Look…you all know of our struggles with Jason. That the school system wouldn’t tell us his test results, or give him grades we could comprehend, until he was in 4th or 5th grade, by which time he had fallen behind drastically, throwing everything into an emergency death-spiral: he knew he was behind, which made him doubt himself, which created fear, which triggered anger…
And he started locking down, becoming defiant, refusing to do his reading and insisting that he needed vast swaths of “relaxation” time before homework, by which time he was tired and unable to focus…
Bad. Every day a struggle. But…we were coping.
Then about four weeks ago, I was talking with my friend “The Speedman” Dr. John La Tourrette, and he suggested a marketing book by a psychologist named Eugene M. Schwartz. The thing was out of print, cost 400.00 used, and got nothing but five-star raving reviews. Guy sounded SUPER smart, but I decided that I really had my next six months of study nailed down already, and didn’t want to pay four hundred bucks for a book that would sit on my shelf until 2018. But…almost accidentally I noticed that this guy Schwartz had a bunch of other books, one of them entitled “HOW TO DOUBLE YOUR CHILD’S GRADES IN SCHOOL….in just five minutes a day”
Well, THAT sounded like b.s., but looking at the comments, people were, again, raving. Screaming about how they’d turned their kid’s grades and attitudes around. How much they wish they’d had this book in high school, or how much it helped them in college…
And I kinda said: WTF? There seemed two basic aspects to the book: the tactical/strategic aspects teaching better principles of thought, and a powerful component to shift the EMOTIONS around the entire subject.
And I asked myself: could there be some reality to this? Let’s say Dr. La Tourrette was correct, and Schwartz’ marketing book was fantastic. Well, what marketing is is identifying people who need and want what you have, and then instilling ENTHUSIASM in them. Sales, then, is just convincing them that they need to make a buying decision NOW, with YOU.
Well…how much of education is convincing kids that they CAN do it, and that it is IMPORTANT for them to focus on their school work so that they can accomplish their own goals? Then it is about getting them to absorb themselves in their work the way they disappear into a video game or sport. Flow. Which requires that it be challenging enough to absorb them, but simple enough that they are experiencing “mastery” on a daily basis…
Isn’t that marketing? Isn’t that psychology? And if this guy was genius…maybe, just maybe, he had something that can help Jason.
So I bought a used copy of the book and scanned it in an evening. Was it b.s.? Well, most of the book, the entire back section, was strategy, the way to break down the learning of Readin’ Writin’ and Rithmatic into component pieces that can be absorbed one little chunk at a time, then re-compiled into more complex patterns.
That was reassuring, as the “Three R’s” are the components of EVERYTHING else. But what was the “Five Minutes” I was promised?
Well…this was where it got most interesting. During that “Five Minutes” (say, every morning) you go over everything your kid is turning in that day, as well as correcting mistakes made on previous assignments. Handwriting, neatness, etc. Done in a clean, organized space.
And here is the most interesting part: ONLY POSITIVE EMOTIONS ALLOWED. 100% positive for those five minutes. (my friend Mushtaq reminded me that all the praise MUST BE SINCERE. Act as if your child can read your mind.)
Five minutes. In all honesty, I wasn’t sure Jason could do it. And even if he could, he certainly wasn’t going to get everything done in five minutes…so should I make it 10 minutes? 15? No. That would be setting him up for failure. Five minutes. Just five minutes.
Two weeks ago, we began. We sat him down even though he was twisting and turning and insisting we didn’t have time. I kept a big smile on my face, and told him “just five minutes!” and we went over his messy homework. Got about 2 1/2 minutes in before he revolted, but I praised him and thanked him and laughed with him and let him go.
The next morning we got to 3 1/2 minutes. And later that day, one of his teachers emailed us to say that he had been unusually focused in class. Hmmm
The next day we made it to five minutes. And most of the way through homework. I noticed that HE WAS ACTUALLY ENGAGED. There are seven basic things you focus on every morning during the five minutes, and one is to have your kid explain any aspect of the homework you don’t understand. He was actually chatty about it. I was kinda stunned.
The next day, he revolted again. Didn’t want to do it. But I was ready for him. I already knew that if this program was a good thing, it would challenge his nascent ego-identity. Fear would motivate him to define himself as a “cool kid” who doesn’t care about things like grades. But that’s a shell around the terror that he will not be able to cope with life straight-up. Man oh man, would that be setting him up to find drugs and alcohol attractive, or what? So if he starts having success, and getting praise for it, he begins to believe in his ability to learn, which means the “upward spiral” of learning starts kicking in, violating his negative self-image…
Fear. That’s what I was seeing. The terror of hope.
I just loved him, thanked him for what he could do, made a deal with him that if he does the five minutes every day, we will reward him. Never punishment. NEVER PUNISHMENT. Not about these five minutes. Nothing but love, and support, and honest praise, and congratulations for EVERY TINY STEP.
And in two weeks he’s continued the cycle of revolt (including getting in trouble in school) with progress (finishing his homework with minimum fuss, the night before, instead of the horror-show of fighting with him at night or struggling in the morning).
And yesterday, he was reading an essay he’d written WITH PRIDE, actually engaged, actually enjoying explaining how he was thinking and why he wrote what he wrote. And today, the five minutes was UP, and he wanted to keep explaining how he solved an algebraic equation dealing with exponentials.
Holy crap. HE WANTED TO. I wanted to cry. I could hardly believe what I was seeing: my boy filled with the joy of flexing his mind, learning, achieving.
There will be set-backs and relapses. We’ve not even gotten out of the first two chapters of HOW TO DOUBLE YOUR CHILD’S GRADES IN SCHOOL so I don’t know what the future will bring…
But I realize that there is a serious connection between “Five Minutes” and the “One Sentence A Day” principle of LIFEWRITING. That what is critical is to shift between a specific accomplishment and a PATTERN OF ACTION which, over time, will shift your attitudes and behaviors and make you LOVE THE PROCESS that will take you to the next level.
This is so amazing. Just wanted to share, and will keep you posted. But…five minutes a day? Really? And of course I will change as well, not just Jason. I’ll deepen my connection to the place inside of me that feels love and hope and faith rather than fear, and he will feel that from me. I’ll be learning as he learns, be right there in the trenches with him as we learn to de-construct subjects into their smallest components, and then re-compile into the complex form
Break it down. Solve it. Build it back up.
“Pay attention even to little things.” Man, Musashi…you really rock.
Wow. This “being a father” thing is just the best gig in the world. Just…the best.