A primary goal of learning in school is to be able to think critically (right?).

Cognitive Psychologist Daniel Willingham describes critical thinking as:


…seeing both sides of an issue, being open to new evidence that disconfirms your ideas, reasoning dispassionately, demanding that claims be backed by evidence, deducing and inferring conclusions from available facts, solving problems, and so forth.


Research from cognitive science shows that thinking is not that sort of skill. The processes of thinking are intertwined with the content of thought (that is, domain knowledge).


With Deep Knowledge, Thinking Can Penetrate Beyond Surface Structure


The SAT is in large part a test of critical thinking and “test prep” without a deep understanding of the content is an ineffective route to a higher score.

All the test taking tips and shortcuts won’t get you far without a  rock solid foundation. It’s like trying to storm-proof a straw house with new curtains and a paint job.

As Stanley used to say:

When parents asked me when a student should begin preparing for admissions tests, I always answered, “in kindergarten.”  — Stanley Kaplan




Illustrations by Jennifer Orkin Lewis

  • Applause, applause, applause :)  I fear that parents take that Stanley Kaplan quote seriously, though!  It’s not SAT prep that should start early, it’s a solid educational foundation. If you know the basics, the SAT will happen naturally.  

    And here is the time I’m going to utter some dirty words (feel free to bleep them if necessary)…learning isn’t always fun.  We’ve gotten into the terrible habit of underestimating kids and believing that if it isn’t fun, it’s a lost cause. Truth is, life is often decidedly un-fun.  Not bad, just not FUN.  We adults need to stop glossing over this truth.  It’s dishonest, and sets kids up to hate school more than they ought.  

    SAT prep would have a decidedly better reputation if kids had a better foundation going in.  It would simply be about practice and familiarity, rather than remediation.  SAT prep forces kids to take a hard look at the things they never grasped in school, and it’s frustrating.  A little more memorization and drilling, and a little less touchy-feely fun could go a long way.

    • I guess I will admit that learning, when I was in high school, was not always fun, but I honestly just don’t feel that way myself now.  I feel voracious about learning anything and everything that I can.  I saw Shakespeare in the Park last night and it made me want to study Shakespeare and see everything I can this summer and take a class.

      There just aren’t enough hours in the day to learn everything I want to learn.

      I agree that the foundation has to start young.  I’ve said it b/f and I’ll write more about the specifics later, but I’m LOVING Kumon and I know it’s going to help with that foundation part —  and I don’t understand why every kid (or American kid) seems to find it so dreadful.

      • I do the same thing all the time.  Right now I’m into reading “classic” novels…right now, it’s Madame Bovary.  I think the difference is when you’re a kid, school is your work, your job.  As an adult, school is recreational…for a lot of us, the day job is a heck of a lot less interesting than school.  Can’t give that perspective to a kid though!  

        I think the hardest part is making sure kids know what they need to know, but giving them some autonomy in their days, too.  Research clearly shows having some control over one’s days and one’s work is key to satisfaction.  Just can’t figure out how to make that work for schools…unless you’re homeschooling, but I have a lot of trouble with that, too.  Why can’t this be easy?!

    • Anonymous

      Thank you so much, Sheldon, for saying that. So much of what I do is in fact about remediation, and at times I find myself trying to make up for deficiencies that have been years in the making. (But of course everyone wants to blame the test for being tricky rather than admit those deficiencies exist in the first place…) 

      I think that the problem stems in large part from the fact that there’s virtually no overlap between what a lot of kids do in school and the material that’s covered on the SAT. An astonishing number of kids I’ve worked with haven’t had a vocabulary test since fifth grade, barely know how to construct a coherent sentence (never mind an outline), and can’t distinguish between an argument and a topic… and yet they complain about how hard their schools are and how much homework they have. There’s a really bizarre disconnect going on somewhere, and I seriously cannot figure out what on earth they’re doing in school! Given that they have limited exposure to the kind of precise, rigorous, word-by-word analysis that is required to do well on the Critical Reading section, it’s no wonder they have no idea how to handle the SAT. 

