Why I am teaching my son to break the rules

I was chatting on Facebook with a fellow Expat in Sicily recently about how to make children do their homework. I actually don’t think it IS always a good idea.

Children need time for hobbies and a social life

When my son began school, I used all means possible to make him do his homework, despite believing much of it was not teaching him anything and that there was always too much of it.

He spent all afternoon doing tasks that taught him nothing. Performing 30 long-multiplication operations was not benefitting him, once he had perfectly understood how to do them. Parsing every single word in a 30-line story was not improving his knowledge of Italian grammar after he had already understood it perfectly. And writing out all the numbers from 1 to 300 and then from 300 to 1 felt like an inane punishment rather than a learning opportunity.

The dog ate it
The dog ate it

We have said since time immemorial that all work and no play makes Jack a dull boy. Whilst engaged in all this bookish boredom, he was spending no time at all developing social skills or maintaining his physical fitness. He lost his once deep passion for recreational reading. He had literally no time for a hobby, despite his great interest in making movies and enjoyment of karate.

More importantly than all this, he had no time to relax, dammit. We adults know perfectly well that having no social life leads to depression. It does in children, too.

If I could wind back the clock I would be selective and only make him do homework that improved his understanding of something he had not fully grasped yet. If he had understood something, I would take him outside to observe a colony of ants or look at veins in a leaf or practise kicking a football hard and straight or read a great book about the solar system. Anything to HIS benefit. That is what I shall be doing from now on.

Children need to know the world doesn’t give you the reward you deserve just because you did what you were asked

I set out wanting my son to learn that homework must always be done because it teaches self discipline. That was why I created this reward and penalty system: earn pocket money for doing homework, setting the table and so on, lose money in fines for being naughty.

My pencil broke
My pencil broke

But I think that fitted in the world we grew up in, where you study and go to university and train for a profession and you are promised a god job at the end of all that. I did that. I got top grades at school, I went to Britain’s best university, I worked hard for the bank which hired me… then I got made redundant. I got another job and got made redundant again. And now I cannot find a job. The modern economy has changed.

Our kids are growing up in a world where you can follow all the rules and get little but disappointment at the end of it. The winners these days are usually people who create their own opportunities, make their own decisions and can cope with a world where promises are not always kept, and the rules are often broken. I watched a TV documentary about one of the richest men in Britain. He had made billions by opening a chain of betting shops. He said he knows lots of people much more intelligent and hard working than him, but who have little money. Why? asked the interviewer.

“The only difference between them and me,” he answered, “is that I take risks.”

So, now, I am trying to teach my son to make intelligent decisions about which homework will actually benefit him personally. I want him to learn how to assess, independently, how best to spend his time and where best to direct his energy.

The way I was brought up did NOT make me into the kind of person who copes well with how things work in Sicily. This is a place where you pay the water bill but still get your water cut off because your neighbour didn’t pay his bill. This is a place where you pay your council tax on time, every time, but the council leaves mountains of rubbish in your street because there is someone embezzling money in the local council. This is a place where your husband’s bank account gets frozen for 2 months for excessive unauthorised debt, because a bank teller stole money from his account. This is a country where the president can be convicted of pedophilia yet not serve the prison sentence he was condemned to serve, and in fact, still stand in the next election.

statistics-homework-help-onlineI think the modern world is gradually becoming more and more like Sicily and less and less like the orderly England I grew up in. The rate of crime may never reach Sicilian levels, but the predictable work-and-reward system I was brought up to expect in this world has already gone.

I feel lost, and cheated, and ill-prepared to cope with the new world order. I am determined to make sure my son can cope with whatever it throws at him.

Because the bottom line is this: training your children to follow the rules, and giving them a reward and punishment system, turns them into great kids who are easy for parents to handle. And after that, it turns them into weak adults who are ill-equipped to cope with the unpredictability of the modern world.


