Personal Responsibility: Summer Report Card

Summer is almost over. Next week we have our back-to-school night and then school starts just after Labor Day. It is time to evaluate the results of my summer project to push the kids to take on more personal responsibility.

Well, apparently I am not so much a chart person. The chore chart idea only lasted a week and a half. They stopped filling in the charts and I stopped printing out the charts. Grade F for charted chore tracking.

Digging deeper into what exactly they were supposed to do, as defined by the unused charts, things start to look a bit better. On the personal chores list, even without a checklist, the kids consistently were about 90% successful in getting things done. While beds were not made, they used sunscreen enough to avoid burns, practiced piano, and brushed their teeth. They did need more reminders than would be ideal and there was a direct correlation between my reminders and their success. Since I rarely reminded them to make their beds, and they had no personally compelling reason to make them on their own, beds were not made most of the summer. The one exception to this happened about every two weeks when I forbid them from playing or having friends over because their rooms had gotten too messy. At those points the bedrooms were carefully cleaned.

The family chores followed basically the same pattern. They were/are perfectly capable of helping keep the house clean and did so easily when directed. They just didn’t reach the point where they would do it without being asked. I suspect part of this is the fact that since I specifically did not assign chores, each of the three kids waited to see if someone else would jump in and do the work. Reversing the pattern of 11 years, as often as possible I made sure it wasn’t me doing the chores when things were left undone. Instead I stepped in to directly assign chores as needed. Since June I have done the dishes less than 5 times. The kids no longer assume that it is my job. They just hope is isn’t their job. Overall I’m giving the concept of the kids taking on more responsibility for the house a grade of C. They know how to do the work and they are willing to do it, they just aren’t proactively seeing a need and filling it.

Most households with kids specifically assign jobs to each kid and I may have to adopt this strategy for the upcoming school year. However, I’d still rather see them treating the house as their own and doing what needs to be done without being told. Before we go to strictly assigned chores, I’m trying one more strategy. They now have to make a daily list of all household chores to do that day and then collaboratively split the jobs among themselves. We will see how it goes. . .

One chore that received an A+ wasn’t even on my radar back in June. Laundry. I showed the kids how to use the washer and dryer and told the older two, ages 11 and 9, that if they needed clean clothes they knew how to get them. (The youngest, age 7, has helped out with his clothes though he is physically too small to take over 100% of the job.) Over the last month, I haven’t washed the two older kids’ clothes at all.  The kids have proactively carried their clothes to the basement, washed and dried them, and returned the clean clothes back to the bedrooms. They haven’t even called my attention to this extra work they are doing. I guess having clean clothes to wear is a powerful motivator.



Successfully Stamping Out Creativity

One of the many books I’ve been studying this summer on childhood in America and gifted children is Teaching the Gifted Child, by James J Gallagher PhD. James Gallagher has devoted much of his professional life to exceptional students and in 2005 even achieved a lifetime achievement award from the American Psychological Foundation. He is internationally recognized as an expert in gifted education and is a past president of the National Association for Gifted Children.

Originally published in 1964 it appears that the newest edition was published in 1994 when it was updated and case studies were added. I have a second edition copy from 1975 which even has an old library card in a pocket in the front. Back when it was written over 35 years ago, Dr. Gallagher wrote about the roll of the teacher and the school in encouraging creativity in the gifted student population. To illustrate how teachers can affect creativity, he worked with groups of teachers asking them to pretend that creativity in a student is a bad quality and had the teachers develop lists of practices they could use in their classroom to stamp out creativity. The major ways the teachers suggested were:


  1. Establish a rigid curriculum, together with a limited time in which this curriculum is to be presented. 
    The “tyranny of time” as he refers to it leads to teachers squashing discussions and making them less tolerant of errors and diversions. Teachers that have densely detailed curriculum that they must cover and rigid standards that their students must pass, have very limited time to “indulge” students that want to explore ideas from different angles or talk about items that might not be on the test.
  2. Teach in content areas in which the teachers are not well versed.
    When teachers lack knowledge, especially in-depth knowledge of a subject, they are much more likely to inhibit student freedom to explore that subject. The teachers felt that they needed to squash the student exploration because the teachers would not be able to evaluate the unusual or different thoughts that might occur.
  3. Accept one source as valid, and only one.
    Having a single required textbook and teaching from that textbook as if everything is it is a proven fact avoids the reality that there are contradictions and conflicts among textbooks and that reasonable, knowledgeable, people do not always agree.
  4. Do not allow discussion or evaluation statements on the part of the students.
    To effectively eliminate the evil of creativity, students should only be allowed to answer factual statements (as learned through the one valid source) or to regurgitate the teacher’s own ideas. “Make it clear to the students that there is only one right way to do something. This will effectively discourage any imaginative approach by the students and should, if continued over a long period of time, effectively inhibit any creative impulses.” I assume fill-in-the-blank and multiple choice worksheets and/or tests are ideal for encouraging the idea that there is only one right answer to any given question.

The densely detailed curriculum and textbooks required at the school district level, combined with the high-stakes multiple choice testing mandated at the state and national level, and alarming weaknesses in the preparation and knowledge of US teachers may help us win the apparent war against creative students.