Ever since our trip to Iceland in July I’ve been enamored of all things Icelandic, including the language.
Every Icelander we met spoke lilting, perfect English to us, and then chattered to one another in a jaunty Nordic blur punctuated by frequent smiles and exclamations of Yow!
Our favorite tour guide was a college student in his early 20′s. Chiseled, blond, and surely a direct descendant of Leif Erickson, Tucker turned out instead to be a skateboarder dude from Wisconsin.
Tucker had discovered that the University of Iceland provides free tuition, room, board and health care to any student, regardless of citizenship, just so long as they speak Icelandic; he grabbed a self-study language course and hunkered down to practice every day…and, two years later, here he was! Yow!
The brain is amazingly “plastic,” and even if it’s not “good at” some subject, if you work at it little by little, consistently, learning will happen!
But what if you, or your student, just haaaaates some subject?…and therefore avoids it like the plague? All the more reason to chip away at it, little by little. Research shows that liking increases with expertise, and with familiarity.
She describes the little-by-little process the French use to slowly educate their kids’ taste buds and learn to love a wide range of foods:
My American baby books recognize that certain foods are an acquired taste. They say …
Does this sound unrealistic? Impossible?
When my kids were growing up, we had a big house with an acre of lawn and an in-ground swimming pool. We enjoyed the space and made good use of the pool. Even so, that big spread was a lot to afford and a lot take care of.
I spent a lot of stressful hours, many of them sleepless early-morning ones, fretting over maintenance issues and bills. Paying the cleaning lady, the lawn guy and the pool guy meant I had to work more hours. Letting those folks go and doing the work myself meant spending tons of time doing chores I did not enjoy and couldn’t keep up with.
Decades ago I discovered a terrific ab crunch routine; it’s quick, easy, shows results within days, and it isn’t even especially painful or uncomfortable…and yet…
I haven’t been doing it.
And I dislike the realities that stem from my slacking. I always love the treat of un-boxing my summer clothes; this June I was so disappointed to find several of my favorite dresses were too tight around the middle.
Joe was super-smart, responsible, kind, scrupulously honest, family-oriented, conscientious, and like me, more focused on doing valuable work than on making tons of money.
The relationship itself, however, was stupefyingly difficult, for reasons Joe and I struggled to figure out.
Elena is a beautiful 16-year-old who blithely drifted in and out of my English II classroom this year without any materials…. Over the course of eight months, Elena continued to leave assignments incomplete and did little class work… She lost study guides, lost materials, and lost interest in editing and revising her work.
So writes Colette Marie Bennett, veteran teacher and department chair, in a very good article for Education Week Teacher entitled To Pass or Not to Pass? The End-of-Year Moral Dilemma.
….On the rare occasion when Elena turned in work, she demonstrated that she was capable of writing on grade level. Numerous common assessments taken in class indicated that her reading comprehension was also on grade level…
Now, as the grades are totaled in June, I wonder: Do I hold her accountable for work left incomplete? …If I exempt her from less important assignments, am I reinforcing her lack of responsibility? Finally, is passing her fair to the students who did complete the assigned work?…Will re-enrolling her in 10th grade English bare a different result? Is she prepared or unprepared to meet the rigors of 11th grade English?
I’m sitting with 14-year-old Emma; we’re doing her algebra homework side by side. We started at the same time, but I’m on problem #3 and she’s already on #8.
Does that surprise you? After all, I’m the math tutor who has been doing this stuff for decades. And I’m not purposely trying to work slowly. Emma really is mentally faster than me.
I’m used to this by now. I work with many teens with super-high IQs who process information at lightening speed. Why on earth do they need a tutor?
Emma glances over at my paper. My work is in neat columns. All the steps are written out. Emma sees that her answers differ from mine on problems #1 and #3. She notices that she’s dropped a negative sign in problem #1. And she left out part of the equation in problem #3 because she didn’t bother to write it down; she was “doing it in her head.”
She goes back and fixes her errors; by now I’m on problem #6.
Scratch the surface of laziness and underneath you’ll find fear, confusion, frustration, lack of knowledge, lack of skills, anger, sadness…
And, often, just plain exhaustion.
Willpower is a limited resource, and the demands of the school day can drain a student of her ability to attend and persevere.
I’m paraphrasing John Gottman from a wonderful 3-minute YouTube clip entitled The Best Predictor of Divorce.
I think it’s instructive to the critical person to enter the room…and find it empty. What will he do with his irritable feelings now?
Perhaps he’ll fill it right away with another lover, or with material objects. Perhaps she’ll clutter it with work or other busy-making activities.
But what if the critical person simply sits in the empty room and experiences the irritability? What might he learn about himself? Perhaps she’ll find that her feelings aren’t deadly and that, in fact, she is fine just the way she is.
And doesn’t this go for all of us? Spending some stretch of time alone, with no other person to affix our moods to and no external factors to blame for the way we feel…what might that teach us about our worries?…our melancholy?…and our happiness?
This was waaaay back in 1977, and many of my peers report similar experiences. Most of us somehow wound up attending institutes of higher learning. “Choice” doesn’t necessarily feel like the right word to describe the processes that got us there.
In the abstract, I can imagine having searched more thoroughly and located a school that would have been a better fit for me. But, I can’t actually name that school. And this is despite my being in a line of work that acquaints me with the features of hundreds of colleges and universities.
For better or worse, I truly never thought in terms of selecting the “right” college.
Ana Homayoun describes the angst that I and my similarly clueless peers were spared:
I’m like a mule stuck between at least twenty intriguing potential-subject haystacks, paralyzed by the sheer number of interesting things I’ve been reading and discussing, all of which I long to express in print.
None of which is happening.
It’s wonderful to have variety and selection. Who doesn’t enjoy freedom and flexibility and a cornucopia of options? Who doesn’t thrill to a banquet spread before them?
In fact, too much choice can be absolutely stultifying.
I see this in my students all the time. I live and work in one of the most affluent areas of the country, and the kids I tutor have every sort of choice. We all believe these kids “should” be grateful for all their privileges, yet often they are paralyzed by them.
What to wear? What sports to play? What friends to hang out with? What to do with one’s free time? What music to listen to?…and, of course, those truly terrifying questions: