“I hate school!”

What do you do when your kids “hate” school?

Kevin and I were not always great students. After years of messing around, being told we were not “fulfilling our potential,” getting yanked out of schools or downright failing, both of us were bitten by the academic bug and we never recovered. We both have more degrees than is reasonable and yet we still dream of going back to university. My personal dream is to be hobbling around some campus when I’m ancient–with my white hair, cane and hoarse old-lady voice–heading off to teach a class of twenty-somethings about writing. What could be more perfect than teaching and learning? Nothing would make me happier.

But somehow we ended up with two out of three kids who “hate” school. (Why do I write “hate” instead of hate? Because I can’t even admit to myself that I have kids who hate school.)

So my question today is multifold: am I disappointed more for myself or for them? And secondly, but even more important, what do I do about it?

Let’s take #1. To be brutally honest, I want to hurt people who boast about their kid’s academic magnificence. Just hurt them a little bit, mind you, but enough to remind them that gloating about your kid’s A+  in algebra makes other parents feel bad.

Why make other parents feel bad, why? If my child achieves a C- in algebra, should I smile at you and say, cool–my kid gets a C-! Can your child give my child some of his brains, please? Or some of his motivation? Or some of the genes that you obviously passed down to him, those genes that made him a genius? (Clearly, my genes are defective.)

So here’s some unsolicited advice. If you gloat about your childrens’ academic performance, try this: just stop. Be kind to those of us who struggle to help our kids do well.

And now, #2, the really tricky question. What do I do about the fact that my kids hate school? This morning, Peter was practically on the verge of tears. My big guy, all 6 ft 2 in of him, just mired in misery. I did my usual pep talk, which fell on deaf ears, then I remembered my bible and thought: KEEP IT SIMPLE. EMPATHIZE.

So I said, “Hmm, I hear you. It’s tough going back to school!” (and I swallowed the rest of the sentence, which was: would you prefer to go work in the factory? Enjoy some child labor? Huh, would you?)

Then I thought about what I could do to make his day better. I had already offered  Chinese food for dinner, which did perk him up a little bit.  Then I thought, I can take him a treat when I drive carpool… some chocolate, or a donut. Or I can… and then my mind screamed back at me, STOP THE CRAZINESS, STOP!

This business about trying to fix our kids–make them happy–is no good. Not only does it not work, it’s harmful. I know this, yet I inevitably have to go through the old routine of worrying, thinking how I can fix it and then, finally, letting it go.

Let it go, Katrin. Let him hate school. He’ll come around. Or he won’t. Buying him chocolate for carpool will do NO GOOD.

Now, for my other child who hates school, that’s a different story. She hates it because it’s boring. And the fact of the matter is, yes. It is boring. We took her out of a great school which was far from boring, and put her into a school that is boring. Surely she deserves to have the option (as my other kids do) of being in an environment in which learning is stimulating and fun? We need a solution–a way to get her through the next eight years with her little psyche in tact, feeling OK about herself and her abilities, but also being energized and plugged in. More on this at a later date…

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