      • My experience with the public schools in my area is that they were not taught this type of material.  In middle school my kids read (maybe) 2-3 books a school year and had assignments to make “brochures” (rather than learning to write a paper) or  “construct a CD case about an author,” which turned into an arduous process of trying to teach my son how to cut squares properly.  It was one big arts and crafts project, and I understand their intention was to make it fun, but the unfortunate result was that they never learned grammar, or how to read critically.  In fact, the reading assignments were about relating it to your experience, which I guess is fine, but would have been nice had they been taught to find the main point and tone before moving on to the “personal connections” part.

        I don’t know if it’s possible to make up for these deficits once you’re a teenager — unless you are driven to do so (my kids are not).

        When my son changed schools going into freshman year, and I read the summer assignments, I swear to you I nearly wept, because for the first time EVER, a) I understood what they were asking for (I could NEVER understand what the teachers wanted before), and b)  it was “real” material to sink teeth into.  

        Here are the Summer Assignments I’m referring to:  http://www.fordhamprep.org/joomla/documents/2011summer/FreshmenSummerAssignments.pdf

        • Anonymous

          Wow… the middle school assignments explain a lot. I remember that in 7th-8th grades, we did nothing but write outlines in English class. I absolutely loathed it because at that age I completely missed the point of all that outlining. I just wanted to write the stupid papers without worrying about how they were structured, but boy did it pay off in the long term. Until I started tutoring, I pretty much took it for granted that everyone had to go through that.

          • Agreed! Teachers these days don’t even read the entire essay…. what you got on your previous essay was the grade for every essay of the entire year! (seriously)

      • Of course it’s the test’s fault!  Get with the program!  But seriously, it’s just easier to blame the test.  It can’t come down to your school and harangue you :)

        You’re totally right about the overlap between school and SAT.  The SAT presents novel problems that you can’t solve without the fundamentals.  I follow some homeschool moms on twitter.  They are wholly committed to educating their kids, but it makes me cringe when they bake a cake with the Mona Lisa on it as part of a unit on Da Vinci (yes, that happened).  Baking’s a valuable skill, but don’t kid yourself that it’s going to teach your child anything else!  As Debbie’s experience with her kids shows, this kind of pseudo-teaching is encouraged because it’s “fun.”  How did we get to this point that school has to be entertaining for it to be effective?  How is this approach preparing kids for college and work?  Life, and school, are dull sometimes.  It doesn’t have to be dull all the time, but it also doesn’t have to be fun all the time.  I think parents and teachers look back on their own school years as a lot of drudgery, and they want this generation not to feel that boredom.  Problem is the pendulum has swung too far away from the teaching strategies that work best.

        • As a 12-year veteran homeschooling mom, I feel compelled to throw in a comment about baking and homeschooling. Baking is frequently used to reinforce math and science skills. For example, we have baked cakes (from scratch, of course) using only a 1/8 and 1/3 cup measure, so that the kids would have to use fractions. Real life can be an excellent supplement to textbook learning. :)

          • Thanks for chiming in Kate!  Absolutely baking can be a great way to reinforce weights and fractions.  The resulting bread or cookies is just a fun side effect of the real, relevant learning going on.  You just can’t convince me that baking the Mona Lisa teaches anything about Da Vinci’s life, art or science though.  In that situation, the fun factor is trumping the real topic of study.  Fun has it’s place, but it’s not an essential component of learning!

      • While it is easy to blame the school or the test itself, a lot of it has to do with involvement (or lack thereof) of the child’s parents.

        • oy.  the blame the blame the blame.  I would be willing to take all of the blame (the school’s the tests, all of it) —  if someone would please tell me what I could do to make my kids more interested in learning and dedicated.  I have honestly done everything I can possibly think of short of homeschooling, which I don’t think I’d be very good at.  I can tell you it wasn’t lack of involvement in my case, that’s for sure.  Possibly too much involvement, but who knows.

