kitchen table math, the sequel: Steve H on "extreme non-pushing"

Sunday, January 16, 2011

Steve H on "extreme non-pushing"

I mentioned in a previous comment thread that permissive parenting, which is not as effective as authoritative parenting, means "letting children learn from their mistakes."

Here is Steve H's take on laissez faire parenting:
As our son gets older, he has to be the one to set the line for himself, but he is not ready yet to go into the deep end of the pool without us watching. We also have to show him where the line is. In music, he can't just listen to his friends and relatives. He has to know what the Sophia Chuas are playing in competitions at each age level. He has to be realistic about how he fits in the world. This can't be left to chance or his own ideas of excellence. We could let him learn from his mistakes, but some mistakes can't be fixed. My wife and I had another discussion about the risk of mistakes just the other day.

My parents had a completely hands-off approach to our education. Since we never got poor grades, they never did anything. My brother and I talked years ago about how we wished that they did a lot more. We felt very ignorant and naive when we got to college.

Our father taught about jet/rocket engines at Pratt & Whitney. He never told me a thing about it or what he was doing at Cape Canaveral in the 1960s. I didn't know a thing about engineering until I was a sophomore in college.

People get upset about the Amy Chuas, but you have to see how awful (and invisible) the other side of the issue is. If kids don't learn, then it must be their fault, or their parents, or their peers, or society. Extreme non-pushing is so much more of a problem because people have no feedback. They can't see the problem. They think it's a matter of engagement or self-motivation.

Constructivism is consistent with permissive parenting, at least in my district, where the h.s. principal says that students are "young adults" who must "learn from their mistakes."

The great charter schools, I believe, are consistent with authoritative parenting.


Catherine Johnson said...

I've had parents tell me their kids will have to learn from their own mistakes even where drugs are concerned.

Catherine Johnson said...

The idea that teens should learn from their mistakes seems soooo off-base to me given how funky teen reasoning & brain development is. There is a reason why teens aren't allowed to vote or sign contracts, and it is the same reason why it's not a good idea to "let" teens "learn from their own mistakes."

ChemProf said...

Every couple of years, I get a student who makes me want to pull my hair out -- bright but flakey. Often they get through the first couple of years by nailing the final or having an A on exams and a D on outside work. Then as the material gets tougher, they can't just ace the final without any homework or without studying, and they wind up with a mediocre record. I have very rarely had a student start this way and end up learning how to be a better student. More often, they barely graduate, hit the job market, then realize they blew it and there is no going back. Yeah, not a fan of letting them "learn from their own mistakes."

le radical galoisien said...

There are ways of repairing a bad semester right, post-undergrad?

A lot of my friends want to stay on for a fifth year of school ... but my school won't let us. Because apparently we'll ruin their four-year graduation statistics or something.

lgm said...

Doesn't that "Learn from your mistakes" message strike you as being totally at odds with your parents' lesson: "So, if your friend jumped off a cliff, would you follow him?" i.e. think for yourself and figure out the ramifications beforehand... which you mastered before you were allowed to learn to drive? Seems that the high school is in favor of prolonging infancy even further.

With the drugs, there is so much rec use here that it turns off a thinking child. Why would you want to damage your teeth that way? And smell? Why would you want to kill your friend (for those that drive impaired)? And why would you want to spend your days stoned, wandering the hallways, seeking attention from those around you? It is clear that there are severe issues in these young people's lives that their parents are ignoring.

lrg, what do you mean by 'repair'? Most folks that want to retake for gpa purposes will do so over the summer, before they graduate. If its an addiction or maturity issue, the best thing to do is step out until ready to proceed then retake. Talk to your advisor.

Allison said...

I think a few ideas are being conflated that don't belong being conflated.

Leaving a child to make mistakes and feel the natural consequences is NOT the same thing as leaving a child to make mistakes, feel the consequences and then expect them to LEARN the RIGHT LESSON FROM THOSE MISTAKES.

