Tuesday, March 4, 2014

Do What You're Told...Or Not. That is the Question

So, having a highly intelligent daughter is proving to be challenging. Particularly since, like me, she has a bit of a rebellious streak in her. We have raised her to feel questioning authority is not a bad thing. Thing is, sometimes, she questions us and we need her to not do that sometimes. Like when I'm trying to emphasize with my eight year old that he needs to do his homework the way the teacher says to do it. The conversation went like this:

Me: Daniel, you scribbled on your reading log. You need to color each day in individually, not scribble across the whole thing.

Daniel: OK Mom, I'll fix it.

Allison: Why? What does it matter? I mean, if he gets the whole assignment done, who cares how he gets it done?

Me: Allison, now is not the time. Daniel needs to do what the teacher tells him to do.

Allison: But why? He needs to learn to use his mind to investigate things and he can't do that if he just follows the rules. If he blindly follows the rules, he'll never understand what he is doing or why he does it.

Me: Part of what he is learning right now is to follow directions. At eight years old that is an important thing to learn. Once he learns to follow them, then he can learn to explore the whys of things.

Allison: Shouldn't he learn while he is doing something? I mean, what's the point of filling in the reading log? I mean, he read, and that's all that really matters.

Me: No, it matters that he learn to follow the directions that he is given. Part of his assignment is to fill in the reading log. It doesn't help that you are encouraging him not to do his work.

Allison: I'm not encouraging him not to do his work. I just don't see why it has to be done that way.

Me: Because that is the way he was told to do it by his teacher.

Allison: So?

Me: So his teacher gave him an assignment and part of the learning process for a boy who is eight is to learn to do what the teacher is telling him to do.

Daniel: Allison, I...

Allison: Daniel, I am having a conversation with Mom. You don't need to add in.

Me: Hold on. The conversation is about him. I think he can add his two cents if he wants. What is it Daniel?

Daniel: I'm going to do what the teacher says to do because that's what I'm supposed to do. I want to do what she says so I am going to.

Allison: Daniel, I'm talking to Mom right now about this. (To Me): Why can't he do it in his own way?

Me: Let's use karate as an example Allison. If you didn't learn each combination the way you were taught it, would you be good at karate?

Allison: No. But that's different, it's physical

Me: No, it isn't different. It's the same. If you want to get good at something you have to learn the basics first, and then move on to variations after you get good at the basics.

...and so it goes. It sounds like I handled the conversation pretty well, doesn't it? The thing is, there are parts of the discussion that I don't remember. What I remember is feeling like Allison was very adeptly building her case for not following directions. I felt my points were not well thought out and that she had a strong point. Why exactly, do we have to follow directions? Why can't we figure out the answers to things in our own way? Why can't we muddle through with our own unique brand of muddling until we arrive at a satisfactory answer? As long as our thought process is clear and we do the assignment, why can't we do things in our signature style of thinking? Won't we better understand them if we follow a logic that we understand?

That sounds wonderful until we are operating with flawed logic. It is up to our parents, mentors, teachers, and various other "experts" to teach us how to use clear logic. Teaching clear logic to my 14 year old is challenging, intellectually stimulating, and I want to be fully engaged in the conversation, but I am also painfully aware that my eight year old is listening to every word I say. What does it really matter to my 14 year old if I win or lose this debate? My eight year old, on the other hand, has everything to lose if he develops poor study habits at the beginning of his academic career because he thinks it doesn't matter if he does what the teacher tells him to do?

The other question I have, to confuse the issue even further, is what am I teaching my 14 year old about using her head if at bottom I am just telling her that she needs to do something a teacher or other person told her basically because she was told to? I have worked most of her life to teach her to think for herself. Am I really telling her to do what she's told without questioning? My short answer to that is no. I am not teaching her to just do what she's told without question. What I AM trying to teach her is to use her judgement wisely about breaking the rules. Sometimes its worth it and sometimes it isn't.

What I wound up telling my daughter (and my son if he was still listening) was that sometimes you follow the rules because the one with the power to give you what you want says so. If, for instance, Daniel would like a good grade on his homework assignment, he will follow his teacher's instructions and color in each day on his chart separately as he was told. If the grade doesn't matter, then he will do things his own way. My hope is that the grade matters to him and he will do the assignment correctly. The benefits (parental approval of choice, learning material more thoroughly, teacher approval, development of study habits, good grades)outweigh the disadvantages (parental disapproval of choice, bad grade, teacher's disapproval, not learning material as thoroughly as possible, not learning to follow instructions).

So what do you think? Am I giving my children good life skills by instructing them to use judgement about when to break the rules or am I teaching them to be conformists? I guess only time and maturity will tell.

1 comment:

Christine G. said...

daniel is learning to do things the right way and allison is too. i love her questioning of why things have to be done certain ways and love the way you brought in karate, because you spoke directly to something that she loves and understands. if you do what you want to do just because you want to do it your way and not the prescribed way then there will be problems with the process. there is a time and a place to question how and why things are done the way they're supposed to be done, and that time will come for her. when it does, she'll have the power.