Advice for a smart 8-year-old bored with school

by James_Miller1 min read9th Oct 2013189 comments


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Although my 8-year-old son likes his teacher, he is frequently bored at school.  He attends a high quality suburban public school in the United States.  He has a lot of traits in common with LessWrong readers, and we would like advice for what he can do to counter his boredom.  Many of you must have found grade school more or less tedious.  What were your coping strategies?

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Do what Harry's dad in HPMOR does: hire local grad students to be homeschool tutors. I do this for my 6 year old and 9 year old, and it is awesome. We parents do very high-level curriculum, taking about half an hour each week, and the tutors and kids do the rest. Teach at the kids' pace, choose material and progressions that make sense to you (or make sense to him), and have constant contact with teachers. I've found $20/hour is an attractive wage for most PhD students, and their expertise means that the barrage of "why?" questions the kids ask can actually be answered, often with current research findings. We've found we can cover 2 to 4 times the material in public school curriculum, and school is from 9 to 2. Also, you can do reasonable things like teach radians before degrees, graphing and functions along with each operation, foreign languages with native speakers, and Greek and Roman roots starting in kindergarten.

If you wouldn't mind, please share either your curricula or the method used to design it - whichever is most generally applicable.

We make it up as we go along :)

Basically my wife and I ask ourselves "What is the next thing to learn, or what do the kids need to review?" Our very broad curriculum for math is operations in order, from addition to exponents and logarithms, with learning and graphing functions that use that operation at the same time. So, when they learn addition they learn linear functions and line graphing, curves when they learn exponents, etc. Then fractions and decimals, because you need to understand fractions to understand the unit circle, which is the basis for angles and therefore geometry and trig. Reading is easiest: make them read and discuss harder books than they read last week. Writing is similarly straightforward, though there we reach rhetorical techniques when we do persuasive writing, meter when we write poetry, etc. History we are doing linearly, and trying emphasize the history of technological progression and cultural progression over dates and names. For example, kids should know what the difference between neolithic and paleolithic societies is, or what the limitations of bronze tooling are. We also do a lot of timelines, so the kids know about the different sta... (read more)

3Zaine8yThank you! I'm curious what they do in their free time: do they have creative hobbies, how do they socialise, what do your kids and their friends think of your kids' schooling, etc. What are your thoughts regarding languages, for both human and computer interaction? Thank you again for sharing!
4ESRogs8yHow do you find and connect with the grad students?
3[anonymous]8yI am insanely envious of your children.

On the subject of gifted children, don't praise kids for being smart. Praise them for working hard or for participating in activities that will make them smarter, but not for being, intrinsically, smart.

Broadly, don't praise people for things that they couldn't have done differently. All it'll do is increase the importance that they assign to a trait that is out of their control. That makes them weaker, not stronger.

This applies to physical appearance as well, for instance.

1TheOtherDave8yBut people have a lot of control over many aspects of our physical appearance. We also have a lot of control over many aspects of how "smart" we are. Don't we?
2Fermatastheorem8yWhat this means is that we should teach the kids what they can and can't change about those things, and how to change them (via hard work), instead of continuing to teach them that appearance and intelligence are completely fixed, and then rewarding them for those traits anyway.
0TheOtherDave8yI certainly agree that it's important to learn what we can and can't change, and how to change what we can change, and that it's important to teach kids things that it's important to learn.
0Fermatastheorem8yI didn't intend to devolve into platitudes; sorry if that happened anyway. I was just trying to relate your comment to the general topic.

I wish you could talk to my parents 25 years ago.

It's possible to make a mistake in both ways. I wish someone told me in my childhood: "Viliam, some things you are interested in are simply too complex for an average person to understand and care about. To discuss them with someone, you must first find sufficiently intelligent people."

My parents never gave me information of this kind, probably believing that it would be morally bad for me to have it. So I spent many years believing that I am too weird and no one can understand me; that my only way to interact with people is to meet them at their turf, never going to mine. (And that social skills consist mostly of pretending to be like other people, and denying what is unique about me.) I did not have a good explanation for this asymetry.

And then (a dramatic exaggeration) I found LessWrong, and I realized there are other people like me on this planet. Then I went to a CFAR seminar and met them in person, so now I also feel on the emotional level they are real.

