Thursday, December 18, 2008

Lying about School

I'm very clear about the food thing. One on hand, I would not quarrel with someone for whom family meals were important. There are some real down-sides to my relaxed attitude about food. One of them is that my kitchen is almost always a mess. It isn't just that Gary eats off-schedule, everyone here grazes at will. If I had more kids, younger kids, or kids with some other kinds of food issues I might make a different choice.

I just don't want anyone here to think that when I write about a problem and a solution that has worked for me that I am explaining the "right way" to handle it. The right way to handle a problem always depends upon the particular people involved.

I work with teenage boys, which complicates things too. I suppose I should just say "teenagers." They come to me pretty complete. Their developmental stage is, and should be, one of establishing independence. They should be wanting to solve their own problems, and not wanting their parents in their stuff. Add to that the fact that they don't really see me as their parent, well, I have only so much capital, so to speak. Things work out better if I think of myself more as a mentor, ready to help, than as a parent responsible for making them do everything they should. I don't mean that we don't have house rules that they have to follow, but today I want to talk about school.

How Gary does in school is clearly something that doesn't affect me. It isn't like asking him to do a reasonable number of chores around here, and it certainly isn't in the category of speaking to us respectfully and not using my stuff without asking. He knows that, so it is an area in which it is much more difficult for him to accept me butting in. From his perspective it has nothing to do with me.

So he is lying to us about it.

The charter school has a system where you can log in and see exactly what your kids' grades are. I can see that Brian still hasn't made up the quiz in Spanish they had the day that he went to the doctor, and that both boys have not turned in all their journals in Drama. Actually, I can see that Gary hasn't turned in ANY journals for Drama. He also hasn't turned done the second paper for English. Most of his grades are actually pretty good, but some are in the basement. Brian's problem is that he does really well on things that happen in class but forgets to turn in all the small stuff. Gary on the other hand has trouble making himself write papers and can get his back up about things that he doesn't want to do.

So recently we have been pulling up the boys' records and talking to them about it. The conversations are different with each boy. With Brian we are sometimes firm, sometimes angry, sometimes gentle. Always though we are insistent. He MUST stay after school and see if he can take that quiz. He needs to get his back pack RIGHT NOW and see if he has these missing math assignments or he can sit down at the table and do them. Like I said, sometimes we are gentle when we say this, but we say it.

I certainly don't want Gary to feel like we care less, so we talk to him too. With him though we am always more gentle. "Gary, there is still no grade for this paper. What's going on?"

"I turned it in on Monday. I guess he hasn't graded it."

"Well, maybe you should talk to him about it?"

"I turned it in."


"What's going on with all these Drama journals that are missing?"

"I did those! I don't know what is wrong with her. She is really getting on my nerves. You know we are supposed to do these presentations tomorrow and she hasn't given us any time to practice at all! She just sits there and lectures us telling us that we should be practicing but she doesn't give us any time to do it. I don't know how much longer I am going to be able to deal with her."

Uhuh. This by the way is a real problem since at the Charter school you need to have a 'focus' in high school. Since he has no particular artistic talent or experience, he picked drama where he can do things like set and light design. (I know, it takes a talent to do these, but it is at least something that the other kids haven't been practicing for 10 years). He needs to take a class with the drama teacher every semester. He will need to work closely with her when he does his senior project.

Roland talked with him gently about how he was going to need, all his life, to work with people he didn't like. He would have jobs with supervisors that got on his nerves. He was going to need to deal with this. Gary sat silently waiting for Roland to finish talking so he could leave. This is a little better than having kids talk about, but it is fairly clear they are not paying attention. Well, they are not going to let you think they are paying attention.

But Roland has been doing this for a while too, and he didn't let Gary push his buttons. He said his piece and Gary left.

We went to the bedroom. I said, "You know I don't like being lied to."

"Me either. What do you think is happening in drama?"

"I think the kids are wasting most of the class time and the teacher spent the last few minutes reprimanding them. Gary left thinking that she had used up all the time they had left so it wasn't his fault."

"That makes sense. He never did turn in the English paper or write those journals. Do you think we should do anything about it?"

"Remind ourselves that we are not the ones who will have to go to summer school."


I really think this is the right thing to do, but I have less certainty about it. I made different choices with Carl and David and that didn't work out so well. They made pretty much the same choices at school they would have made anyway. It just brought another level of conflict into the relationship. I also think our interfering got in the way of them bringing their problems to us. In the end we might have been able to help them more. Or not.

I think that letting school be Evan's business worked out better.

I think it is right with Gary because he has career goals that matter to him. He envisions becoming an assistant for a physical therapist and eventually getting all the schooling he needs to be a PT. He brings it up with me, asking me questions. He has asked me what it takes to get in and how it is different from high school. He wants to know if he gets an associates degree will those credits count towards a bachelors.

In other words he has his own reasons for succeeding, our reprimanding him would not give him more motivation. It would bring a new source of conflict into our relationship though. I think it is better to keep going as we are, letting him know that we know he is struggling and that we are ready to help if he will let us.

Although I'm still debating about whether and how to call him out on the lying, because I really don't like being lied to.


  1. I don't like being lied to either. It's pretty much my #1 make-me-crazy behavior. But I wonder if, with Gary, you'd be prepared to hear the truth from him, if he could tell it anyway. (Well, Yolanda, I haven't done the journals, and I'm probably not going to. I'll probably fail drama, blame it on the teacher, and have to go to summer school. Which will be a major PITA.) I don't know if I'd actually want him to tell me that.. even if it WAS the truth. Because what I would really want would be for him to get his act together and do what he needs to do.

    Just thoughts.

  2. I can certainly understand why he would think that he couldn't tell us the truth, so it makes me less crazy than it would otherwise.

    Sometimes I even try to give them openings to help them get around the fact that they have lied, "Well, if you teacher has lost it, maybe it would be easier just to redo it. I can help if you like."

    But I know why he isn't likely to tell the truth.

  3. I think I would most likely sit down with the teacher and Gary and see what needs to get done. I don't like being lied to either and if not confronted it seems to have a way of expanding. But maybe I am wrong about that. I do wonder if Gary isn't looking for fences, maybe this is one of them.


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