          • no no no there must be someone to blame beside yourself.. here are a few suggestions: you should blame the school for not growing the interest in learning that you started. blame society for creating video games and instant gratification. blame administrators for forcing teachers to teach bland curriculum. wait… actually… i got it blame god/allah/yaweh/budda for creating such a horrible world..

    • As always, I just troll the internet to read the wisdom of the nerd.

      However, I disagree that SAT prep would have a better rep, if we had to do less (or do I mean “fewer” …. oh what does it matter grammar is only for the SAT right) remediation . I think the problem is that many people (those who want to pay for it) think SAT prep is the pixie dust of education.. you sprinkle a little on and bad scores become good ones. Others think its snake oil (mostly educators who claim it don’t work). The problem is that its actually neither!

      I agree with you, however it should be the proverbial icing on the cake of 11 years of learning. And if the learning that was supposed to take place did than us SAT prep people would have very little to do but give the kid practice and familiarity. Unfortunately as you and satverbaltutor say its often remediation and reteaching (teaching?) things they should have learned in school.  I work in districts and with clients where the average sat score is about 1200 combined (yes 3 sections not 2) and the profound lack of fundamental skills is startling. When an 11th grader can’t manipulate an equation or has a working vocabulary of a 5th grader, SAT prep is really the least of concerns.

      • Love that about pixie dust :)  It’s right on…as you so often are!  While I’m in the biz, intellectually I’d like to see the whole concept of hired SAT prep go out the window because kids are already so prepared that practicing with the blue book would be enough prep to go in and ace it!  

        I’ve got a head full of thoughts about the problems with kids graduating with such a weak grasp on the basics.  Traditional teaching in general isn’t individualized enough to help struggling kids catch up, and once they’re behind it’s almost over (for many it’s almost over before they even start school, which I find endlessly depressing).  Was mulling this over in the car this morning, and even though technology has it’s limitations, it could be a life saver in helping kids get instruction that’s tailored to where they are, not letting them move on until they’ve got it, and re-testing old material often enough that they don’t forget.  Looking back, if you take geometry in 9th grade, but never touch it again, how can you be expected to remember everything when the SAT rolls around!  One of Malcolm Gladwell’s books had a chapter about Chinese schools, and if memory serves, there was something about students being given as much time as necessary to work out problems on their own (or with after school tutoring and work at home with parents). Think technology could be helpful here, too, by providing guidance and practice, and it could theoretically be accessible any time, anywhere.  Wouldn’t that make homework so much more meaningful and not just busy work!?

        • Sheldon, I totally agree with what you’re say and wonder how we have we gone so far astray in educating our children.  Is it even possible, once the kids are already teenagers, to alter a course that feels like a fait accompli. I have more questions than answers and have started to wonder if nurture has any chance at all, when standing in the face of nature.

        • do you know if that Gladwell chapter was in Outliers? that was an interesting book. It convinced me to have my kids farm rice so they would learn the value of hard work. This thread also reminds me somewhat of the Tiger Mom argument. Teach them to work, teach them to excel .. they may not like it but they will be better for it.

          and since we are recommending books.. have you guys read Tearing down the gates by peter sacks.. interesting read about standardized testing and the gate keeper effect.

          • have not read that book…..but will order now (2nd book in 5 minutes….if only there were more hours in the day).

            I loved the Tiger Mom book so much.  Did you read it?  I think about that book every day.  I feel like she was so misunderstood.  She was so brave and self-depricating.  I swear to you….I think of that book every single day.

            (and btw, I’ve totally failed as a tiger mom, but I just admire her dedication and spirit and honesty).

  • pckeller

    Can “Critical Thinking” be taught?  Should it be?  Wait — what IS it?  I will admit to you that I am not sure what it means and that while I am doing my day job (teaching high school physics)  I never really think about it.  I just worry about teaching physics.  I’m pretty sure that a kid who learns physics will also pick up a decent amount of “critical thinking skills” (but again — not too sure what they are).  I’ll go further out on a limb and suppose that if the math teachers teach math and the English teachers teach how to read and write about literature and the history teachers teach history — you see where I am going with this.