Sometimes working hard is not an answer, for example when you are a hard-working member in a team of idiots, and it's a job you can't manage all alone. The only solution is to find another team; but to do that you have to believe that different teams are possible, that not all people are the same.

3buybuydandavis8yThis is other side of the socialization pancake. "Go to school to learn how to socialize with other children." That has some value if they're genuine peers, but if he's too much smarter than they are, that socialization will likely not turn out well for him. Similar feelings here. And I had my own LessWrong moment. Or at least, an HPMOR moment. Seeing Harry as a kid fundamentally refuse to accept death as an inevitable part of the natural order, and otherwise always with a sense of boundless opportunities in the world brought me back to the attitudes I had as a kid. Of course death is just a problem to be solved. I knew that then. But over the years, I lost that feeling, even if I was part of groups like the Extropians list or LessWrong who predicted such things.
6Viliam_Bur8yIt is also useful to socialize with people who are different than you. They make the majority of the world, don't they? But at some point being only with that kind of people becomes exhausting. Finding people like you, that's like... finally finding a home. A place where you can stop pretending, where you can fit as you are.
7buybuydandavis8yAs I've indicated in this thread, I reject the notion that children are successfully socialized by putting them together in a big pile and letting them figure it out. The younger the child, the less they need difference, and the more they need competence and acceptance, both of which the 8 year old under question will be unlikely to find institutionalized with all the other unsocialized 8 year olds, most all just too far from his level of intelligence to make suitable peers. The 8 year old has a home - that's where his parents live. Certainly it would be great to get him some actual peers his age too, but the socially competent elders who love him are the most important agents of his socialization at this point.
6Viliam_Bur8yThough at some moment you should admit they are smart, or at least not actively deny it, otherwise they will have an incorrect model of the world. As an extreme example, if a person with IQ 200 believes that intelligence does not exist and all that matters is the hard work, it may motivate them to work hard, which is great, but it may also make them believe that all other people are simply not trying if they can't do even such simple things as winning a Nobel price. This can make them have unrealistic expectations of less intelligent people, or even make them believe that the less intelligent people are actually morally inferior (too lazy, don't care enough, etc.). -- Now imagine a person with IQ 150, and it's less extreme, but still similar.

So to simplify - explaining the state of the world is fine, but there's a difference between that and praising someone for it.

9Viliam_Bur8yExactly. Praising means socially encouraging someone to do more of X. If X is fixed trait, there is no way one could do more of X. They can only do more signalling of X. People sometimes think that giving a honest feedback about any positive trait is implicitly a praise. And they have a point, too. But I guess it's a question of giving this feedback in a proper context. Signalling of a fixed trait is sometimes useful and sometimes harmful. It can encourage people to work on what they are good at. It can also discourage them from trying new things. On the other hand praising hard work could also lead to some failures, such an clinging to lost purposes. ("What I am doing now is probably meaningless, but people reward me for working hard, so I can't give up.") It's complicated.

Teach him to use Anki. If I would have had started to learn via anki when I was 8-year-old I would have so much knowledge in my head.

