids too) deal with drudgery better than others I suppose — for instance, I had a lot of down-time when I was in school, but I always had other stuff to think about, and I read my own books under my desk or I drew, so I generally wasn’t bored and wasn’t disruptive either. My older son is like me, he has a rich “life of the mind” so when he’s bored he’s not disruptive, but rather in his own world; he never says that school is boring and his grades are excellent. My second son, however, is both very smart and very outwardly oriented, constantly seeking stimulation. I can tell that there will be hell to pay if he is bored in school (starts K next year), because he will be a menace. I have no idea what we will do — I hope he will be able to be challenged appropriately…

I guess my question here is — at some point in a kid’s education the kid has to find a way to provide their own stimulation as well as control both their behavior and their academic output in settings that are not particularly stimulating. I don’t know when this time is, probably not when they are little, maybe in college? What I am trying to say is that there are limits to how much external challenge we can expect schools to provide (resources, everyone’s time, willingness) versus equipping the child with both the tools to find appropriate challenges on their own and the tools to actually be able to function (in college, or at work) in the face of tasks that are boring or otherwise unappealing.

I have seen quite a few brilliant kids flame out in college because they cannot make themselves take some “boring” required courses. I don’t think anyone wants that for their gifted kid, so I wonder what the appropriate techniques are to make the kid push through in the face of suboptimal challenge (because sometimes there is no way around)….

mareserinitatis - March 23, 2012

If you only knew how many times I’ve said, “You’re going to have to do things you don’t like as an adult!”

But I guess this is the weird thing. He’s doing what many students would consider to be boring college classes now and enjoying them. (He’s done a year of college US history, and I can tell you that history is not my favorite.)

My hypothesis (and I sure hope I’m right on this) is that if you’re doing stuff you enjoy or working towards something you really want to do, you’re a lot more willing to put up with the crappy stuff. I know that’s true in my case. I took a number of stupid classes in order to get my degrees, but that’s because I was focused on the degree and willing to jump through hoops to get it. I needed the degrees for other things…if I didn’t, then I probably wouldn’t have taken those classes or cared if I didn’t graduate.

I think this is why so many places require people to have college degrees: they know that people who have degrees can accomplish goals even when they may find some aspects of it boring. It isn’t all about having a particular knowledge set.

The problem, therefore, comes when you are doing all boring work and there’s nothing stimulating. I honestly think the older son could’ve passed the GED about 4 years ago, but he wasn’t able to take it until this year. Doing high school level work when you’re probably six years ahead of your age-mates, at least mentally, is enough to kill anyone’s motivation. The fact that he’s learning how to actually study by doing college-level work now is a lot better than even getting good grades in high school when one probably has to put in little to no effort to get those grades. (A lot of kids won’t take boring classes, but a lot of bright kids also fail because they’ve never learned to study…)

I really hope he finds a reason to go to college and finish, but if he doesn’t, that’s his choice. I guess I think everyone should have the opportunity to go to college, but not everyone needs it…even smart people. And ultimately it’s up to him whether he decides it’s worth the boring stuff to finish.

(At least, this is my way of foisting the problem off on him and letting him be responsible for himself.) :-)

nicoleandmaggie - March 23, 2012

When you’re over the age of 21, you can spike your hot chocolate with butterscotch schnapps and that makes the required philosophy course MUCH more bearable.

Just sayin’.

As an adult I’ve found that there’s very little I have to do that’s boring. (That’s why I make the big bucks– as an adult I can outsource.) All that training I got in counting the dots in ceiling tiles as a K-9 grader was totally and completely wasted, not to mention overkill.

jen - March 23, 2012

I got through high school a little too easily. My experience was nowhere near like your son’s, but I still was able to glide through a lot of things without developing great study skills (my major, and now graduate school focus, was a high school class I found interesting, engaging, and still not requiring a whole lot of studying). I think I saw a dramatic improvement in those skills in college and I know what I need to do to really learn material, but I am unfortunately reluctant to do some of those things even today. (E.g., I need to re-write notes, diagrams, and derivations, but sometimes I will just read through my notes and call it “studying” even though I know I am not taking in nearly as much as I would if I actually picked up a pen and did some work.)