    But also:  if the schools decide that critical thinking is the goal and not merely a by-product of thorough instruction in actual subjects, vapid nonsense is sure to follow.  Entire “critical thinking academies” will spring up.  And the value of teaching “hard” subjects that students must struggle to master will be called into question.  After all, who needs physics?  Or literature?  We just need the “critical thinking skills”.  These skills can be developed by studying anything!  How about “Critical Thinking and Pop Culture”.  Sounds much more fun than Spanish III.

    • They don’t have critical thinking programs at your school? ;)  

      I’m with you, btw, as is the author of the article that inspired this post, Daniel Willingham. (Maybe I didn’t make my position on the matter clear enough.)Here’s the article: http://www.readingfirst.virginia.edu/elibrary_pdfs/Crit_Thinking.pdf

      And here’s a quote about the critical thinking programs:

      “A large number of programs designed to make students better thinkers are available, and they have some features in common. They are premised on the idea that there is a set of critical thinking skills that can be applied and practiced across content domains. They are designed to supplement regular curricula, not to replace them, and so they are not tied to particular content areas such as language arts, science, or social studies. Many programs are intended to last about three years, with several hours of instruction (delivered in one or two lessons) per week.”

      I have no idea whether our school district uses such programs, but nothing would surprise me.

    • Anonymous

      I think that when people refer to “critical thinking,” they mean something like the ability not to accept arguments at face value and go beyond learning facts by rote. Beyond that, though, it gets a little murky. Unfortunately, what seems to pass for critical thinking in a lot of schools is a mushy sort of relativism that refuses to acknowledge any approach or viewpoint as better than any other viewpoint, or anything a student says as objectively wrong. Even more unfortunately, it’s seen as a *replacement* for knowledge based on hard facts rather than as an *extension* of factual knowledge. 

      Maybe now teachers just assume that since kids have Wikipedia, they don’t have to memorize facts anymore…? The problem with that approach is that without immediate, pre-existing access to facts (i.e. in your working memory), you can’t think critically about them. You can’t just look them up on Wikipedia or Sparknotes and then try to cobble together some idea that sort of ties them together — your knowledge just isn’t deep enough for you to make connections that go beyond the surface or to say anything really perceptive. 

      I think that’s why a lot of teachers also try to introduce a personal dimension into many of their assignments: students simply lack the technical knowledge to be able to say anything else. 

      • The topic of critical thinking is really interesting to me and I am one of those who think that Wiki and the internet are primed for removing the need for rote memorization.

        I firmly believe that my entire history education has been useless.. who cares if i know who the US gained independence from and in what year.. how does that impact me. Many people would be stunned by how much history and literature I dont know and that lack of “knowledge” has not hindered me in any significant way. But I also acknowledge that i have a solid understanding of the major points in history, so I definitely understand your point about accessing information in order to evaluate it.  I’d like to believe we can reconcile the two, there must be some pedagogical approach that will allow us to focus on analysis of information without the need to memorize and regurgitate data that is easily accessible on every phone and computer. 

        • Akil, I disagree!  I think we (and I firmly include myself in that “we”) have no idea how hindered we are by our lack of knowledge.  I find the more I know, the more helpful the knowledge is in unexpected ways (be it math or grammar) but especially with history.  

          I have seen a community member’s knowledge of history effect the way local politics have played out (which ultimately affects the way the children are educated); I’ve been deeply hurt and shocked by the things children and teenagers have said because they have no knowledge of history, but I do still believe that they wouldn’t say those things were they educated and well informed about history.  I could go on and on — but one of my biggest regrets is not knowing more history, and learning more history is high up on my priority list because I feel like it informs who I am and how I conduct myself in the world.Just this morning I was a book that quoted famous presidents and those bits of history changed the way I conducted my day (I think, for the better).

