Episode 62: Getting Our Children to Do HARD Things
Hey everyone, welcome back. I have a couple of books I want to review for you today. One is a book that I think you should completely avoid: Founding Mothers: The Women Who Raised Our Nation by Cokie Roberts. It is a New York Bestseller, but not everything that comes out of New York as a best seller is worthy of our time. I’ll tell you a little bit about why I don’t think this book is worth your time. The second book is Do Hard Things. This book is amazing. I loved this book and its message. I loved it enough that I paid my 13 year-old son to read it. I think every boy and girl should read this book—especially if they are between the ages of 12 and 18. It can change how they see the world around them and their place (and potential) in it. Brothers Alex and Brett Harris wrote the book in their teens and it is meant to be for teens. By the way, Chuck Norris wrote the Foreward.
Homeschool in the News
Diplomas issued by parents are now recognized by law in Pennsylvania. However, it seems like the state Dept. of Education is trying to get around the law. According to reports from advocates for homeschool in the great Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, in complete defiance of the law, the Department of Education did not create a high school diploma (which is what the law required); instead they produced a “Home Education Diploma.”
You can read more about the flagrant disregard of law by a government agency to repress the growing movement of home education at www.hslda.org.
What Would You Do
I want to get your advice for a minute. Let me give you a “hypothetical” situation and ask what you would do. Let’s just pretend that you have a young child between the ages of 7 and 10 that has a very bad temper and at times gets physical and even violent (punching other siblings and putting holes in the walls). As soon as the temper passes, however, he or she becomes 100% remorseful? The child absolutely recognizes that what has happened is their fault and that it is not acceptable, but in the moment finds it impossible to remember everything they have been taught about controlling their temper. They punish themselves as they withdraw from the family and expect terrible punishments because they realize that what they have done is serious. So, shoot me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org or leave a comment below. I will share what I think in a future episode along with all the great ideas that you are going to send me. So… don’t let the 101 Homeschool community down. If you have an idea, let’s hear it.
Let’s turn some attention to a couple of books that I have just finished reading… okay, well, in one situation I started it, but could not get past the first 50 pages because my stomach was retching and I found myself gagging on the author’s attempt to de-moralize the founding fathers.
Founding Mothers: The Women Who Raised Our Nation
My wife and I were both pretty excited about this book, because the title seemed very alluring. We are both exceptionally patriotic. While we do not think the Founding Fathers were perfect by any means, Jessica and I both believe that there is an absolute injustice that is taking place in the world of historical scholarship. It is not new. It is the attempt to get quick fame and notoriety by slandering men of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries with twenty-first century views and standards. In my mind, that would be similar to condemning someone from 1776 for not going onto college to get their bachelor’s degree in international marketing and industrial design.
As I read Cokie Roberts book on the mothers of the Founding Fathers, I quickly got the feeling that the title was a smokescreen for her opportunity to slander great men. It felt like her compliments were backhanded and the speculation regarding the feelings and intentions of the men and women of the time period washed over me like a flood. I openly admit that the torrent may have caused me to miss the actual message of the author, but finally, after 50 pages we just simply closed the book and decided to warn the listener with admiration for the men that built the United States that this is probably not a book you want to spend your money on or—more important—your time reading.
Here are some excerpts where I felt especially frustrated with the book (I also add my own commentary in order to explain why I did not like the tone or why I felt like it was speculative):
“After [Deborah, Benjamin Franklin’s wife] died, Ben reminisced, ‘I always discovered that she knew what I did not know; and if something had escaped me, I could be certain that this was precisely what she had grasped.’ That was after she died. He was not always so kind while Deborah was alive. But he did rely on her.” (p. 26)
Where does the author expect to find any husband that has always been nothing but kind to a wife during life? It seems that the author refuses to let Benjamin Franklin praise his wife because he did not always treat her like the queen of the castle. The commentary following Franklin’s quote, I believe, provides insight the author’s intent: focus on the things that Franklin did wrong: PERIOD.
“John Adams showed how truly thickheaded he could be when he wrote from Paris to his wife running his business and raising his children back in Braintree, Massachusetts. ‘I admire the ladies here,’ he oh so sensitively said. ‘Don’t be jealous. They are handsome and very well educated. Their accomplishments are exceedingly brilliant.’ Abigail had a ready reply: ‘I regret the trifling narrow contracted education of females in my own country. . . . You need not be told how much female education is neglected, nor how fashionable it has been to ridicule female learning.’ I suspect he needed not be told because she had told him again and again.” (p. 12)
John Adams is, admittedly, one of my heroes of the revolution. There have been excellent books and articles on his contribution over the years. I have two issues with this excerpt: (1) The author suggests that Abigail was performing this great sacrifice to do all the things that John Adams should have been doing. The business and the children were as much hers as they were his. There is a sense that John was gallivanting around the world on some pleasure boat while his wife slaved away. (2) This section suggests that John Adams was against women’s education. The cherry-picking of the comments has left out what John really thought. Perhaps he was writing to his wife to provide evidence for her cause of giving education to women in America. Abigail’s response may not have been as critical as Roberts’ tone suggests.
