Cheating your way to a great education

Published by Lori Pickert on April 1, 2009 at 09:17 PM

Amy said something the other day that I’ve been thinking about — talking about something that her son enjoyed doing and that came easily to him, she said “it almost felt like cheating”.

We’ve been talking in the comments a lot about how we’ve been so conditioned to think “real” education is in some way unpleasant or taxing, that when it’s easy and pleasurable, it feels like cheating.

Then a friend of my son’s said to him grumpily that it’s “cheating” that my son doesn’t have to take tests. I tried to explain that tests are supposed to show what isn’t understood, so you know where you need to work harder, and we don’t need to take them because we just keep working on things until we have mastered them. He was dubious. I don’t blame him. How often do teachers give tests in order to discover what their students don’t know, so they can go back over the material and bring everyone up to speed?

(My high-school math teacher had an amazing method of teaching and testing — she gave a test on the new material we hadn’t yet covered, then quickly read that section aloud to us and did a few problems on the board, then assigned homework on it. The next day, another test on new, never discussed material. We always took tests on material we hadn’t yet covered and didn’t understand (or maybe that was just me), and we never went back over it — we just keep forging ahead. That was when I started hating math.)

Finally, I got into a great conversation with a friend the other day about homeschooled kids and college. I said I thought it would be great to be able to take a single college class one semester, then maybe a couple, and ramp your way up to a full schedule. My friend sputtered, “But .. that’s .. that’s ..” I think she was feeling around for a word something like “cheating”!

When we do things that allow us to achieve our goals more easily, are we cheating?

Or are we simply discovering a better way?


Comment by Annika on April 1, 2009 at 10:08 PM

Interesting. People feel the same way about creative jobs. By which I don't mean a "creative" position in a company, but rather something like writer or actor. If someone makes a living at it, or expects to be compensated fairly for their work, or does it for any reason other than love, they are considered greedy. Cheaters. It is so silly, this idea that if someone does something the "easy" way they think they are better than everyone else. I myself would love for EVERYONE to have test-free educations and get paid for doing what they love.

Comment by Lori Pickert on April 1, 2009 at 10:35 PM

yes! i read something the other day where someone very boldly and rudely referred to teaching as a “well-paid part-time job” — and anyone who has taught for a living knows that teaching is *not* a part-time job.

it also makes me think of “cheaper by the dozen” and frank gilbreth saying that the smartest man was often mistaken for the lazy man — because the smart man figures out how to do his work with the least amount of effort (and therefore the best use of his time and resources).

it seems to me that many homeschoolers — especially those just starting out — are a bit unsure and feel this way, that they are “cheating”, when really they are just taking advantage of their situation to make learning easier and more enjoyable. scratching our heads, we think: “wait? can we really do this?” and we can!

Comment by Annika on April 1, 2009 at 10:39 PM

Oh I just swoon whenever anyone references the Gilbreths. Those books, semi-fictionalized or not, taught me SO MUCH. In fact, when my father moved into a larger house and couldn't figure out why the kitchen was so teensy, I asked him if it was built in the 30s and told him about Mrs. Gilbreth's "efficiency kitchens."

As for anyone who thinks teaching is not a full-time job, well. They probably think parenting is not a "real" job, so I have no use for them anyway.

Comment by Lori Pickert on April 1, 2009 at 10:45 PM

ha! i made you swoon.

there are so many good examples of learning by “cheating” in that book! morse code in the bathroom! learning french!

i agree with you that the same sort of person who thinks teachers have it easy probably thinks SAHM parents do as well. they are the sort of person who has never done either of these jobs…

Comment by JoVE on April 1, 2009 at 11:16 PM

Ah, but you are mistaking something about the purpose of education. Those people concerned with taking tests and studying full-time and all that stuff are NOT thinking about the best way to learn things. That is clearly not the purpose of education/school in their mind.

For them the purpose of school is to get through a bunch of unpleasant stuff in order to get a credential. A piece of paper. A ticket to something called "a good job". For which you need a credential.