  • Mark

    As others have noted, much depends on what “critical thinking” means.  I tend to see it as the thinking one does when there is no obvious road to follow.  Math and much of the sciences profit more from memory and recall than they do critical thinking — except of course at the bleeding edge — precisely because they are well-worn disciplines.  If you know the formula and you know how to set up the problem, then you’re doing the exact same thing in solving that problem that millions of others have done.

    On the other hand, when you’re confronting a paragraph — perhaps badly written, perhaps deceptively written — and looking for logical gold, there’s no formula to follow.  (Procedure, yes; formula, no.)  At best the task is still so abstracted as to require critical thinking in the application of any test-taking advice, but there I wander into tautology….

    Critical thinking, to me, is what a LIberal Arts education is founded on.  It’s not simply breadth of knowledge, it’s training the student’s mind to think for itself — critically — when it encounters new ideas or situations.  It is, to knowledge, what the survival mind is to being lost in the wilderness: a mixture of reason, logic, sage wisdom passed down from elders, and a constant reminder to eschew dogma and look to context and point of view in trying to understand what is being said or done.

    Can this be taught?  I would say yes, and no.  Yes, if the potential is already there.  No, if it is not.  But better to err on the side of caution and try to teach it to all.

    In an earlier post Debbie talked about the actual question of how to approach sections based on reading comprehension and critical thinking, and I think the best answer there is simply to slow down and really try to comprehend what’s being said.  It’s very easy to lose sight of the forest for the trees when dealing with language, and particularly so when the clock is ticking and one’s fantasies of getting into a prominently branded academy are at stake.

    • Your definition of critical thinking (above) sounds about right to me.

      However, I also believe what the research says (in that Willingham link) — i.e. that critical thinking can’t really be taught as a skill in isolation — it’s a byproduct of learning a body of material material and happens as an integrated process while learning the material.

      The more material you are taught/learn, the better critical thinker you will become (hopefully).

      I read somewhere that Hunter S. Thompson copied the The Great Gatsby in it’s entirety in order to learn how to write. (I could be getting some of those details wrong….but it’s close!).

      • This thread has been fascinating for me, in part because my children’s education has been my focus for so long. There seems to be agreement among the “group” that education doesn’t have to be “fun.” Although I could argue that truly great educators can make any subject fun, I’m willing to concede that it doesn’t have to be fun, but it does have to be engaging.
        A commenter said that our jobs are sometimes dull, and intimated that children should be taught to accept dullness as a part of life. However, when we as adults do dull things, it always serves a purpose. It has a value that we ourselves recognize and accept. We engage and take action because it suits our purposes, even if the purpose is simply to earn an income.
        This is a thread about critical thinking, and everyone agrees that having information increases critical thinking ability. Why should children think critically when they are expected to learn based on the equivalent of “because I said so?” They need to see the path between what they are learning and what they want to do.
        Debbie’s last reply says “The more material you are taught/learn, the better critical thinker you will become.” The flaw in that sentence is the assumption that teaching and learning are the same thing. One of my favorite educational quotes is this:

        Learning can only happen when a child is
        interested. If he’s not interested, it’s like throwing marshmallows at his head
        and calling it eating.

        Engagement, in my opinion, is the key to real learning.

        • Wow.  You are so right.  I’ve always maintained that learning can be made fun, though I haven’t been able to figure it out with my own kids, so what do I know.  I think learning is fun, and I assume that my enthusiasm will catch on — which is not necessarily the case.

          I agree that teaching and learning are different — and I also agree that engagement is key.  How do you make sure that engagement happens?  

          Do you homeschool in a structured way?  How old are your kid(s)?

