My job is to tell him when it is homework time. His job is to do it, or not, and face whatever consequences. I learnt this hands-off method from my mother. She was always available, but never nagged me. I hated homework. I hated studying. By some miracle of talent in certain areas – which negated the complete lack of performance in others - I managed to get a university entrance.
This is my attitude towards their schooling: I’ve done mine. I faced my consequences – I was always in trouble for not doing homework - now it’s their turn to figure it all out.
Who’s your favourite god?
So he opens some books all over the dining room table. A while later he asks me where that book of about Greek gods is. I find it and hand it to him. He asks me who my favourite Greek god is. I say Aphrodite. He asks why. I explain. I ask him his favourite god. He says Poseidon and explains why. Then I am puzzled.
‘Are you guys doing the Greek gods in history?’ I am so jealous. School seems so much nicer these days than they did when I was there.
But no, he’s supposed to be learning for a subject called Life Orientation. The test topic is study methods - a lot less interesting than the Greek gods and their monumental jealousies, victories and affairs.
‘So why are we talking about the Greek gods?’
‘Because the book I’m reading is about Greek gods.’
After karate and dinner he pulls his school books closer again. He seems absorbed and busy. I glance over his shoulder. He is drawing Poseidon with his trident. It’s an incredible drawing and I spend a moment trying to trace this particular artistic talent to an uncle on my mother’s side.
‘Are you finished studying then?’ I venture casually.
‘No. Mom? The other day while I was in enrichment class, the rest of the class did study methods. Do you have any, like, ideas for how to study properly?’
‘No. I think the only thing that really works is spending time on studying, and concentrating when you are. I don’t think that’s something anyone else can do for you.’
‘And clearly it’s not something I can do for myself either,’ he observes wryly, and I have about my third rush of pride at this lovely child on that Thursday afternoon. He is reading a stimulating novel. He is researching what he read about. He is engaging in conversation about what he learnt from his research, he is drawing what has captured his interest, and now he is making jokes about his inability to sit down and study.
I sent him off to school the next day fully aware of his level of unpreparedness for this test about how to study– not just theoretically unprepared, but literally without the knowledge the teacher was trying to convey.
And yet, not at all unprepared for life.
Do you think children have an instinctive ability to study what interests them?