It doesn't occur to them that there is a better way of learning this material because they don't think that learning is the point. Given that a lot of teaching methods used in schools don't produce retention of material in the first place, they are probably right.

So their concern about cheating is really about the fact that there might be a way of living that doesn't involve all that unpleasantness. And if there is, then why were they required to go to school, take tests, struggle, etc.

I think something similar is happening when people disparage creative careers. They have accepted a view that says it is unreasonable to love your job. And that you can't make a living doing something you love. So when someone takes the risk and does that, well, there is cheating but it is the person doing the accusing that has been cheated. Cheated out of a better life by the mythology that "real life" isn't like that.

Comment by Amy on April 1, 2009 at 11:32 PM

Ok, I had to go back and check the original comment to refresh my memory. I didn't mean it felt like my son was cheating--I meant on my part, because I'm not doing much teaching there. I do, obviously, when it's necessary, but like you said, for the stuff he already knows, it's just not necessary. However, we've been talking about numbers and math for years now. It's not separate from our everyday lives, so doing the workbook--which he asked for (workbooks give me hives, personally)--is just reinforcing to me what he already knows (most of it) and pointing out what he doesn't, so we can make sure it's not missed.

I fear I'm not explaining myself. I don't think we're cheating so much as I think the traditional way complicates things. I read the other day that in a typical school setting, only 20% of the time spent in school is spent on actual learning-type activities. The rest is discipline, lunch, administrative, etc. So for a typical 6-hour day, 1 hr 12 min is spent on what we might consider "schoolwork." I keep that in mind when I'm wondering if we're doing "enough."

I've never been good with busywork, whether at school or in a job. Why, if I'd done my job beyond expectations, was I still expected to be there for a specific amount of hours, killing time just to say I was there? It seemed inane. I feel the same way about school. Why should any kid be trapped there for six hours a day (plus the bus! argh, the bus! the kid next door is gone for a full EIGHT HOURS) wasting so much time?

I'm rambling. I'll stop now, for a while. :)

Comment by Lori Pickert on April 2, 2009 at 12:06 AM

oh, JoVE, if you think i’m mistaken about that, you don’t know me very well. ;^)

maybe i’m using too light a touch!

amy, i knew exactly what you meant! sorry, maybe i shouldn’t have referenced you directly — but it just put that idea into my head — this idea that when things go well, we sometimes think “maybe this is supposed to be harder”.

funny, i just referenced that same thing about actual instruction time in another comment thread. and don’t forget about the kid next door who’s gone for eight hours — he still has to do his homework!

Comment by Angela on April 2, 2009 at 01:12 AM

my older daughter (who is 6) and i recently had a discussion. she wanted to understand why any child would choose to go to public school, sit in a chair doing worksheets and taking tests. "wouldn't that ruin learning for those kids?" she asked. pretty insightful.

her auntie, who can't understand our loose, fluid learning style, seems to think we are somehow "cheating" because the way we study and learn actually INCREASES our kids' interest in a given subject, instead of "ruining it" for them. it is a really foreign concept for those of us who went to public school and had much of the joy of learning squished out of us - i think our experiences really skewed how we view learning - as if a child is enjoying a subject, and learning through doing (instead of being lectured), and there is no "pain" in the "education process" , then that child is either missing out or somehow cheating.

i hope my children will never develop that concept and will continue to believe and know that learning with enjoyment is not a flawed concept!

Comment by Lori Pickert on April 2, 2009 at 01:20 AM

angela, yes, that is exactly the kind of comment (and attitude) i am talking about! there is a sense that you are taking the easy path … and that the hard path is somehow the better one, more “rigorous”.

no pain, no gain.

i think this fits, too, with that idea that unless it is imposed from the outside, children won’t choose to do challenging work — another completely false assumption.

Comment by Dawn on April 2, 2009 at 03:16 AM

Let's not forget the real cheating that goes on in school... what is that "teaching" kids?!

What I don't understand is this idea that art, or writing, or music are easy and making money from those things is somehow cheating... Anyone who has tried to draw, write or play music knows that these are not easy things to master for everyone. So why the disconnect?