          • My kids are 20, 18, 12, 10, and 8. I have four girls and a boy. We are eclectic homeschoolers, which basically means we use exactly the tools, resources, and techniques that work for our family at any given time. For example, the kids do Singapore Math, which is a traditional textbook/workbook combination, but when we learned about bridges, they designed and built one out in the yard with their dad. (Oops! There’s that “fun learning” again!)
            In regards to engagement, there are a number of strategies that I believe have helped, but there is one action that is most important: I’ve made a habit from the time they were very little to talk about “why.” Why we do what we do every day, why I and others have the worldview that we do, why they can or can’t do something, why we learn what we do, etc. Because of this, they ask why themselves. My children are great leaders and lousy sheep.
            I never ask them to learn anything without offering a clear picture of its purpose, or its relationship to the child’s own interests. Because of the structure of our homeschooling, all of the children see education as a highly personal venture. We have ALWAYS made sure they have time to follow their passions.
            I also keep in mind what each child’s learning styles are, as well as my own. If you’re trying to teach a kinetic child by forcing them to sit still at a desk all day, you’re wasting everyone’s time.
            Everything we do has been the result of trial and error. Happily, I am far enough along the homeschool path to know that this works for us. My two oldest are successfully navigating college. They both have chosen majors that will allow them to do compelling work. They are also avid learners: one takes Latin as her “fun elective,” and the other takes extra history courses whenever she can. Last year my third and fourth child tested at the 11th and 10th grade reading level, respectively. My youngest designed a very simplistic computer game recently, and just finished reading all five Percy Jackson books.
            Don’t let this give you the impression that I live in Utopia-they are still kids, and we have just as much whining and complaining as any family of seven, particularly from me!
            Sorry this was so long-winded! One last comment before I go-there is a wonderful book called Succeed by Heidi Grant Halvorson that I highly recommend. It offers a unique perspective on motivation and goal-setting that you might find helpful when working with your son.

          • Thanks.  I’m in awe…..and envious (I rarely feel that emotion), and appreciative of your book suggestion.  Headed over to Amazon now.  

            (I’m a total Amazon junkie, btw, which may be part of the problem.  I sit here reading books all day about what I should be doing).

        • Some good points, Kate.  I would love it if kids were interested in everything they need to know.  School would almost be unnecessary if they were as interested in math as they are in video games :)  But most of us can agree that a solid education is going to include plenty of information that we don’t find particularly interesting.  I took two years of calculus in high school.  Was it interesting?  Relevant to my current career?  Exciting to me?  No, no, and no.  Did I work hard at it?  Absolutely.  Because I was motivated to do so (by my parents, desire to enter a top tier university and personal pride).  And there’s the difference to me.  Kids don’t have to be “interested,” but they do have to be motivated.

          We all choose to go to work every day.  If we’re lucky, we enjoy it, but we do it not necessarily because we’re interested, but because we’re motivated.  I’m sure there’s plenty of days you feel like educating your kids is as much fun as a root canal :)  But you do it because you want your kids to get an education, and you’re willing to sacrifice your own enjoyment to get there.  You’re right that education (and work) need a purpose, but often that purpose isn’t going to be fun or immediately rewarding.

          Motivation is a lot harder for kids.  If I don’t work, I don’t eat. That’s motivating.  But with school, the prize is nebulous and postponed till sometime in the far distant future.  But if they see their parents working hard and learning throughout life, kids will pick up that ethic. Intrinsic motivation is a heck of a lot more effective than external motivation (and a lot cheaper than bribing your kids with ipads!)  Learning isn’t a choice, it’s what our family does.

          I definitely agree that engagement is key to learning (there’s a reason ADD kids do poorly in school).  But engagement is a two way street.  Both teacher and student are responsible.  Fun, effective, challenging lessons are the sweet spot, but it isn’t realistic to think that’s going to happen every day in every classroom.  And drilling and memorization are enormously effective, but they’re almost never going to be fun.  I just don’t like to see kids (and parents and teachers) worshiping at the altar of fun, but sacrificing real learning. I really believe communicating to your kids that school is work, hopefully engaging, maybe interesting, but work, is better preparation for the challenges of school and life.  On the other side, I think play should be all about play!  The mania for learning toys and games seems a little wacky to me.  Give those poor kids a break from school sometimes :)

          • ……how I wish you were my kid.  I’ve worked hard their entire lives and read to them and gotten tutors and done everything I can possibly think of (including nearly bankrupting myself to send them to private schools that I believe are better than the public schools) — and still, I see very little motivation coming from my kids of their own accord.  