30 Comments Add yours

  1. Pip Marks says:

    We definitely need to rethink our education system. It’s worse than just teaching useless things. They try to kill creativity and teach conformity. We’ve been training kids to work in the industrial age but this is no longer relevant. Have you seen these talks by Sir Ken Robinson & Seth Godin? http://www.ted.com/talks/ken_robinson_says_schools_kill_creativity

    Liked by 2 people

    1. I’ll have to watch those videos! I am LOVING the Seth Godin book! xxx


  2. Cathy Holtom says:

    Great post, I fought for years with my kids in Italian schools. Boring lessons and excessive and useless homework demotivated them from an early age. I now encourage them to invent and be creative about work, but the situation for young people is dire.
    I once got into trouble teaching English conversation at a private school because I was making it too much fun! That says it all.

    Liked by 4 people

    1. Oh dear! That really says it all!

      Liked by 2 people

  3. Malla Duncan says:

    Brilliant and spot-on!

    Liked by 2 people

  4. vanglo48 says:

    Touché! Well put. Knowing your child and what sparks his interest puts his love for learning in your hands. Schools can do just so much. Sounds like you are definitley headed in the right direction. Lucky boy.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. T. Franke says:

    You should teach your son that coping with “life” does not mean being the better cheater but being the better man. And being the better man does not mean being the greater asshole and having “success” all the time. The reward for the good man is an inward reward, not appreciation by others or material success. The better man can have patience, he can wait for success. Breaking rules is only allowed for higher values, or when the rules generally dissolve in society — then you have to follow reason and modesty as basic rules.

    A good man is able to suffer and to bear being laughed at. Weak characters cannot bear it. In the end the real man will have chances of success, too, because he is not silly like others, and because he is steady on his course.

    Your son should read Plato, Aristotle and Cicero, Thukydides and Herodotus.

    Please stop immediately paying your son for following the rules! This is weird! Your son has to learn that he is dishonoring himself if he is not eager to do his homework fully and correctly. You can’t be a great man if you reject to do what has to be done. This is his duty, and a man is only a man if he fulfills his duty. By the way, not doing homework is silly, because education means money and independence in these days. Not necessarily with a Classics degree, of course. I have a degree in computer science and I cannot complain.

    It is true that known orders dissolve. In Germany, first hords of “refugees” started to break out of their camps and to rob and to kill policemen and civilians. There is not enough police any more for “usual” crimes like burglary. “Refugees” are carrying full trolleys from the supermarktes without paying … nobody cares. Police is not coming any more if you call it, they have other things to do. It really reminds me of the year 406 AD when the “limes” fell and hell broke out in a civilized and romanized Gaul, initiating the dark Middle Ages.

    Popularity of chancellor Merkel is dropping dramatically.
    We have an atmosphere like in the last days of Honecker’s regime.
    The people is fed up, while media try to hold up a nice view on things.

    Yet besides any changes in fate, the basic order of the human condition does never change. The eternal truths which kind of society is better or worse do not change. It is the duty of a good man to strive for improving the situation, or at least to prevent a worsening, and to keep up the vision.

    Even the Germanic hords were not able to extinguish ancient civilization fully. After some 1000 years the ancient heritage started to flourish again. The barbarians will not prevail.

    And your son can be part of this great story of civilizing our world!

    Your son will have to make a decision one day, whether he wants to make something special out of his life, or just become an asshole like all the other brainless weaklings.

    He should read Xenophon: The great story of the self-organization of civilized soldiers after their generals were killed. Civilized persons do not give up so easily!

    And your son should read this:

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I should have known I would get told off by a German for this blog post!!! 😛

      I agree in principle with everything you say, but my son has had a truly horrible time at school for the last 4 years, with teachers who did not care the tiniest bit about his dyslexia and only insulted and told him off instead of recognising he was trying his best and teaching him properly.

      Now that he has a good teacher in a new school, he is highly motivated to study and hardly needs encouraging to do his homework.

      But it is still tragically true that Sicily is a plae where lots of people with a degree can never find a job no matter how hard they try, or who work as a postman and feel grateful for the job. This just isn’t fair, and there is no way to make it seem fair.