3. GMP - March 23, 2012

As an adult I’ve found that there’s very little I have to do that’s boring.

Hmmm… I wonder how this can be. Perhaps we live in different (academic) universes. Sure, I could outsource cleaning my house or mowing my lawn or whatever, but even my job, which is exactly the job I always wanted to have, has plenty of boredom in it, more so as I advance in my career.

Once you have people depend on you (like my grad students and postdocs) for their salaries as well as their research progress, you can no longer just do the stuff you enjoy. Stuff that bores me: constantly hunting for different funding opportunities, a ton of time traveling to meet and schmooze with program managers to get more funding, those initial stages of teaching every single student how to move from a useless first draft of first paper to semblance of decent academic writing (I don’t dislike this teaching and it’s necessary, but it’s not exactly scintillating to do it over and over and over…), all meetings, serving on all sorts of committees and other service tasks, grading… Oh, god, grading. These are all parts of the job and have to be done but they are boring.

nicoleandmaggie - March 23, 2012

I can (and do) outsource grading. And I can (and do) bring other things to do to meetings. So does everyone else.

I didn’t say I didn’t have to do things I didn’t enjoy, just that I didn’t have to do anything boring. And I don’t. Additionally, the number of things I don’t enjoy are limited, because when I don’t want to do something I figure out how to not do it (unless it’s something like firing a bad RA, that kind of thing at least doesn’t take very long). That’s part of my academic training. I’m a grown-up, I’m capable and smart, I have resources, I can figure out how to come to an agreeable solution with another rational human being so that all parties are better off.

Also I chose to be a social scientist instead of a scientist precisely because, although science is very interesting to read about, I found it deadly dull to actually do during an internship. (My initial plan was to go into genetics. Changed my mind.) So I don’t have to do those boring things because I was able to make choices allowing me not to do them. I made similar choices and had some luck with my home life.

I don’t find teaching to be boring, though when I start getting tired of teaching one class I have flexibility to take a year off to teach something else. Then (like this semester) I remember why teaching the same class over and over again has benefits.

So no, I love being an adult and I think all that training I got in how to deal with boredom and being forced to do things I didn’t want to as a kid only served (besides making me depressed and cynical) to help me think creatively about how to be able to do things I want now that I have the power and the agency to do them. That’s a good reason to keep working hard and to keep trying to make the big bucks and move up in my career. I get more agency.

nicoleandmaggie - March 23, 2012

And really, if we have to learn how to deal with things being boring, why can’t we learn that on the job when we’re grown-ups if that’s an important lesson? It’s easier to get that lesson when a paycheck is depending on it. Seems less futile at that point.

Same reason we decided to ignore that all those stupid preemptive “You have to teach your baby to do X when it’s hardest or else your baby will never do X” things that we never did, and by gosh golly, DC did eventually wean, sleep in his own bed, eat vegetables, and all the other garbage they warn you about. We figured if we were going to have to fight now or later we might as well do it later… and then later it wasn’t a fight, despite everyone’s dire warnings. Boredom I imagine is the same thing. Might as well learn how to deal with it when you have to, and then you’ll have to deal with LESS of it.

mareserinitatis - March 23, 2012

You’ll have to forgive me, but it sounds like you would much rather be a research scientist at a national lab or someplace similar than a professor. I was told early on by a friend whose dad was well-regarded professor at a top school that he basically turned into a manager. On the other hand, people I know at smaller schools are often more involved in actually doing research instead of just directing it.