            Maybe i’ve pushed too hard, maybe I gave too much support (I remember a middle school teacher telling me once that I needed to let my son “fail a little,” and I dismissed him).  I’ve definitely been  focused on making sure they’ve had every opportunity I could possibly manage — probably to a fault — but, honestly, I see very little intrinsic motivation from either of them.  As soon as I take the pressure off (i.e. this summer) they do next to nothing. And by the way, they are no different than nearly every other kid I see around this town. I think I’m going with nature beats nurture as the cause, at this point.I believe that there are kids like those you describe above (i.e. YOU) , but they are far and few between as far as I can see.  My father (who is a very wise man) says it’ll all be fine.  I’m choosing to believe him at the moment.And one more thing, why do I find doing rote exercises fun as an adult?  (I’m not rhetorically asking that.  I do, and I’m not sure why.  Kumon is relaxing to me.)

          • Thanks, Debbie.  Maybe I am a freak of nature, but I don’t think so.  Yeah, my intellect is genetic, but my parents also made it very clear that they knew what I was capable of, so doing badly in school simply wasn’t an option.  And I don’t remember ever wanting to challenge that, and I liked school so it wasn’t hard to comply.  It was a family affair (grandmother, aunt) to send me to private school, and I’m so grateful for that.  My brother wasn’t blessed with quite as much natural ability as I was, but he’s very smart and successful, and he works his butt off.  It’s pretty impossible to say what comes from nature or nurture, though.

            I am an advocate of letting kids fail.  I do think having more opportunity to fail might have been good for me psychologically.  You probably read that recent Atlantic article on it.  But at the same time, it’s hard to argue doting on your kids and protecting them is wrong!  And your dad is probably right that things will turn out in the end.  College can do wonders for changing perspective when you’re not there to catch them (or nag them) every day.

            As for Kumon, forgive me for getting psychological on you, but I’m not surprised you find it soothing!  It’s time limited and there’s a definite right answer.  There’s no grey areas to worry you and it will be over soon.  Being able to complete a task in a few minutes is awesome…unlike writing a book which I’m sure seems to be an interminable process.  And parenting is daily and intense and full of uncertainty.  Kumon would be a pleasure :)  Am I close?

            I’ve really enjoyed the discussion on this thread.  Thanks for getting us together, and doing your project!

          • I always say, my parents gave me just enough fear about whether or not they would be there for me, to ensure that I did well.  Seriously, I remember the other kids having more supportive parents than I felt mine were (and of course, I wanted that!) — but that question mark about whether or NOT they would be there if I didn’t stand on my own two feet has always existed and is quite a motivator!   

            I have not done that with my own kids (though I’m just starting to, if for no other reason than they are outright rejecting all of my “guidance.”)  I’ve always fought like the devil for them and turned my life upside down to make sure they’ve had every opportunity I thought they deserved.  But I think it’s too much now. I think I’ve done it to a fault (for all of us). I haven’t analyzed why I like Kumon so much, but I think you may be very warm.  There’s also something about the fact that the level I’m on is very easy. I went back and told the Kumon woman to pile it on me.  I want to get to those polynomials already. She smiled and said I had a long way to go ;)  We’ll see if it’s as comforting when I’m out of my comfort zone.

          • you realize with Kumon you are starting to learn for learnings sake and not be relevant to the SAT anymore.. if you start doing calculus for fun or I see your pencil in a Khan academy video we may not be friends anymore.. its un-American to learn for learnings sake.

          • Yes, I realize that!  In fact, I want to now study Shakespeare, just for the fun of it too.

            I’ve gone totally mad.

          • you realize with Kumon you are starting to learn for learnings sake and not be relevant to the SAT anymore.. if you start doing calculus for fun or I see your pencil in a Khan academy video we may not be friends anymore.. its un-American to learn for learnings sake.