I absolutely believe children should be allowed to make mistakes--THE EARLIER THE BETTER. And yes, for things that aren't fatal, they should be allowed to feel the natural consequences of their mistakes.

But that's not the same thing as then teaching them how to improve or not make the same mistake in the future--an adult still needs to step in and do that.

And it's when students don't make any mistakes young but make them later that things get worse--because the consequences are so much higher. Kids need to learn early what happens if you don't practice or don't know how to study BEFORE you get to college.

ChemProf, I was the student you describe, largely. Flakey is the wrong word for me, but the rest of the description is right.

I *did* need to fail a course-EARLY. Unfortunately, MIT decided not to help. They went the other way, letting me muddle by for a few years before finally deciding they'd had enough and deciding to punish me at the very end. They sheltered me from my error when it was still intervenable, and then let the "natural" consequences take over when the dept chair was fed up.

What they could, and I think should, have done, was something colleges never do: teach someone how to study. But even if you think that is not the college's problem, then the answer was to have been given hard enough work earlier to have had to learn how, and to have been given the chance to mess up then.

Chemprof, your claim that "there is no going back" is just flatly wrong. Of COURSE there are ways for someone to go back. Heck, I went back, and aced every undergrad course I took well enough to win a fellowship, nearly win another, and get myself into grad school. And my record was worse than mediocre.

Working is a terrific way to learn the skills needed to go back. Recs from bosses matter. Work invariably opens up opportunities for taking coursework while employed (usually on their dime) to show you've changed.

Now, I wasn't just flakey--I had huge issues interfering with my ability to function in school. Therapy helped those, but it took a long while. Colleges do everything they can to ignore those problems and collude with the student to pretend things are fine.

Until schools, somewhere, figure out how to teach someone who to study, these problems will keep happening with the bright students. So yes, parents need to learn how to help since schools won't.

Allison said...

Let me add too that most of the kids behaving in these ways--brinksmanship, bad attendance, etc. have issues beyond "flakiness".

Many students on the edge of acceptable performance have depression, anxiety, ADD behaviors. Some of them have serious trauma or past issues they've not dealt with. Some have serious drinking and drug abuses ongoing.

For them, the free-for-all of college is a bad idea. It allows them to falter badly--not getting out of bed for weeks, not attending class, not eating normally, not seeing daylight. Living in the real world would be a lot better.

Sorting out their issues, either through maturity or treatment, makes a huge difference. They would be better off going to work for a while and coming back later. The work world provides structure, and in that structure, even those with issues still to work on can find enough external motivation to perform above the minimal requirements.

Every school has ways of letting these students take time off without needing to reapply. Every school has some dean somewhere who can authorize wiping a term of bad grades off the books and letting someone leave in good standing to come back later when they are more ready. Do all schools advertise this? No. Should they? Maybe, maybe not. But it's a much better option for lots of students than getting a mediocre record and barely hanging on.

Every friend I had from college took time off. I know more than a dozen students who matriculated 10 or more years after they started. Of them, several went to excellent grad schools--caltech, johns hopkins, mit. More options exist, too.

Crimson Wife said...

Leaving a child to make mistakes and feel the natural consequences is NOT the same thing as leaving a child to make mistakes, feel the consequences and then expect them to LEARN the RIGHT LESSON FROM THOSE MISTAKES.

I absolutely believe children should be allowed to make mistakes--THE EARLIER THE BETTER. And yes, for things that aren't fatal, they should be allowed to feel the natural consequences of their mistakes.

I totally agree. I'm a big believer in playing the "mean mom" and not rescuing my kids from the consequences of their mistakes.

Yesterday at the grocery store, my 5 y.o. was very indecisive about which particular bagel or muffin to get as a treat. After several minutes of this, I gave him to the count of 20 to pick something. When I reached 20 and he still hadn't chosen, he forfeited his right to the treat. He got all upset but it was his mistake not to choose something during the allotted time.

