Last week Thesis Whisperer Jnr (aged 9 and three quarters) had to find out seven facts about Ireland for a school project. After the last homework debacle, where we ended up in a screaming match, I have made an effort to adopt more of a Tiger Mother Style, at least with respect to homework. So I set him up with the encyclopedia and told him to get on with it while I did a bit of blog maintenance.
After twenty minutes or so of mucking around he got out his pencil out and started writing a list. I couldn’t help myself and looked over at what he had written:
“Ireland’s flag is orange, white and green”
So far so good I thought and looked at the next item on the list:
“People in Ireland believe in Leprechauns”
The PhD monster inside me was roused at this blatant generalization, the words were out of my mouth before I could even think:
Me: “What evidence do you have for that claim about everyone believing in leprechauns?”
TW Jnr: “What do you mean?”
Me: “It’s a blatant generalisation!”
TW Jnr: “huh?”
Me: “Well…. Do you believe in leprechauns?”
TW Jnr: “no”
Me: “Are boys who live in Ireland somehow different than you?”
TW Jnr: “Um. No. Probably not”
Me: “So do all boys in Ireland believe in leprechauns?”
At this point Thesis Whisperer Jnr burst into tears, threw his pen down on the page and stormed off in a huff. Later,when he had calmed down, we had a little talk. It turned out that he had to illustrate the facts he had found; he included leprechauns as a ‘fact’ because, well - he wanted to draw a leprechaun.
I felt like a complete asshole.
Some time ago I wrote a post called “Parenting through your PhD” about trying to carve out time for study when you have a young child. I was under the naive assumption that finishing my PhD would mean this need to balance my work time with family life would change, but sadly this is not the case. Becoming an academic is like signing up for a whole lifetime of study, so the challenges are still there. I’ve been talking to other PhD parents since this incident and I’ve come up with 5 ways your PhD might affect your school aged child:
You are the parent their teacher dreads talking to
I have a PhD in an education related topic and, like many of you I’m sure, I have done a lot of teaching. Of course, my experience as a teacher does not include primary school aged children, but this doesn’t stop me from being obnoxiously opinionated about it. I am an academic after all.
As a consequence, I am a complete nightmare come parent teacher interview time and will sprout post structuralist theory until the teacher’s eyes glaze over. I don’t want to be like this, but it seems I am compulsive. Luckily Mr Thesis Whisperer will kick me under the table when the 4 syllable words start coming out of my mouth.
Your theories become their theories
When you are doing a PhD what you are reading and thinking about colours your world. I don’t know how it happens, but your kids can can soak up your pet theories along with your taste in music and politics. Sometimes this can lead to conflict with the teacher, as @pinniesp explained to me on Twitter:
“I used to live with a teenager and when his teacher said Australia was discovered, he corrected him: “colonised”. I felt a bit of remorse about the indoctrination – this may have been in year 7 – but oh well”
Precision in all things
My son is going to have to get used to substantiating his knowledge claims with evidence, but that’s not all he has to contend with. I am a grammar nerd too. It’s just no fun to have a parent who insists on the correct use of semi colons in a grade four essay. Other parents on Twitter told me it is even worse if you work with statistics, as @DrBekMarketing remarked:
“… my kids hate it too when I go PhD-parent on them. their response:”n =1 IS a sufficient sample size mum!”
‘Googling’ is not ‘research’
On the tram the other day I heard a 16 year girl complaining to her mother about the bad mark on her essay – apparently she “couldn’t find the information on Google”. I actually turned around in my seat and stared at her, which I know is a stuffy old 40 year old thing to do but I couldn’t help it. All I could think was “no child of mine will think googling is research!”. This is why I set Thesis Whisperer Jnr up with the encyclopedia.
OK, call me old fashioned, but I think being able to look up an index is a skill that will still be valid through the rest of the century. I am awake to the chance I might be wrong however. My mother wouldn’t let me learn how to type because she was worried I would become a secretary like her. This turned out to be a poor decision as I still can’t touch type and had to write my way through 2 long theses while looking at the keys!
They are the only kid with a bibliography attached to their essay
I laughed when @MisaimedBrain asked me on Twitter: ”How old is Thesis Whisperer jnr? I’m imagining a small child developing impeccable referencing.”
It’s funny, because it’s true. Part of the fight over the last piece of homework was my insistence on correct footnoting and formatting of the bibliography. Poor little bastard. But there may be hope for Thesis Whisperer Jnr and I after all. The next day, on the way home, I asked him how his project on Ireland was going:
“Well, I still got to draw a leprechaun, because I wrote under it: SOME people believe in leprechauns. That’s not a generalisation is it mum?”