      In the old days, Sicilians who could not accept unfairness could leave and look for work in Germany or England, for example, but even in these countries their options are running out.

      What I wanht my son to know is that he cannot look for an employer to give him what is fair, He will need to start his own business, even doing something that may initially seem idiotic. He will need to use skills that have nothing to do with what he studied at school. And he will need to keep one eye out all the time for people wo jump the queue ahead of him , because, in real life, there actually isn’t a queue.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. T. Franke says:

        I understand this. I think two abilities are wanted: (a) Creativity. Creating opportunities, businesses, etc. This is a good thing to you and no harm to others. You gain, nobody else is loosing. That is how finding a wife works, I assume 🙂 (b) Jumping over senseless rules in the right moment. The key question is: What is a senseless rule? In which moment? Sometimes keeping senseless rules can be a symbol of protest, too.

        Liked by 1 person

      2. I agree 100%!
        This is exactly what I am trying to teach my son to distinguish – what is a senseless rule, and what is an important one?
        And of course, he is a very moral boy with a deep conscience who would never harm others. That’s not something I had to teach him, it is his innate character, I am glad to say.

        Liked by 1 person

      3. T. Franke says:

        Mothers have always the best view of their offspring 🙂

        Liked by 1 person

  6. kidmc2014 says:

    I have quite a bit to say on this subject, go on, just ask me about arithmetic or “problems” as my Mother used to call it.
    I’m chipping in here because I listened to a listener phone in radio program about three weeks ago, where a Father had called in, at his wits end with the amount of homework given to his eight year old son, it brought back memories and brought me to tears.
    I spent the entire Summers and Christmas vacations of grades one, two and three, all day and a good portion of the evening, at tables in two or three different parts of California, with pages and pages and pages of math homework and flash cards.
    I wanted to call in and tell this Father to stop these teachers from doing this to his Son, I call it crippling, but I couldn’t because the program was a rebroadcast from that morning.
    So, this blog is giving me a chance to purge!
    For me, math homework was a beast that couldn’t be slain, spelling, book reports, science experiments, history, world geography and cultures…all fun, some more than others.
    To this day, I still can’t comprehend basic forms of math, and when it comes to numbers and me, I’ve spent most of our time together “guesstimating”
    Early on, I used to make tick marks on the margins of what ever paper I was working on, and this only helped with addition and subtraction, but when my classes geared up to multiplication and division…Well, I was already slower counting all those tick marks, and then I was left behind altoghther.
    A good friend of my Mother’s who later became a Godmother to me of sorts, suggested after watching me struggle, to get me an abacus, but the parochial teachers, I had, said no, because it would only act as a “crutch”
    (When I first started typing this, my eyes were welling up, now, I’m just getting angry)
    “Crutch”?!! By the time the 1970’s were coming to an end; some schools had started to allow high schoolers the use of calculators for math tests.
    They used the old “jam the square peg into the round hole” method with me
    and it didn’t work, and I didn’t learn.
    My Gran gave me a Texas Instruments calculator in ’76, I think she knew it was never going to be something I could do, and she probably had one of her “visions” and saw that they were going to become the norm…it was too early to use it at school, and it was way too late for me to believe I could slay the beast.
    *These were the old days Valerie, and my escape from embarrassment and the ridicule from failure, came about in grade eight, and for the next five years; no math, no homework, and no chance of having to repeat a grade.
    *I became a varsity athlete.
    It was like, or what it must be like to sell yourself to the Devil.
    I had hated school, and the teachers and faculty.
    I can’t tell you how many times my birthday coincided with the first day of school…therefore; ruined! Cursed!
    Sports and playing on winning teams changed it all.
    I can’t advise any parent on homework, I feel that just making a comfortable living, which is where I found myself, is going to become harder, and competitive.
    I agree with you about those of us that are adept at cutting corners, when nobody is looking, but I do see that there will be a price to pay for taking risks.
    I don’t know by saying what I’m about to say will help.
    Find out what really interests your child, and steer them in that direction, inform their teachers and counselors and ask them to steer them in that same direction.
    If just one of those frumpy brujas said to me, so, you can’t do arithmetic? let’s look at what types of occupations there are that have a minimum use of numbers.
    Instead of “you’ll be a bum, or a wino, or in jail if you can’t do arithmetic”

    Liked by 1 person

    1. It sounds as if you have discalculia, the equivalent of dyslexia with numbers, which my mother, older sister, son and nephew all have. I have seen with them that it not only causes misery at school but, in severe cases like my mother, humiliation, difficulty and getting ripped off in daily life.