The kids who wind up having drug problems as teens tend to be the ones whose parents are afraid to say "no" to their kids.

cranberry said...

The kids who wind up having drug problems as teens tend to be the ones whose parents are afraid to say "no" to their kids.

Any evidence for that, other than opinion?

My children and their friends are just entering their teens. Those children I assume are already using either have 1) serious, untreated mental conditions, or 2) someone else in the family, sibling or parent, who uses recreational drugs, or 3) the "bad crowd" famed in parenting lore. Sometimes, it's a mixture of the three.

And there's also divorce, which leads some children to hang out with the "bad crowd," or which leads to less reliable supervision of children.

lgm said...

The commonality I'm noticing (aside from mental health issues in the family or other members using and selling) is that the child is unsupervised after school, is intelligent but not in honors, and has not developed an interest in anything except possibly a high risk individual sport (jumping dirt bikes, etc). They often ace the final based on what they hear in class. The parents do say 'no', but they aren't home to enforce anything. Many view pot as harmless. All are against parental 'control' but have no idea what they want to do with themselves, other than attract attention. Small sample though.

ChemProf said...

lgm - those are exactly the kind of students I'm talking about. Not depressed or ADD - we have huge support staff at my institution for those kinds of issues, that's kind of our niche - just not willing to work, as they have never needed to. Plus, they don't really believe there will be consequences that matter to them. I'd agree with Allison that many of these students would benefit from taking time off from college to work, but how do you tell a freshman with a B average to do that? The problem with this type of student is that their average drops every semester, as the material gets tougher and expectations change. You can't ace the final and pass senior seminar.

It can be better to drop out of college without a degree, come back, and finish later, than it is to finish with a poor record. Here the details matter though -- dropping out of MIT is different than dropping out of Chico State. And while there are lots of ways to fix a bad semester, there are not many ways to fix a poor four-year record. I know of exactly one person who graduated with a C average from a low-ranked school who wound up as a researcher, and even after his postdoc, he lost jobs because of his undergraduate record.

However, for lrg, retaking classes where you did poorly is usually not worth it. Med schools only count that a little, and grad schools are rarely impressed. If you need to "fix" a particular class, take the higher level course and do well in that if you can.

Allison said...

--I'd agree with Allison that many of these students would benefit from taking time off from college to work, but how do you tell a freshman with a B average to do that?

If that B was earned by nonattendance, D in homework, and and an A on the final, it's easy:
require homework, and require attendance. So the A on the final doesn't allow you to pass the course.

Colleges have the ability to require attendance, even in lectures. Nonattendance of courses by students is appallingly high, and it's a scandal schools could fix with the snap of their fingers.

lgm said...

Chemprof, it sounds like things have changed since I graduated..this scenario was taken care of with flunk-out courses when I was an undergrad in engineering.

Perhaps you could require homework and attendance and drop all students who don't bother?

ChemProf said...

In engineering, they'll flunk you. But I rarely had a lecture even when I was an undergrad where they took attendance.

My students have to pass the lab portion of the class (which has been a near thing for these students), but I don't require a particular grade for homework. A D is passing, and some students do every assignment and still end up with a D for homework. They scrape through Gen Chem, but do well in their biology courses. I start flunking those students, I will hear about it from my colleagues.

It also depends on the kind of place - our policy is that I can't drop students after the first day of class. If I required homework, these types of students would turn in a half-done assignment, and then what?

That can also make less of a difference than you'd think. I have a colleague who starts every class with a quiz. She drops a couple of low scores, to allow for illness, but that's it. She has had students who clearly didn't prepare and got 1/5 or 0/5 for every quiz, then aced the exams and wound up with C's.

For attendance, I always follow up, first emailing the student and then sending post notices (which go to the department of student life and the student's academic advisor). I have rarely found it changes student behavior.

I should also be clear - at my institution I get 1-2 of these students a year. How much should I change my grading system, which works well for ~90% of my class, to get those couple of students' attention? If it were a bigger chunk, I would feel differently.