As I think I have mentioned here before, my son is a bright kid. He is very good at reading, and he is ahead of the curve in Maths too. His teacher has been working with the class on the four basic operations: addition, subtraction, multiplication and division, and made a whole series of handouts for the children to work on at their own pace.
A couple of weeks ago, I noticed that my son and his desk partner - a truly lovely little girl - were considerably ahead of the rest of the class. So when I got very busy last week and couldn’t go into the classroom to check on his progress, I figured he was just working through them as usual.
At the beginning of this week I was able to make it into the classroom again. And what did I discover? My son’s lovely desk partner had finished all the handouts, and had moved on to something else. My son? He had got to only the fourth sheet out of eleven.
Once upon a time I would have been a bit cross. But because I’ve been reading all these books about gifted children, I realised there might be a back story to his slowness. And, sure enough, there was.
My son had got bored with the sheets. They are too easy for him. But unlike his desk partner, who just finished them all anyway because she’d been told to, my son figured that he shouldn’t need to waste his time filling them in. Why should he, when he knew how to do them? So he was hanging around, waiting for the more interesting work to come around.
Problem is, the more interesting work probably won’t come around, not until he has done the other sheets.
When I talked about this with another mum, she suggested that my son was learning an important lesson about the importance of doing what you’re told. According to this mum, we all have to do things in life that we don’t want to do, and this was just another opportunity to learn that the best thing is to do those things quickly and get them out of the way.
But is Maths class really the best place to learn about this? I suspect children have plenty of opportunities for learning that they have to get on and do things that they don’t especially want to do: eat their vegetables, go to bed, help with the grocery shopping, the washing up…
In school, I would much rather my son - and all the children - had the chance of doing work that stretched them and excited them. I don’t want my son to lose hope and lose enthusiasm waiting for interesting work that will never come.
Which leads me to wonder once again: what is the true purpose of school? Is it really to educate our children? Or is it primarily to teach them how to conform and Do What They’re Told?