Even if someone is "gifted" in a particular area why bash their ease, their talent... is it jealousy?... envy maybe? A little mourning of a talent let go in the pursuit of the credential?

I was in a workshop where the presenter said that all behaviors are based on needs. I have to think about this idea that we... homeschoolers... have taken the easy way... as somehow fulfilling a need in the person promoting the idea. A need to validate what they went through. The choices they made for their own children.
So many thoughts here... Need to get to bed!
Thanks Lori for sparking another great discussion!

Comment by Lori Pickert on April 2, 2009 at 03:30 AM

maybe a puritanical work ethic? you have to *earn* what you get, and earn = suffer?

re: behaviors based on needs … interesting … it’s not just hs’ing, though — it’s the same response when you have innovative, child-friendly programs in schools (like project-based learning) — “okay, but what about *real* lessons? when are you doing those? what about homework? they need homework!”

thank you, dawn. ;^)

Comment by Lori Pickert on April 2, 2009 at 03:32 AM

read this post on echolage:

i think this fits in beautifully with what we’re talking about … the idea that if you let a child do what they want, somehow they “win” and you “lose”.

Comment by se7en on April 2, 2009 at 06:01 AM

Well if this is cheating then we are doing a lot of it and loving it! My poor kids are growing up loving to learn and seeking out knowledge just for fun!!! Spending hours painting and crafting because its there... the only deadline is, well supper! What a hardship...

Comment by Alice on April 2, 2009 at 08:28 AM

The 'bitter pill' is really drummed into us, isn't it. If it is too much fun then it can't be good for us, can it. Reading a book that you like isn't work, it's fun - therefore it can't be as good for you as reading something you really don't like and have to struggle through?

I was thinking about homework last night. What is it really for? Do kids not have time to finish all their work during classtime, would they not do anything productive if left to themselves, or do we need them to 'toe the line'? I fear that it is the latter two. (and, obviously, I don't agree with either)


Comment by Alice on April 2, 2009 at 08:48 AM

I just read the post on echolage - it is so true - and I am glad to know that I am not the only one who carries around a Mary Poppins bag full of crackers, water, a sweater - to keep my child comfortable.

Yesterday I was reflecting on a debate going on here about public school. The government (who pays for the teachers) is reforming the public school system - cutting teachers and school hours - selling it as an improvement for our children. The teachers (who are facing redundancy or wage cuts) are retaliating, arguing that our children are going to lose out. Most parents (who work) need their kids to stay in school because they will have to pay childcare or find someone to look after their kids.

Where are the children in all of this? Everyone, except perhaps the parents, are hiding behind the child's best interest.........

I am not just venting, I wanted to relate this to the mother in the bank. She is not thinking about her child's best interest (I am not blaming her either - I know I do things like that, too). But there is much to be said for 'lazy' parenting. Doing what is easiest, and therefore 'best' for everyone. I am thinking - nursing your child back to sleep because it is 'easier' than training them to sleep on their own - giving your child a snack when he is hungry, instead of making him wait until the designated snack/meal time.....There is such a moralistic undertone in our parenting guide books - take away the breast, the bottle, the pacifier because your child wants it/enjoys it too much!

I suspect that an adult who has had their freedom and creativity restricted as a child, has trouble watching their own child enjoy abundant freedom and creativity.


Comment by mandy on April 2, 2009 at 12:02 PM

The problem with schools is that they haven't evolved. The rest of the world is changing and at a pretty rapid pace but for some reason our education system hasn't changed with us. The only thing they have done is make more work for the children. They need someone to help them figure out how to evolve with the rest of us!

Comment by renee @ FIMBY on April 2, 2009 at 12:42 PM

Wow, what a great post. That's all my thoughts for this morning... nothing profound but I love the encouragement I find here.