You’re also at a large PRU. If this is a highly competitive program, then I can’t help but wonder if maybe you’d be happier at someplace with less stress to find funding. I’ve had the argument several times with Massimo about this, but I honestly don’t think I (personally) would like that sort of setting. The stress of getting funding is different than the stress of dealing with more teaching and probably more limited resources at a smaller school…but I have already had to deal with the latter and know I can handle it. I’m starting to dip my toes into the finding funding business, and while I know I can do it, I really don’t like it. And based on my experience at such competitive schools, I can pretty much tell you that I don’t like the environment.

I guess this is my whole point: if there’s that much you hate about your job that you find it boring and irritating, then switch jobs. My husband was complaining about how he hated working for industry, so as soon as a spot opened up at the university, he jumped on it (with some significant nagging from me), and he’s been a much happier person ever since. I really think people get so stuck in a rut that they forget they always have the choice to do something new. It’s scary as hell…but usually such changes work out for the better.

And I really don’t want my kids slaving away at jobs they don’t enjoy. I realize there’s always a certain boredom/bullshit factor at every job, but when it gets to the point that it’s overwhelming the parts of the job you love, then it’s time to move on.

I apologize if I’m being blunt, but I guess this is essentially how I’ve tried to live my life. At one point, I thought I was stuck in a really bad position, and a lot of people had a vested interest in keeping me there. Once I realized I wasn’t obligated to keep these people happy and made some drastic changes, my happiness increased by orders of magnitude.

nicoleandmaggie - March 23, 2012

Your Money or Your Life is a great book to read when you’re feeling stuck in an unhappy or boring job. Min Hus is doing an online book club on it that it isn’t too late to join. It is amazingly freeing knowing that if you can just get your “enough” down low enough that you can have financial independence and freedom from jobs that suck.


mareserinitatis - March 23, 2012

Actually, another really obvious solution (albeit from my limited perspective) is to just shrink your group. If you’re spending all your time chasing funding to pay for students, then maybe you need less students. I know several researchers at my PhD institution who wouldn’t take on more than 2 people at a time, and I suspect it was for some of the same reasons you mentioned. If you’re spending less time chasing money, then maybe you can spend more time doing research yourself. And I’m sure your students would love the additional attention (sometimes). :-)

mareserinitatis - March 23, 2012

I have the book and have tried to read it several times. I really should look at it again…

GMP - March 23, 2012

I actually like my job overall, but the reality is that there are a lot of aspects that could be considered boring or frustrating. I am sure any other job would be much worse and I would not have the freedom that being your own boss provides.

Also, being a prof enables me to work on more projects than I would ever be able to if I were on my own. It is fun being involved in this many parallel directions and my students are smart people with whom it’s fun to talk science. My group is not that big — 1-2 postdocs, 4-6 students. The problem is that grants are so small and so short (basically 1 student for 3 years) that you need 2 to get a student out in 4-5 yrs, and the funding rates are so low… That’s the depressing part. I actually like writing grants — it’s a very creative part of the job — if it weren’t so futile and if it weren’t that I had to do it non-fucking-stop. There are profs with 20+ people groups, I don’t know how they do it.

For me, changing jobs would not enhance happiness — I like my job and any other would likely be worse in terms of boredom. In my case there are other people to consider too when moving. A tenured job has many advantages.

Sorry for hijacking your thread, Cherish!
Getting back to the main discussion, likely what nicoleandmaggie say(s) is true — learning to tolerate boredom is perhaps best left for adulthood when it really becomes inevitable.

nicoleandmaggie - March 24, 2012

I imagine that the 20+ person groups have very good post-docs working as grant writers and middle managers. Even in DH’s lab half that size they always had one or two long-term post-docs working as surrogates for the lab director.

4. Running to Excellence - March 29, 2012

As a gifted teacher who is currently finishing up their masters, underachievement in middle school boys is incredibly common. The determining factor in how he will be altered by this underachievment will be his connectedness to school.

Multiple factors can help students feel connected

Mentor Teachers
Extracurricular Activities
Success (Academic or Extracurricular)


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