5hyporational8yMuch of that knowledge would be useless, though. Aren't you worried about your brainspace? I love Anki, but it would be so weird to have Anki cards that my 8 year old self made. Just stick to simple facts if you use it, or it'll be a mess. ETA: Thinking about public schooling and Anki is really prone to sunk cost fallacy, I think. Just because you've wasted time learning things now forgotten, doesn't mean the effort you'd have spent keeping them in your memory would have been worthwhile.
2ChristianKl8yAt the moment I find that the cards I made in my first year of using Anki haven't been what I know consider to be simple facts. I frequently delete old cards where when I think they don't make sense anymore. For example I used to belief that the card: ?(port is red)? with the possible answer Yes and No is simple. ?()? was a shorthand for not having to write the sentence. Now I find that "port is ?(green/red)?" is much more simple. The ?(X)? gets colored blue to make it stand out to the eye when I see the card. Sister cards: Starboard is ?(green/red)? ?(starboard/port )? is green ?(starboard/port )? is red It seems to be very near to the ideal of redundant minimum information chuncks. Formatting might be improved but the information of every card seems close to optimum. It took me years to learn the Zen of making simple Anki cards. Old cards that get badly formatted or represent knowledge that isn't useful get either reformated or deleted. In the last week I had to relearn the meaning of dative and accusative. I think I probably learned those concepts in school. But I didn't make any Anki cards for it. I forgot that knowledge. I also lost a lot of French vocubulary. Take animals. [fr->en] ?(chien/chat/vache/cheval)? means dog [fr->en] ?(chien/chat/vache/cheval)? means cat [fr->en] ?(chien/chat/vache/cheval)? means cow [fr->en] ?(chien/chat/vache/cheval)? means horse Four very simple cards. I would also make the reverse English to French cards. I could have written them easily to learn French in school. I think a 8 year old might have enough cognitive capacity to write those four cards and learn them. He might have a challenge to learn them and might not be as fast as I'm now when I'm learning them, but they wouldn't provide him trouble. When it comes to teaching the 8-year-old Anki I would encourage them to write cards in that style that have 2 to 6 choices and that require the user to write down his choice every time when a computer is available. When h
1RolfAndreassen8yThis post will be less confusing to English speakers if you replace "backboard" (presumably backformed from the German 'Backbord') with 'port'. :) Which does raise the etymological question of why English has the Germanic starboard meaning "right, but on a ship" (German Steuerbord, Norwegian styrbord) but not the corresponding "left" - German Backbord, Norwegian babord. What's this "port" stuff?
0ChristianKl8yI did. The english language is messed up as usual.
0hyporational8yI suspected you would say so, as this is thought to be common knowledge. I'd like to see what this kind of research would even look like. If brainspace isn't limited, then why do people forget things? Does it make evolutionary sense? There are many examples of people with exceptional memories, who are severely limited otherwise. I'm not sure I've come across of examples of people who are proven to remember everything but are otherwise normal. Then again, the speed at which such an anomaly of a person learns things is probably a lot faster than a normal individual can learn with Anki, so maybe it's not an issue. Also memory interference [] could become a problem with huge Anki decks. This might be true. I've also learned it's possible that education doesn't prevent the degenerative process, but helps you cope with it longer.
0ChristianKl8yIt the academic consensus as far as I know, and I visited neuroscience university lectures. I'm not particularly big on the detail but the gist is that there's no sign of brainspace limitation found anywhere. People don't really forget. They fail to remember. Most of the information is accessible via hypnosis. Our brain is not optimized for retrieving long term information from our memory. A hunter gatherer doesn't need to remember that much. He needs to remember the location on which a certain tree that procudes good nuts grows. That why the loci method is a easy way to store information in your brain in a way that makes the information easy to remember. There also the issue of pattern matching. Say I give you 4 apples. You don't need to remember apple_1, apple_2, apple_3 and apple_4. The hunter gather does much better if his brain merges those 4 distinct objects into one category called apple_n. In practice that means that whenever the brain get queried how apple_1 looks like the brain return apple_n. You might say that this means that the hunter gatherer has forgotten how apple_1 looks like but's not a fair representation of what the brain does. Some of the people who have no problem remembering everything fail to generalise from apple_1, apple_2, apple_3 and apple_4 into apple_n. Being able to remember every single apple that you encounter on it's own is not worth not having a generalised apple concept. Being able to generalise is valuable in the evolutionary sense. When using Anki, trying to remember apple_1, apple_2, apple_3 and apple_4 is not what we are going for. We might learn a concept of green apples and one of red apples. A hunter gather is also likely to learn different concepts and be able to distinguish different kinds of apples but he will never need to recall every single apple he has seen in his life. To be able to learn a concept of green apples versus red apples, we need to learn to distinguish red from green beforehand and we need to l
2hyporational8yDo you think that this is strong evidence? What does "most" of the information mean? I know the "consensus" gets casually mentioned in the lectures, but I don't think it's strong. How would you design an experiment to test infinite memory capacity? Keeping memories stored requires energy, how does it make evolutionary sense to store memories you never recall? (I think wedrifid's "physics says otherwise" makes this discussion rather pointless.) From the link you provided: "The physical effects of the disease in the brain were found to be more advanced in the bilinguals' brains, even though their mental ability was roughly the same." I think this also means that their tests for mental ability just failed to capture what they were losing with that brain matter.
0ChristianKl8yOne of the classic ways to demonstrate that a lot of knowledge can be retrieved is to retrieve from a person the number of steps in the stairway of the house in which he lived as a child. I personally have IRC and ICQ and MSN messanger transcripts that go a long time back with contents that you could potentially retrieve. The fact that you get in some savants total memory recall of some particular type after damaging their brain is also good evidence. As far as physics is concered maybe a human being that's 1,000,000 years old runs into problems with storing his memories. That doesn't mean that an issue for human operating in todays world. Because the main evolutionary reason that we store information in our brain isn't to recall memories. It's to pattern match what we experience into categories and make decisions based on those categories. For pattern matching it's useful to keep storing all information but unnecessary to retrieve individual instances of memories.
-1wedrifid8yPhysics and biology research says otherwise.
4ChristianKl8yOne of the central rules of academic biology, is that most biological statements are context specific. For the value of limited I spoke about my statement is correct. You are a victim of memory interference.
0wedrifid8yI am, no doubt frequently. This is one of the ways in which brainspace limitations become problematic.
0[anonymous]8yUpvoted. Much of that knowledge would be useless though. Just don't put everything there. It's probably good to forget something every once in a while. Of course you can just delete useless cards later. I love Anki, but it's weird to consider what it would be like to have 20 year old cards in my deck. An 8 year old brain represents knowledge very differently from an adult brain.