      So you have my deep sympathy for this. Nobody understands how awful it is unless they have seen it first hand.

      When digital calculators became cheaply available in the seventies, a calculator became resident in my Mum’s handbag and life changed for my mother forever! No more overcharging in shops, as at last she could check the total!

      My main point in this post was not that I want to teach my son to cheat or be lazy, or cut corners.
      He gets set a lot of homework from which he learns nothing, and I want him to choose what DOES teach him something. Then he can spend the rest of his time doing something ELSE, that also teaches him something, inspires him, feeds his passions and maybe develops the side of him he may use to earn his living one day.
      So essentially, I want him to take more responsibility for guiding his own learning.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. kidmc2014 says:

        Let me start with my apologies first;
        I meant Veronica, not Valerie. Sorry…must be another form “ia” I suffer from or someone sneezed on me or something. Not too long ago, I addressed one of my clients as “Valerie” her name is Gigi!
        I’m sorry for not responding sooner, sometimes I’m notified when there are new comments, sometimes not.
        And lastly; I sure didn’t want you to think I was suggesting that you are teaching your son to cut corners.
        Perhaps I didn’t articulate?
        I was just saying that some…most of the individuals who DO cut corners, that I’ve known or been associated with; have eventually had to answer for their unlawfulness…UNLAWFUL not criminal. (The criminals I’ve know have all been dealt with accordingly)
        In the words of Burt Reynolds character in 1972’s “Deliverance” “you don’t beat the river”
        I bet your Mother’s trusty calculator was big and fat with red led.

        Yes! One hundred percent right (notice I spelled out 100)
        He should read all that he can on his own, that is exactly what I did. National Geographic, Encyclopaedias, Almanacs, and some of the better teachers encouraged me to do that.
        However, even that worked against me or was used by others in this…what seemed more like a battle of wills.
        “He reads well, so he can do it if he wants to, so, he must just be lazy or stubborn”
        Vera, not Valerie, was told to put her Son in “remedial” class,
        which is what one of my church members, recently retired from the school board, told me they are quick to do nowadays, with very little evidence to support the claims of the school.
        I don’t know if they did that while I was serving my sentence, but I don’t think I would’ve enjoyed the over obvious segregation from the normal.
        My Nieces and Nephews that are of school age, love school and are bright, “Thanks God!”
        As my Palestinian friends say.
        One Niece, has shown a little reluctance in regards to preferring not to being around other children, but does well in her studies, and her Mother and Father are considering home schooling for her. I don’t know enough about home schooling to have an opinion, I wonder if they are accepted at the universities at the same rate and what are the numbers on retention, graduation etc.

        And Aidan, what type of work did your Father do? And your Grandfathers?
        Aren’t there any craftsmen, men or women, taking on apprentices there?
        Here, believe it or don’t, there are apprenticeships that go begging, partly because most of the young here don’t want to work in the labour field any longer (blue collar)
        Now please don’t read between the lines, I’m not suggesting in your circumstances that “jobs are plentiful, and you just have want to work”
        I’m just guessing that service industry work will always or will seem to be needed,
        and can be stepping stones to having your own business etc.
        I had an Uncle who used to say very accurately, in my experience “you need a job, to get a job”
        Don’t give up!

        Liked by 1 person

      2. It can be so disheartening when people make assumptions about a kid’s ability level, attitude and motivation etc based on literally no evidence or professional knowledge whatsoever! my son has been a victim of this very badly. Having seen my older sister suffer that, I am ready to fight for him and defend him every single time. Though I sometimes wonder if I shold leave him to fight a buit and get toughened up.
        Being a parent is so hard, all the way!