Comment by Lori Pickert on April 2, 2009 at 01:18 PM

se7en, you know, this ubiquitous attitude spills over into adult life, too. my husband and i have always led an off-the-main-path life, and since the moment we decided to step off, people have frowned and said “you can’t…”.

i like to hang out hear the edge and when people peek over interested i give them a little nudge and say, “you can!”

alice, ah, yes … like a value judgment. there’s work and then there’s “real work” and etc.

re: homework, what *is* it for? some article writers seem to say that we will fall further behind japan’s math skills if our kids don’t buckle down and do the extra work. but what “extra” work, if the kids are doing all of it outside of school? i’m with you, i think it’s because schools don’t get the job done while the kids are in the building. too much disruption, too many transitions, too much not-learning/not-working time.

i love your thoughts on the echolage article! re: child-raising choices, how often have i heard the threat “this is easy now, but you’ll pay for it later!”

“I suspect that an adult who has had their freedom and creativity restricted as a child, has trouble watching their own child enjoy abundant freedom and creativity.” — sometimes i think it’s that people think there is only one right way to do things, and if you deviate from that accepted norm, you’re going to end up with trouble. maybe they are thinking (consciously or unconsciously), “if *i’d* had that freedom, i certainly would never have buckled down and worked hard!” but really, they don’t know. they’ve been taught not to trust themselves, and they took that lesson to heart.

mandy, agreed — it’s been the same system for a hundred years. when will we stop compensating and start evolving? curious as to what the impetus will finally be.

good morning, renee! ;^) and thank you!

Comment by Alison Kerr on April 2, 2009 at 03:45 PM

What can I say? If this is cheating then we've done it, are doing it, and intend to continue doing it at our house. I fully intend for my daughter to have a gentle introduction to college by starting with one class and then gradually increasing.

It's like the whole "kids need to learn how to deal with peer pressure or they won't grow up knowing how to deal as adults" discussion. It's crazy. Where do people get these ideas? Since when did exposure to negative stuff in school prepare kids to be competent adults? The way to grow a competent, adjusted adult is to have an autonomous, nurtured childhood, with good examples from competent, adjusted adults. The Japanese have early childhood right in this respect - it's all about meeting the needs and supporting the young child rather than forcing children to do something for ever more the first time they ask to do it. There's plenty of evidence that children who are forced to mature early end up stuck in perpetual infancy!!!

Comment by Lori Pickert on April 2, 2009 at 03:55 PM

a, that “start with one class” occurred to me when i was reading something about the troubles that college freshmen have — and how they grow out of the problems high school students have figuring out what they want to do, and transitioning from being shuffled and herded by their parents into confusion when they’re on their own.

if we really care about helping them transition into adulthood, get a degree that actually will be educational and helpful (i know so many people who discarded their first degree! what a waste of time and money!), etc., why don’t we change how they segue into young adulthood?

the “kids need to laern how to deal with peer pressure” reminds me of “kids need to learn to deal with bullying”. as though any adult would put up with being bullied at work. but peer pressure — it seems to me that it’s often really a big lesson in learning how to fit in, how to fly under the radar, how to go along to get along.

Comment by Jill on April 2, 2009 at 06:46 PM

I love Gilbreth wisdom too!! I think you might be smarter than Frank, though, Lori!! Nice to "see" you again! :)

Comment by Andrea on April 2, 2009 at 10:54 PM

sometimes it does feel a bit like we are cheating because I know that we are doing things in a way that is fun. Since we are new homeschoolers it feels great and I feel a great sense of accomplishment because we were learning today and it was fun! First we painted, then read a few books, observed our tomato seedlings and I didn't have to "make" them do any thing. Since we are used to the no pain no gain method of learning, I need to step back and think about how we have learned that day. Usually it ends up being a lot and the was no pain!

Comment by Theresa on April 3, 2009 at 03:14 AM

Oh, we are such cheaty-pants.

Comment by Lori Pickert on April 3, 2009 at 01:49 PM

jill, lol, i don’t think i deserve that! :^) it’s good to see you back in the neighborhood. ;^)

andrea, it’s funny, too, because it’s such a hackneyed idea in the public schools to make education “fun” — trying to turn a dull, boring lesson into something more palatable. the kind of hs’ing you are describing is really coming at learning from a completely different direction.

theresa, ;^) lol

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