Google The Unplanned Homeschooler: If I can do it, you can, too... or maybe not

Thursday, July 12, 2018

If I can do it, you can, too... or maybe not

"If I can do it, you can, too." It's a message we hear repeated over and over. It's an attractive and affirming sentiment that I'd never thought about much until one of my kids casually said, "Nuh uh," at the end of a television commercial.

It got my attention, such that I actually hit pause on the TV remote and asked what he meant.

"I can't balance on a soccer ball," he replied, noting the stunt the actor on the commercial had performed. "I don't know how they can do those things, but I can't. And don't even say I could if I practiced really hard. I know what you're thinking."

He was right. I have always had a strong tendency to believe that you can do anything you put your mind to, and that with enough hard work and practice comes success. And even though I know that there are exceptions, I've always really come down firmly on the side of, "If I can do it, you can, too."

It seems like such a positive affirmation, but is there a problem with the idea of, "If I can do it, you can, too," especially when it comes to homeschooling? What if you or your child genuinely can't?

Here's the thing. I was the type of student to whom most subjects always came pretty easily. With the exception of foreign languages, which were difficult because of a hearing impairment, learning things in school was as simple as paying attention and reading the required material. It just sunk in. And learning things as an adult has been just about the same.

But the problem is that if learning comes too easily, you might assume that it should be easy for others, too. If you can do it, they should be able to, too, right? Well, maybe or maybe not.

It's not the same for everyone

Some people have obstacles that get in the way of learning. Much like my hearing impairment has gotten in the way of learning foreign languages, others may struggle with difficulties in reading, math, and many other subjects.

We know more today about processing disorders like dyslexia, dysgraphia, dyscalculia and others than we ever have before, but do we understand how learning difficulties affect our kids?

I can't process auditory language the way that a person with perfect hearing can. I don't even hear all the sounds in a sentence, so putting together what people say is like figuring out what picture a jigsaw is making with just a selection of random pieces.

I'm pretty good at that in English, because I get the context and can translate the gibberish my ears pick up into recognizable phrases most of the time. But in another language, without the context to go on, I'm completely lost.

Not a matter of trying harder

When tackling our Spanish class, I get the written work pretty well. But I have to hit repeat over and over to try to decipher the audio passages, and sometimes I feel so desperately helpless I think I might cry. Try as I might, I can't do it.

I know this sounds awful, but growing up I never really knew that other kids were struggling that way when they tried to read or work with numbers on a page. I thought if they didn't get it, they just weren't paying attention or weren't trying very hard. I believed that if I could do it, they should be able to, too.

New approaches or different paths

The great thing is that for most learning disabilities, there are solutions that can help. But just approaching things in the same way you were taught, believing that if you can do it, they can, too, might be really hurting your kids. Maybe they can, but you'll have to learn something new, too, in order to help them along.

Or maybe they can't, and you'll need to look at other options to help your child achieve their goals. There are a whole lot of different paths to a successful and happy adulthood, and it's okay if your child's path includes a slightly different slate of classes than their siblings or their peers.

By the way, I did manage to graduate from college without ever successfully passing a foreign language course. After multiple attempts and withdrawals, a sympathetic counselor helped me figure out a different way to fulfill that requirement, for which I will always be grateful.

I'm working hard to learn Spanish alongside my kids now, focusing on the written language as that is the part I can comprehend quickly enough to keep up. It's a different approach than I was ever able to take in a classroom, but it's working. The more context I pick up, the better chance I will have of someday understanding verbal speech, so maybe, just maybe, I'll be able to then say I can, too.

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