        Liked by 1 person

      3. BTW no worries about the name!
        My whole life I have responded to anything starting with V. Usually Victoria but also Vivian and Vanessa seem popular! I draw the line at Verucca.

        Liked by 1 person

  7. Aidan not Aiden says:

    I’m 27 and I’m still angry that I was pretty much lied to all through school. Like you, I was told that if I got good grades and did what I was told I would be rewarded with success. I went back to high school after I dropped out, even though it made me so miserable and I developed a depression so intense I actually considered suicide, because I was told repeatedly that it was the only way I could guarantee myself a decent life.

    And here I am, ten years out of high school, still working the same shitty jobs I had to work IN high school, and mostly miserable. I spent so much time on school work, I stopped doing and lost interest in all of the things I had loved to do. I lost touch with friends who also got stuck in the machine.

    All I have to show for all of that hard work they promised would amount to something is being an ill-formed adult with no friends, no hobbies, crippling depression and anxiety, and a Netflix account.

    It’s like trying to play Scrabble with Monopoly rules. Good on you for setting your son up for success, instead of teaching him rules to a game the world isn’t playing anymore.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. In Italy they call your generation the sfigati, it means something like “The ones cursed with bad luck”, for this very reason – they worked hard like all the previous generations and at the end of it, there was nothing for them. No jobs. Even those who can get a job will have literally no old age pension at all. Even those who can get a job will mostly never be able to afford a house for themselves. And so on.

      And you said it so well – I don’t want to teach my son the rules to a game the world isn’t playing any more.

      I am reading a brilliant book called “What to do when it’s Your turn” By Seth Godin (a gift from Pip Marks, who linked to Seth Godin in the first comment above). In this, he basically points out that you haev to realise it is ALWAYS your turn, never wait to be called.

      Liked by 3 people

  8. vera ersilia says:

    I think that showing your kids that there is another world besides school and its rules is essential to their sense of identity and capacity/skills to deal with real life later. I raised three kids as a single Italian mother in the US. I wanted them not to be afraid of ‘authority’, I wanted them to see me act according to our own ideas and not just to the dictates of society. ‘Our own ideas’ naturally were mine of course. When he was still in elementary school I refused to put my son in a remedial class, he had told me that the was bored in class, so he lagged behind. Eventually he had a more capable teacher and the problem disappeared. One time my middle daughter in 4th grade, was accuse of something at school being reported by a teacher. When I investigated I discovered that the teacher was using hearsay by other kids and had not seen the facts themselves. I raised a stink with the principal and that teacher apologized to my daughter in front of everybody. It was a minor infraction: I was not so worried that it had really happened, but I didn’t want my child to fear an adult in authority who could make her look bad or damage her position in the school.
    I stood up for my kids against conformism so they could learn to judge matters independently. My oldest daughter later “accused” me of not being a “normal” mother…. but all three grew up strong and well-centered, not afraid to follow their ways and to choose to live as they saw fit. They have great careers and are successful in more than making money, they are successful at living life.

    Liked by 3 people

    1. That’s teh ultimate test, isn’t it? How well do they fare in adult life If they are happy and balanced as adults, you can conclude you did the right things!

      Liked by 1 person

      1. vera ersilia says:

        That is my philosophy anyway! cheers.

        Liked by 1 person

  9. Brava to you for teaching him to think!

    Liked by 2 people

  10. Success is not about formal education: that is merely the package sold to us by Academia so they can martial some sort of a program together which produces a model they can grade according to conformity, etc., etc.. The problem is frailty: a good education is dependent upon the availability of a good educator, and these are few.

    The most ‘successful’ people I know are not educated in the standard image; in fact they were almost without exception unexceptional academically. They are strongly individualistic, but not overtly intelligent; however they do all share one characteristic – a very high degree of focus. They are mostly perfectionists, love the word or hate it, and they channel their efforts, usually along very narrow lines.