I pulled the erasers out of my pencils, drew faces on them, sometimes made very tiny costumes, built sets out of pipecleaners, and staged small, mythology-influenced plays in my desk. (in 3rd grade, we had the kind that were open on the side).

Um, also reading.

I read books during school. Looking back, this seems like it was a strongly suboptimal use of my time, because most of the books I read were fiction.

I think that homeschooling or tutoring are the strongest options, followed by private school. Around 12ish I went to CTY, which teaches classes at college speed, and felt that was almost as fast as I would have liked, which was worlds better than normal. They appear to have online classes now.

He's interested in computers and games- it might be worthwhile to focus 4 or so hours of his day into programming. Minecraft is moddable; there are similar games that focus on creating systems of things that do things. (Perhaps he would enjoy Spacechem? Not as "mess with the code" as I would like, but may at least be fun to think about.) (Someone to consider for inspiration: L Peter Deutsch.)

I strongly recommend against putting a gifted child in a school where they aren't within a level of the median student. The losses involved from going too slow are just too huge, and basically everything that school can do can be gotten more cheaply elsewhere. (The primary argument that everyone trots out- 'socializing' children- seems like it has a... (read more)

Is it that unproductive to read a lot of fiction? I read extremely quickly and still retain a lot of what I read, and this seems to be quite a useful skill, and I've always assumed that one of the reasons I have this skill is because I read so much as a child. Admittedly, natural talent probably also plays a role, but surely the tremendous amount of practice helped a lot. And most of what I read as a child was fiction. Perhaps it would have been even more productive to read more non-fiction, but I'm not certain of that, and even if that were the case I'd have thought calling it "strongly" suboptimal was a little, well, strong.

I have the same skill and have found it's a bit of a mixed blessing -- because when reading tough technical stuff my brain still wants to process it at the same very high speed, which needs I constantly need to pay attention and keep my reading rate down because otherwise my eyes fly across the page and I take nothing in. Since a large fraction of what adult-me wants to read is tough technical stuff, superfast novel-reading isn't necessarily a great trade for this.

