Tuesday, May 08, 2012

Curing Boredom

One of my favorite Dickens mini-series is Bleak House. Gillian Anderson captured haughty Lady Dedlock's boredom brilliantly. In the book, the author attributes Dedlock's boredom to monotony. What a wonderful surname he gave to someone who is perpetually bored.
They cannot go away too fast, for even here my Lady Dedlock has been bored to death. Concert, assembly, opera, theatre, drive, nothing is new to my Lady under the worn-out heavens.
Charlotte Mason observed something quite similar about teachers and children in typical schools:
The complaints made by teachers and children of the monotony of the work in our schools is full of pathos and all credit to those teachers who cheer the weary path by entertaining devices. But mind does not live and grow upon entertainment; it requires its solid meals. (Page 90)
The mind does not live on entertainment alone! How many evenings do people spend surfing hundreds of channels only to find nothing interesting? (You know we have all wasted precious hours in this mode.)

She also noted a link between boredom and rewards (grades, prizes, class rank).
The teacher who proposes marks and places as worthy aims will get work certainly but he will get no healthy love of knowledge for its own sake and no provision against the ennui of later days. The monotony I have spoken of attends all work prompted by the stimuli of marks and places; such work becomes mechanical, and there is hardly enough of it prepared to last through the course of a boy's school life. (Page 91)
What is wrong with rewards? The same thing that is wrong with trying to teach by entertainment. Both depend upon an outside person or force acting upon the person. With entertainment, somebody else performs the act of entertaining: those watching become passive. Passive learning assumes the mind is an empty bucket, waiting to be filled. It assumes that the quality of learning depends upon the skill of the teacher. The instructor can compile lessons over a year or two and repeat the course, year after year. The student can simply go through the motions, memorizing only what is needed with little thought to make the kind of connections that makes learning stick.

With rewards, somebody sets up the system and dishes out the reward when requirements are met. They do what has to be done and no more. I know of kids who will read the simplest books to rack up points for programs like Book-It or summer reading programs at the library. When one high schooler told me she never reads books, I asked, "What about school? Doesn't your school have Accelerated Reader?" She explained that she looks up information online and can pass the test without reading the book. If the grade or prize is more important to the student, then the book is the means not the end. After graduation, when the system is no longer in place, what happens to the student? Some never crack a book for many years after leaving school because they have no need to read.

Mason suggested that knowledge for its own sake is the key to holding attention.
There is no faculty within the soul which can be spared in the great work of education; but then every faculty, or rather power, works to the one end if we make the pursuit of knowledge for its own sake the object of our educational efforts. We find children ready and eager for this labour and their accomplishment is surprising. (Page 93)
She recommended that knowledge be wrapped in a story form or gained through firsthand experience. Research today shows that the mind really does hang onto ideas presented in a story format. (Why do you think Jesus spoke in parables?) Daniel Willingham, the cognitive scientist, explains that stories with four features grip the mind the best:
  • Causality - one event causes or initiates another
  • Conflict - a main character must overcome obstacles to reach a goal
  • Complications - attempts to overcome an obstacles create problems that must be solved
  • Character - strong, interesting people come alive

I have been homeschooling Pamela since 1995. We started using Mason's methods in 1999. I do not find the daily effort dull because I just never know what to expect from Pamela. In the past week, here are some things that have delighted me.

Pictures Pamela Drew for Her Architecture and Natural History Exams

Pamela's New Exploration in Science

How The Psalm This Week Was Exactly What **I** Needed to Read

How God Orchestrates Connections That I Don't Plan in Advance... Two months ago, I chose "Good Night, Moon" in Spanish to begin this term this week, which just "happens" to be the same week we begin reading a chapter on the moon in our weather book, which just "happens" to be the same week as the super moon.

How I See Pamela's Progress over Time... Three years ago, I could only say one word at a time for studied dictation of one sentence. Today, I can see three words at a time and I can pull one sentence out of a paragraph that she studied.

How Pamela Constantly Surprises Me... Before reading our book on the Alamo, which written as a first person account, Pamela announced, "I'm pretending to be Billy." Then, she said three sentences in the first person with perfect use of personal pronouns.

Do you know how many social milestones are required for a person with autism to do that?


Bonnie said...

That all made me smile!
Keep on my friend!

The Bright Side of Life said...

Tammy and Pamela.... I am in awe, you are an inspiration to me. Thank you.