    I include a footballer, a car salesman, a tech. genius (who confesses he learned mostly from video games!) and an ‘importer’ – who is probably in a position to buy and sell the other three.

    The other question I keep raising for myself when I attack this subject is the definition of ‘success’. I am by no means wealthy, or successful in the sense that seems to be up for discussion here. My problem, if problem it be, is lack of ambition. I simply love my life. I have been married to someone who tolerates me for umpteen years now, and have no wish to take on work that would have me trekking in and out of hotel lobbies, airports or anything further than the local pub. I favor and savor the laid-back life, and I highly recommend it.

    BTW, I was ‘successful’ academically. Head Boy of my school, etc.. I have a Mensa IQ of 160 so this is not an argument of an envious, embittered failure. Apart from success as an author I’ve achieved goals that were uniquely mine.

    Oh, and it seems I’m becoming an incorrigible blow-hard!

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Wise words indeed, and you have nailed it on the head with education needing conformity so things are measurable, but not for any other good reason.
      And I know many happy people who would agree with you, that their definition of success is much more closely related to happiness than wealth or status…. surely a better measure?

      Liked by 1 person

  11. Diana says:

    “The winners these days are usually people who create their own opportunities, make their own decisions and can cope with a world where promises are not always kept, and the rules are often broken.” What a great post. Very thought-provoking. It sounds like your new perspective on things is what your son needs in a world that operates like it does.

    It’s important to be flexible and keep an open perspective.

    Something I’ve always noticed between the US and Italy is the excess of hobbies and after-school activities versus the lack of them. Neither country, it seems, has gotten that right (not sure about England!). You’ve got to navigate your own way through it all.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I think England has the right balance with after school activities, whereas Italy has basically none unless the parents pay for them privately, which means they are not associated with the school and do nothing to create a united sense of community there.
      This is one of the reasons Italians always seem extremely babyish compared to English kids the same age. In the UK or Germany, among a class of 14 year olds there will be several who can play musical instruments at a highly impressive level and perform in a local orchestra, who are part of regional sports teams and have a string of trophies at home, and so on. Not here!
      It’s not just that in Italy you have to pay a fortune for after school lessons which makes tem only for the rich, it is also that the school leaves so much h9omework the children have no time for anything else. It’s highly detrimental to personal development.

      Liked by 1 person

  12. Zambian Lady says:

    I like what one Nordic country does – students are not given so much homework that they do not have time to play. Children who can not cope in school are let off after the ninth grade to learn vocational skills and then go on to work. Their status is not looked down upon as everyone agrees that not everybody can go further in school. The jobs, e.g. in construction, that these kids later have are regarded highly and the kids earn respectable salaries. I wish other countries (Zambia in particular) could follow suit.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. They used to have this system in the UK too, and I think it was much better. Nowadays everyone is given the impression they should work in an office wearing suit, and that any other kind of job is inferior, which is completely unrealistic and also highly inconvenient – and perhaps the reason why all the plumbers in England these days seem to come from Poland!

      Liked by 1 person

    2. kidmc2014 says:

      This comment, Zambian Lady, is exactly why I am as broken as I am.
      We have or had that same thing here! And,
      which I knew nothing about until my team played this other team with a name I didn’t remember ever hearing before, and I didn’t know what part of the city they were located.
      It was explained to me by one of my teammates, that they were from the vocational high school not far from our school.
      “What’s a vocational school?” I asked…
      I remember saying something along the lines of; “You mean to stand there and tell me, that they have a school, tailor made, for kids like me, where as, I’m about to advance to grade eleven, without learning anything, and I could be learning to weld, or stevedore, or drive elephants etc. AND play for my school?!!
      It reminds me of some of the things I was told, more accurately, NOT told at the polling places before voters reform.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. It’s such a tragedy to find out too late that there was a perfect place for you, where you could have been happy and done well. It’s even more of a tragedy when they have these schools then take them away… and send the kids to an “academic” school that makes them feel those professions are somehow inferior.

        Liked by 1 person

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