2Vaniver8yI have the same experience. It could be that I wouldn't have read nonfiction as voraciously, and less practice would result in less reading skill now. But I suspect that I read far past the point of diminishing returns. I also do seem to have been interested in learning things, and so if they were presented at a faster speed I think I would have learned more. If I had been spending an hour a day on various required subjects like civics and history and English, which would have been enough, and four hours on self-paced math, I suspect I would be in a much better academic position than I am now. (This is what I'm thinking of when I said strongly suboptimal- if I were educating a child, I don't think I would put 8 of their hours into fiction reading, though I might put 4.)
2roystgnr8yGood fiction is also an excellent way to build vocabulary, which is at least valuable for a child who wants to signal to colleges: "Look at my Verbal SAT score!"
2solipsist8yThat seems like it should be true, but personal anecdata make me unsure. I scored 800 on the SAT verbal section. When I sat down for the exam, I had voluntarily read four fiction books in my entire life. People assumed I was well-read because I spoke like a book. In reality, I was afraid of reading and just spoke like my parents. ETA: Studying flashcards build vocabulary faster than reading fiction. However, I could be convinced that reading fiction better improves fluency and eloquence.
4roystgnr8yHmm... my word choice of "excellent" was unintentionally misleading. I didn't want to imply that good fiction was a fast way of building vocabulary; you could be much more efficient with flashcards. But if a child's willpower isn't at the "happy to study flashcards in place of entertainment" point, then it's still worthwhile to find activities which are entertaining but also educational, then save the flash cards for subjects where you can't find such substitutes.
2leplen8yIf fiction then vocabulary does not imply if not fiction then not vocabulary. The truth value of the inverse doesn't follow the truth value of the original statement.
0solipsist8yRight. My anecdote isn't directly contrary evidence, but it is a contrary hint. If reading fiction were an excellent way to build vocabulary, I'd expect to see acquaintances who avidly read fiction to have larger vocabularies than acquaintances who don't read fiction. This is not what I see. It might be that my acquaintance sample is weird. It might be that avid fiction readers fluidly express themselves with simple words where the less well-read resort to obscure vocabulary. But (over)generalizing from my personal experience, I (somewhat) suspect that people's vocabulary has less to do with the fiction they read than is usually assumed.
1leplen8yI had a different model in mind. I think there's a satiation point on exposure. If you were raised by consummately literate native English speakers, then perhaps you acquired a choate vocabulary simply by immersion in that environment. Additional reading of fiction therefore, will offer you only the meagerest of marginal improvements. Many people weren't raised by excellent speakers of English though, and these individuals are the ones more likely to gain from increased exposure. Would you make the same statement about the relationship between reading novels in Spanish or German and improving vocabulary in those languages?
0solipsist8yI am not in a position to give even aniqudata on that.
5palladias8yI found CTY classes a little slow, but totally totally worth it for finding other people like me and making costumes, having discussions, doing network analysis on all hookups that had taken place during the session, etc. I did CTY distance learning for writing and pre-calc. Didn't like the writing program, but really liked precalc and used it to skip in HS and was much happier as a result.
2sakranut8yI on the other hand, got a very good experience out of the CTY distance writing program. It forced me to clarify my thoughts and be conscientious about how I wrote for the first time. Also, as an 11-year-old who had gone through life with few to no challenges, it was an excellent opportunity to really have to work hard at something.
5James_Miller8yThanks, he has and likes Spacechem.

Jeez just saw you are an econ prof at Smith. Home school or get him in a better private school. You can be assigning your own reading to him and discussing it with him. You can do a little studying of home schooling and write econ papers about it. You can have a graduate seminar in which you bring in your 8 year old and each graduate student has to do something clever to advance his education as their term project. OK, that last one is pushing it.

You know you are smart and you know what you are interested in. Which means you know what it is like to be interested in something.

If he was reading when he was 1 and is as smart as he seems, you risk close to nothing taking him out of school now and trying home schooling. Always shove him back in next Sept. Indeed, you could probably re-enroll him at any time under current law.

Home school or get him in a better private school.

Me, I'm so completely jealous of kids now. They have a chance to be free of the government labor indoctrination camps known as public school. My parents bought me an encyclopedia and took me to the public library. That was living large back then.

Now it's Khan Academy and the Web. Your son is free to achieve and learn at his own pace, on the subjects that interest him, with Khan Academy providing yard sticks of progress to his achievement versus his age cohort and versus a corpus of knowledge. I'm trying to figure out how to turn my life into a video game where I get points for achievement, while Khan has already done that for kids.

Sounds like your kid is bright. Public school is child abuse for a bright kid. He will learn all the wrong lessons, things that will hamstring him for the rest of his life. He'll learn that he doesn't have to work. He'll learn that he can beat his peers while being a lazy jerk off. He'll learn that "being smart" is the standard of status, not achievement.