I could add other selections as well. I probably should have finished the book, but the tone of these two examples was pretty constant throughout the 50 pages that I read, and I could not finish. It is clearly an attempt to view the individuals involved with the revolutionary war through a feminist lens. The part I have struggled with when authors take what I call a one lens approach is that in order to make their own argument look stronger, they minimize the contributions or sacrifices of one group in order to maximize the contributions of another. In this case, the men of the Revolution are the targets. Why can’t we simply recognize that both men and women of that time period—although imperfect—made significant contributions WITH each other, not IN SPITE of each other?
Do Hard Things
The context of this book is best set with the backdrop of the story of elephants told in Chapter 3: The Myth of Adolescence. Elephants that pull stumps out of the ground, beat six tons of men in a tug of war contest, and carry huge loads across the countryside, cannot break a simple piece of rope fastened to a normal stake in the ground and tied to the animal’s rear leg. Why not? The book states, “The answer is that it has little to do with the piece of rope around the elephant’s ankle and everything to do with the invisible shackles around the elephant’s mind.” (28)
Alex and Brett Harris go on to explain that the principle associated with the conditioning of elephants is taking place with young men and women. The premise of the “myth” is that the twentieth century created the idea of teens and placed limitations on them and their potential contributions to society. People now view young adults through the lens of the modern term “teenager” which has become a “social category of age and behavior that would have been completely foreign to men and women not too long ago” (33). Harris and Harris suggest that this social casting trains young people to “remain childish for much longer than necessary” (33). The difference is that cultures in the past have needed their children to grow up fast to help on the farm or carry on in a father’s absence. Once the industrial age began, we started assuming that children should stay in school and remain young… But these brothers question whether or not forcing children that are ready to do big, hard things in life at fifteen to stay childish is the best thing. They hone in on the idea of expectations. Society has lowered its expectations for young people, and the young people are doing an amazing job of becoming exactly what society tells them they should be.
This book describes exactly why my wife and I are so excited about home education. We hope to be able to raise our children’s expectations for their future. In a public setting, what we noticed was that typically, the abilities of the class were lumped together and the teacher formulated one expectation for the class. [I understand that there are some excellent teachers that despite the organizational structure of public schools find ways to set individual expectations for students—and OH!!! HOW WE NEED MORE OF THEM]. In our home, with only four children, we can establish new expectations. We have found, however, the frustrating reality that public school still sets certain expectations for our children. I was bringing my son home from basketball practice and his friends started asking him if he could do this or that in math. The lingo was a little different and he did not understand what they were talking about. Then he realized that he was doing those exercises (I believe it was adding and subtracting fractions), and he said, “Oh. Yeah, we do that. I have been working on multiplying fractions too.” When his friends admitted that they had not reached that section in their course work yet, my son felt a little proud of himself, and yet I worry that he may “slow down” now in math because he is ahead of his “age group.”
Anyway, I loved this book. In fact, I paid my oldest son to read it. I am going to pay my other children to read it as well. It gives them many, many examples of young men and women that have accomplished way more than the world expected them to and opens a young person’s eyes to his or her own potential if they will only quit listening to those with low expectations.
The Harris brothers are on Facebook at Rebelution and you can follow them on Twitter (@therebelution). Follow them to find great hard things that young men and women are doing throughout the world. You can even share some of your own ideas or experiences you have had when your children have stepped up and outperformed the social expectations. If you are looking for a way to introduce your children to hard things, check out the third appendix in the book; it has 100 hard things your children can do today to start their upward trend to excellence. If you are interested in purchasing this book you can get it by clicking on the image below. You won’t regret it.
Thank you for joining me on another episode of 101 Homeschool Ideas, the podcast for home educators that just need that little boost in motivation or an idea for becoming a better teacher. I hope you have enjoyed this episode. If you have questions or comments, please send me an email or leave a comment below. As always, I sincerely appreciate the positive reviews on iTunes. It serves as my motivation to keep going, so if you have enjoyed the podcast so far, please go and leave me a review right now.
Make sure you watch for our next episode. I have several more games to show you that we used at a birthday party for my 11 year old. The party-goers had a blast and when they were finished they went back and replayed them. Until the next episode, have a great weekend and take advantage of the time you have right now with your children… even the frustrating moments will be sadly missed when they are grown.