Hassle-Free Homework: Eighth-Grader Probably Already Labeled Troublemaker

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Dear Dr. Fournier:

School is well, yuck. I like first period okay because it’s health and you learn a lot about yourself. Second period is English. It’s okay, too but not my thing. I mean it’s not the best, but I can handle it. Third period is history. I hate it and my teacher. She is so mean to everyone. No one likes her. Fourth period is science. Well, it’s better than history, but not a lot. I really don’t like it. Fifth period is math. I like it but every day my teacher gives us a long sheet of problems to do and I can’t do most of them. Well, sixth period is music. I hate it. We don’t do anything in there. I used to make decent grades so why am I having problems in school now and getting F’s?

Steve M.

Hammond, IN

Dear Steve:

Many students who feel the way you do about school have been characterized with what I call the academic “curse words:”

Dr. Yvonne Fournier
Dr. Yvonne Fournier
  • He’s lazy.
  • He’s been tested and there is no learning disability.
  • He doesn’t do his work.
  • He’s just trouble.

As seen by the school system, you are a student who is trouble, not doing homework, not completing school tasks, and being disobedient (talking) in school. Teachers and school officials have probably described you as defiant.

But when asked to write about school, you show us what a day in your “workplace” is like.

ASSESSMENT

After eight years in school, you see the process of education as a series of unconnected events and tasks, each requiring different ways of carrying out school responsibilities. Time sequence is the only relationship you see between classes: Science is followed by English, which is followed by math, and so on. In a sense, school is like being part of one television program after another.

But unlike television, in school there is no choice to the sequenced programs. Therefore, you must learn to survive through subjects rather than grow through education.

You have survived school by developing techniques for learning that mimic the way you perceive school. Just as each subject is an item in the day, each “piece” of knowledge became an item to be memorized without any attempt to put the pieces together with context. You have managed to survive with an “item learning” approach in the lower grades, memorizing facts from ditto sheets to be poured out on the upcoming test and then quickly forgotten.

Now that you are in higher grades, that piecemeal approach will not work. You are suddenly expected to be an independent learner of the whole concept and not just the items attached. No matter how hard you try, your fragmented recall has resulted in the loss if concentration, loss of attention, and finally, in anger and frustration from the humiliation of a string of F’s.

Like our schools and corporations, you must learn to progress from a teaching-intensive environment, which promises a student’s dependence on the teacher, to a learning mindset with independent thinking and creativity. But independence relies on a desire to learn.

WHAT TO DO

Steve, your parents, if they want you to be motivated in school, must first learn why all you do in school will be essential to your future.

The sooner you and other students in your predicament see this relationship, the sooner you will put school efforts into context and perspective. So ask your parents to help you become aware of how you use all school subjects in whatever you do.

Here are a few suggestions for them:

  • Make a detailed list of all the traditional school subjects your child uses on a daily basis. For example, word processing requires more than English grammar and spelling. It also requires math to determine margins, and geography or social studies or science to be able to proofread the content for accuracy. In cooking, you must be able to read labels, deal with measurements from math, and understand combinations from science (so metal does not go into the microwave). Armed with your own recollection of the importance of all subjects, begin to discuss this with your child, not just once a school year or once a semester, but daily.
  • Periodically, have your child daydream about future careers. Don’t get stuck on traditional ones. After all, during this decade, it is predicted that workers entering the labor force will change job fields at least five times because of changes in technology. At least one-third of those jobs haven’t been created yet. Help your child figure out the relationship between future jobs and current school subjects.

As a child expands his understanding of career choices, parents can help him see how what he learns today in First Period is an item he needs in the future. Then the horrible names of First Period and Second Period can become First Step, Second Step, and so on to the choices your child will make in a lifetime of learning and success.

CONTACT DR. FOURNIER

Have a question about education, education-related issues or your child’s schoolwork or homework? Ask Dr. Fournier and look for her answer in this column. E-mail your question or comment to Dr. Yvonne Fournier at [email protected].