          • My parents’ weapon of choice was guilt…worked like a charm!  Hee, hee.  But seriously, I think my parents focused most on making me independent.  I talked to them once a week in college, not because I really needed/wanted to, but because they asked me to.  So yeah, like your kids, I was doing my own thing pretty early. Probably irritated my parents, too, but it was their own doing!

            And keep up the Kumon.  In theory it should be great.  Want to hear what it’s like in practice!

            And if you want to hear the ultimate nerd story, my husband is now obsessing about physics.  He’s reading all of this stuff about muons and string theory.  Bear in mind he’s a former lawyer turned entrepreneur and he’s never been a “science guy.”  He’s 41.  Learning never ends :)  Now if I can just convince him to go see some Shakespeare…  

          • I need to learn how to work the guilt thing better.  My techniques have plateau and I need to employ new strategies.  

            I have a Kumon post coming soon.  It’s simmering. There is something there, for sure, I’m just feeling that it may take me years to get where I’m going on that route (not that I’m not enjoying it, because I am).  

            Everything I’ve learned feels ephemeral; if I “study” something else for a few weeks, I seem to lose nearly everything from before the very recent past.  It’s quite depressing.  I was reading up on it today to find out if something is wrong with my brain — but from what I read, it appears that this is actually “normal” and my understanding is that the remedy for such ephemeral learning is something that sounded Kumon-like.

            But more tk soon.  Tomorrow maybe.

            btw, almost every lawyer I know wants to be something else.  My dad is a lawyer and he always told me “never be a lawyer.”  Now he says that I’d make a great lawyer — but honestly, I think he’s wrong.  It’s not that I’m not good at building a case (I am), I just really don’t like to do that.  In fact, I’d rather do anything BUT that — including physics ;)

          • It’s all about spaced retrieval.  Retention goes up, even for those with severe memory problems (think Alzheimer’s) when given the opportunity to recall/use information in progressively longer intervals.  If you want to KNOW something, you need to go back to it frequently at first, then only occasionally later on.  But the act of retrieving info from memory is important to retention.  Will look forward to that Kumon post!

            I’d also rather be doing just about anything than my day job (I think I’d even consider physics at this point), but here’s hoping I can be a full time word nerd soon.

          • So do practice tests every day? Is that the solution?

          • So do practice tests every day? Is that the solution?

          • Elise

            I’ve been off and running lately so I haven’t done much blog reading.  That is why I am so late in making a comment here.  We just got back from my son’s college orientation.  1.5 days of meetings and discussions.  Some interesting points were made that I will share since they seem relevant.  There was discussions on why some students fail.  It seemed the number one thing that they talked about was video games.  They said that a study was done that showed that students who played 10 hours of video games per week on average had a GPA one full point below kids who played zero hours.  They said that they felt that the kids became addicted and that they felt like they needed a twelve step program for these kids.  They gave examples of kids who flunked out because of this addiction.  

            They also talked about study habits.  They said that most of the kids that were accepted into this college (RPI) were the top kids in their high schools.  Many of them were not used to working hard to get good grades in high school  They said that often times they had difficulties in college because of their poor study habits.  In the meeting with the parents they asked us to raise our hands if our kids did at least 1 hour of homework each night.  Only about a dozen parents raised their hands.  They told us they had asked the kids the same question and only  four had raised their hands.

            I was not surprised about the video game addiction problem but I was quite surprised with the homework/study habit discussion.  I am quite sure that in our high school the top students do AT LEAST an hour of homework per night.

            It was all very interesting.

            They told us that the students should plan on making college a full time job…40 to 48 hours per week.

          • So interesting, and not surprising to me because this is what I see with my own kids.  That said, @pwnthesat:disqus plays video games and it hasn’t seem to affect him in any averse way that I can see. And I have another friend who let’s her kid play a lot, from what I can see, and he does great.  The rest of the kids I see who play tons of video games are addicted and not excelling.

            Re the homework…..the only thing I can think of to explain that is that my kids tell me they’re doing homework when they really aren’t ;)

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