Homeschool Essentials

Whether unschooled or highly structured, religious or secular, all homeschools encounter the same challenges. All successful homeschools exhibit the same essential qualities. This weblog will help you understand and apply those qualities, minimize frustration, and enjoy more success sooner.

Monday, February 07, 2005

Esteem Needs and Learning

Learning, knowing, demonstrating competence builds our feelings of worth. That’s why wilderness survival programs help wayward teens. Overcoming hardship, discovering competence and endurance they doubted they had, restores the sense of worth that abuse, peers, and laziness eroded. From this fact, some reason that children need to be driven to learn. That overcoming adversity will put some starch in them. It’s true that whatever does not destroy you only makes you stronger.

Still, it doesn’t toughen infants to leave them out in the snow overnight. It kills them. There’s no virtue in wasting talent or energy on an impossible task. The value from attempting difficult things comes from what we learn in the attempt. Given developmentally inappropriate tasks, children only learn frustration and failure. At every stage, children need challenging but achievable tasks.

We don’t take our bedding plants out in the spring, and plant them before the last frost. A very few of the toughest species might survive, the rest would die. You wouldn’t make a puppy face a full-grown wolf.

“Nothing succeeds like success.” The more we experience real success, the more we build up a reserve of worth and esteem to sustain us through the times of discouragement and mistakes to ultimate success. A trained athlete may run a marathon. But the average weekend warrior might have a heart attack. An infant could not survive a twenty mile walk, much less a run. So, yes, we gain by overcoming difficulty. The emphasis on the overcoming. The difficulty must be guaged to our abilities so that it will challenge but not defeat us. Simply raising standards and test score requirements will not produce superior students. If we produce superior students, their test scores will rise.

At the same time, we all value the memory of triumph over difficulty, of obstacles overcome, of barriers vanquished. Like Olympic divers, we measure our achievements by degree of difficulty as well as how well we execute them.

Every time we exhibit competence, we overcome difficulty, we accomplish something beyond the ordinary, it builds our sense of worth. When others take positive notice of these things, it builds our sense of worth. Learning enhances our competence, and our opportunities for overcoming ever greater obstacles, so learning naturally feeds this need for esteem.

This powerful need cuts both ways, however. Repeated failure chips away at our sense of worth. We may be labeled as failures by ourselves or others. If a specific skill, like long division, or specific subject matter, like history, becomes associated with continued failure and frustration, we avoid it in order to maintain our esteem. We don’t want others to see our inability, we fear to expose our incompetence. In order to preserve our limited reservoir of value, we avoid those situations where it may be damaged.

When learning experiences become identified with loss of esteem, we shy away. “Once burned, twice shy,” goes the old proverb. Psychologists tell us that it actually takes three positives to erase each negative. We will revisit this issue repeatedly, because this problem occurs more often than any other. Adults continually attempt to accelerate academic achievement. Often adults urge tasks on the learner without regard to readiness. The same task which may be mastered with ease at the proper time, may be literally impossible, or prohibitively difficult, if attempted too early.

Parents naturally feel disappointed when children do not live up to their expectations. Children interpret this as disappointment in them, personally, and lose worth. In their eagerness to please, they may continue to attempt the impossible, but when it becomes clear they cannot succeed, they become dispirited and give up.

As in so many instances, the danger here is that the parents will confuse their children's achievement or lack of it with their--the parents--self-worth, with their own esteem. In their efforts to protect their own bruised egos, they injure their children instead.


Post a Comment

<< Home