The lazy myth

Anyone who is unschooling and has spoken about it with someone whose kids are in school has heard this one:

“Oh, that would never work in our house.  [Name of child] would never do anything but play video games and sleep.”

Translation?  ”My kid is too lazy to learn on his own.”

Where did this myth that kids are lazy come from?   I think it comes from the fact that after spending many hours each day in a classroom, most kids want to do nothing but ‘zone out’.    Boredom does that to you.   Think about it.  If you’ve ever worked in a company where you routinely had company meetings at which your attendance was required but in which you had little interest, you’ll know what I’m talking about.  What do you feel like doing when you leave those meetings?  Creating?  Playing?  Learning something new?   No.  What you want to do is sleep or watch a movie or a funny show on TV.

Bottom line?  Kids aren’t lazy.  They’re just exhausted and often bored by classes in which they are not interested but which they are required to attend.

This fact is largely overlooked.

Instead, parents come to believe that kids are lazy because they want to sleep, don’t want to clean their rooms or clear the table or any number of other ‘chores’ parents throw at them.   (And by the way, isn’t it curious that there isn’t a “lazy” toddler on the planet?   Toddlers are constantly on the move, exploring, learning, playing – so much so that parents would often kill for an ounce or two of lazy from their 2 and 3 year olds.   Yep, that old laziness seems to kick in…well, right around the time that school kicks in, come to think of it!)   So parents who don’t unschool can’t fathom unschooling, because all they can see is endless hours of lazy while they pull their hair out and try to get their kid to do something.

We unschooling parents just sit back and chuckle quietly to ourselves.  Lazy?  Kids?  Please.  Truth be told, I’m a lot lazier than Maya or Ben.   I’m just good at hiding it.

The thing is, kids who aren’t in school, and even kids who are, will find things they are interested in and pursue them with a passion.   Parents often dismiss those interests because they don’t match their own.   Parent and child have disparate interests, and the parent sees the interests of the child as trivial; hence the child is lazy.

It may sound like a leap, but I’ve had conversations with parents who talked about how lazy their kid was and then in the next breath would talk about how all the child wanted to do was spend hours at the skateboard park every day.   Hello?  That doesn’t sound lazy to me.

Again I will say;  Unschooling is not difficult for children.  It is only difficult for parents who have trouble letting go of all their preconceived notions (mostly conceived from their own schooled background & upbringing) about what kids “should” learn and when; what kids “should” do around the house; how much kids “should” sleep;  what kinds of games they “should” play…. the list is endless.

When all those “shoulds” are not met to the parents satisfaction, the conclusion is:  laziness is a problem.   But if you can let go of the “shoulds”, you might see things differently.   Unschooling parents have a lot of practice with this.

Here’s an example from our life.  Maya does not like to ask for money.   She prefers to earn it.  To that end, she and Ben clean Joshua’s office every other week.   But she decided that wasn’t enough, and she asked Joshua if there was anything else she could do to earn some money to buy the things she likes.   As a result Maya has now started helping him out by doing some online research and putting the data she gathers into Excel spreadsheets.   For this work she is paid a decent hourly rate.  (She asked me if maybe she shouldn’t be paid less than the adults who were doing the same work and we said no – same work, same pay.)

Is that lazy?  No.   Does Maya want to make her living some day cleaning offices and working with Excel spreadsheets?   Probably not.  Does she enjoy the work?  Only in that she knows there is a paycheck at the end of it, which for right now is enough.

But here’s the thing.  If I chose, I could also say that Maya often sleeps till 10am because she stays up late chatting with friends online.   She hates cleaning her room, and rarely does it.  She thinks Ben is crazy because he likes helping me with the laundry.   Does that mean she’s lazy?   I suppose if that’s what I focused on, it might.

If my list of “shoulds” for an 11 year old included cleaning her room, getting up early to do lessons I prescribe and getting off the computer at a “reasonable” hour, I would have a battle on my hands, and I might see one lazy, belligerent kid.

Throw those “shoulds” away, and what I see is a child who is highly motivated when it comes to reaching the goals she sets for herself.    One who is not lazy at all.

Lazy, when it come to kids anyway, is a myth.

About Amy

Amy Milstein was born and raised on a farm in Indiana, but after 20+ years considers herself a full-fledged New Yorker. She is married with two kids, who do not go to school but are instead life learners. This means they learn by living in the world (real life ) instead of hearing about it and simulating it in a classroom. With her family, Amy loves to travel, read, watch movies, write, sew, knit - the list is endless.
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