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    On Bad Attitudes {Part 1}

    June 18, 2013 by Brandy Vencel

    In my inbox this week was an email from Mystie. I tried to ignore her, but she got into my brain, and so here I am, tackling a subject for which I feel almost totally unqualified. The deal is: I don’t have it all together. But I’m learning that the idea that someone has to have it all together in order to speak on a subject is ridiculous because…no one has it all together.

    The ideas I’m about to present are not my own. I have been blessed with many wise tutors, from my own mother, to real-life friends, to British governesses. It is from them that this series of posts will flow.

    But first, of course, we have the requisite disclaimer. I am not talking here about children with severe behavior problems {though our friend Charlotte Mason does spend a number of pages in her first volume explaining that creating and maintaining the conditions of healthy brain activity is foundational for all learning}. In this post we are talking about what Mystie called in her email to me “just your basic obstinacy or laziness, or a generic, low-grade bad attitude.”

    What ought we to do if little ones tell us they “hate school” or they don’t like studying on their own, anyway?

    This series of posts is going to focus more on principles–things to consider–rather than anything really practical. This is because principles are easily applied to any child. I don’t know any particular children as well as my own, and my children may or may not be like your children.

    If that makes sense.

    Please do not think that I am denying that children are sinners and need discipline and instruction. This is not the case, and we will get to that. But when I come across a negative attitude, especially in regard to lessons, and especially if the child does not have a habit of bad attitudes, these are the things I think through first before I assume that the root issue is sin.

    The two things we will consider today are: starting too young and bad books.

    Starting Too Young

    Our culture tells us that if our children are failing at something in school, we need to start them younger. We need to make them spend more hours on the subject. And so on.

    The older I get, the more I believe that what we need to do is lay off and allow their brains to mature, rather than pressuring them to use areas of their brain that aren’t even myelinated yet. The human brain is not a finished organ at birth. Charlotte Mason observed that children will reject what they are not yet ready to deal with: This reminds me very much of my oldest child, who decided that he “hated math” when he was in first or second grade. The funny thing is that I thought I had delayed math because I didn’t do any math until he was in first grade {other than counting objects and learning to identify the symbols}. But he struggled through math that year, and his conclusion was that he not only hated math, but that math hated him. “I’m bad at math,” he would say.

    One limitation I did discover in the minds of these little people; my friend insisted that they could not understand English Grammar; I maintained that they could and wrote a little Grammar…for the two of seven and eight; but she was right; I was allowed to give the lessons myself with what lucidity and freshness I could command; in vain; the Nominative ‘Case’ baffled them; their minds rejected the abstract conception just as children reject the notion of writing an “Essay on Happiness.” But I was beginning to make discoveries;…that the mind of a child takes or rejects according to its needs.

    On the inside, I panicked. Here I was, teaching him at home, believing that a huge side-benefit of this was that no one would ever kill the love of learning for him, and already, at age six or seven, his love for math was dead.

    After a little reading, thinking, praying, and consulting with my husband, we dropped math. In its place, I added in some workbook pages from Critical Thinking Press that didn’t look or feel like math, and yet purported to help children develop math ability. They were more like little logic puzzles. E. loved them. He told me he wanted to do more “like this.”

    About nine months later, I noticed that he was easily adding up scores for Yahtzee games, and decided to try math again. He took to it like a fish to water. There was no bad attitude, and no self-doubt. Only enjoying playing with the numbers.

    All I can say about this is that he was finally ready for math. I didn’t change my discipline. I didn’t change the curriculum. All we did was wait.

    Today, even though we took nine months off, he is only about six months “behind” because he is moving at such a rapid pace.

    This sort of thing takes wisdom from above. There was a very real chance that I could have been being manipulated by a bad attitude, and that he would have learned that his attitude would get him out of doing something he didn’t like. One child’s rejection can be due to brain immaturity, while another’s can be due to rebellion. This is why I say that the possibility of having begun too early is only something to consider.

    Bad Books

    I am writing the Term Two examination today, and, as is my habit, before I write an exam, I reread Charlotte’s words on exams. I wish I could remember in which volume it was that she explained that trouble narrating or recalling for exams can sometimes be due to “bad books,” as I call them. We can think we have found a living book upon the subject, but when the child is struggling joylessly through it, we can say one thing about the book, and that is that it is not life-giving for the child. One way I judge the quality of a book is based upon how easy it is for me to narrate and to enjoy. Do I, as a fully-capable adult, catch ideas from the book?

    There are many good books, but they are not the best books. This is why I appreciate Ambleside Online so much. These women took the time to wade through good books until they found what they considered to be the very best upon the subject, meeting the requirements of a living book–high literary quality, full of ideas, etc.

    Read More in this Series

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    4 Comments

  • Reply Silvia June 18, 2013 at 11:03 pm

    I forgot to mention one thing. As a teacher, I see me growing and freeing myself from an ideal too. I am indebted to the AO ladies, but at the same time, I am not holding ALL AND EVERY SINGLE book recommendation as holy, as I did before. As you say, each child will have a different take to some living books, it is fine to make changes, not arbitrary, life saving changes.

    I have always said that any curriculum list or website, blog, etc. are your tools, but they were deep down there being my masters. If I focus more inwardly, I am able to see my children and myself better, and difficulties seem to clear and smooth. Not disappear. That will never happen. Inspired by Dorothy Sayers, I try not to see my life and hs as problems and solutions, but to live and create, recreate, and enjoy.

    • Reply Brandy Vencel June 27, 2013 at 5:00 am

      I am finally going through some of my inbox tonight and I just wanted you to know that I am glad you are feeling more freedom this year, Silvia. 🙂

    • Reply Silvia June 27, 2013 at 11:33 am

      Thanks!
      I felt slaved in a notion or ideal my daughter was never reaching and that was causing friction and bat attitudes at all times. It is possible we may believe we are demanding the right thing from them, and the children attitudes can be bad because we are asking too much or too little.

  • Reply Silvia June 18, 2013 at 10:57 pm

    My daughter now eight went through a time of hating math. I changed, like you did, but to Life of Fred, and now she enjoys math a lot. Me too.

    She also has been through some not liking our books, etc. I have come to respect her more as a person. Remember my issues with narration? She is not my ideal narrator, but she narrates. I have dropped my ideal of the student she has to be, and I have told her what I expect from her, providing flexibility in how to accomplish it.

    I don’t expect her to have inner motivation at all times, and truth is she is gaining independence, but I still have to be present and actively engaged in her lessons.

    I feel guilty for being able to do this, since I only have her and another girl who will start lessons in a few weeks (it is so hot here that we start lessons in July, so that we can take several days in the fall). I know you have four children and it requires more discipline and time on your side.

    I am also very very naughty, I have abandoned the Hollings books, and I plan to use something different in year 1. Those never sparked any love for geography, such a fascinating discipline, so I am dropping them.

    When my girls or my girl in school age, shows laziness or bad attitudes, I reshuffle things, bring some nice things to the table, (not entertaining, but joy in the shape of some art, games, a nice reading detour), and at times I truly insist and demand that some things have to be done (some piano practice, independent reading, math of her choice –khan academy, a practice book she likes, whatever pages). It is a give and take, a tightening and loosing of the string that only a mother knows how to do, by trial and error, prayer, consulting with hubby, all the things you said.

    It is difficult to paint a picture of what to do, but I appreciate your writings and effort, and I know we all will benefit from your thoughts.

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