And he'll fail to learn how to drive himself. Fail to learn how to overcome setbacks. Fail to learn how to discipline himself.

Sounds lik... (read more)

7pjeby8yAmen to all of the above, from personal experience.

This might be a viable option, but I'll point out that homeschooling a kid is a major long term time investment, and just because one is qualified to do it doesn't mean that one has enough time or mental energy for the task.

3mwengler8yDefinitely a time commitment. I suggest it on the theory that smarter students tend to educate themselves, and what the public school is doing is nearly a complete waste with a kid like this. So the homeschooler who achieves a better result than the public school in only a few hours of effort a week is way ahead of the game. The homeschooler may be aware that he could do so much more if he spent more time, but that way lies useless guilt. Put a small amount of work in as the schooler, and if that doesn't translate into enough effort on the part of the schooled so that the net outcome is ahead of what was going to happen in the gigantically mismatched public school, you can switch the kid back in. If the kid has been reading, as reported in OP, since he was 1, then it is not a bad guess that he is a good candidate to teach himself other things a child is expected to learn. I am assuming he was not reading at 1 because of an intensive teaching effort, that he more or less picked it up on his own with minimal exposure from "teachers."
8Desrtopa8yEh, public school might not be that valuable for teaching a precocious kid academics, but it can be an important resource for learning social skills. Also, while some kids might be well suited to be autodidacts, not all kids who have the intelligence for it have the self-directedness necessary to teach themselves the things which will be most useful to them, and so need someone to provide guidance and direction, if not actual instruction.

school... an important resource learning social skills.

Pulling him out of school is a great way to help him learn social skills.

Did you know that at school, during 80% of the time, kids are punished if they socialize?

Meanwhile, in the world outside the walls, there are many great kids of different ages as well as adults with whom to socialize, with no fear of punishment.

5Desrtopa8yOn the other hand, the time they spend together in school helps kids meet and relate to each other. Most kids of an age where they'd be interested in socializing with him are in school, so freeing up the time he's in school doesn't free up 80% of that time block for socialization, because the great majority of people he'd be socializing with are otherwise occupied, and it's harder to get into the social groups of the kids who go to a school when you're removed from one of the in-groups central to their lives.
1JoshuaFox8yIf James' kid were the only one, maybe. But I'll bet that there are plenty of kids and people of other ages who are not in school, including in western Massachusetts where he lives.

I'm puzzled why people think putting a bunch of unsocialized children in a pile will turn them into civilized adults.

Nobody else read Lord of the Flies?

Children learn social skills from those who have them, not by getting together and trying to reinvent civilization when they're 8 years old.

I'm puzzled why people think putting a bunch of unsocialized children in a pile will turn them into civilized adults.

The impression I have of public schools (at least the good ones) is that younger children are pretty closely supervised, and that much of what elementary teachers do all day is say "No Johnny, that wasn't nice, apologize to Suzy", or "Suzy, you need to share the scissors with Tommy."

The children are practicing social skills with each other, but it's a structured environment with adult supervision, and with adults who are specifically trained and tasked to help improve the children's social skills and emotional maturity.

An elementary school classroom that feels like Lord of the Flies, socially, is a very badly run classroom.

Lord of the Flies is fictional evidence.

Your general point stands, though.

2buybuydandavis8yIt's a famous fictional archtype that should have reminded people to question that cohort institutionalization is a fabulous means of socialization. I don't think I'm alone in seeing fiction as a means of understanding and remembering valid principles.
1Desrtopa8yChildren learn social skills by practicing relating to their peers in a supervised setting. Adults don't relate to kids the way people are expected to learn to relate to other adults, and even for kids who're capable of putting into practice explicit instruction on how to behave in social situations, few adults if any are equipped to describe the real nuances of social interaction explicitly. Lord of the Flies is a work of fiction, not a sociological experiment.
-2buybuydandavis8yThey have to learn the skills before they can practice them. They can learn them from their elders, not other equally ignorant children. Again, they shouldn't be in the position of having to reinvent civilization. Further, practicing on other incompetents is a tough way to learn, because none of them are behaving appropriately in the first place. It's like learning to drive on a car that randomly swerves and brakes. That's largely why people hire dance instructors - a competent partner speeds the learning process even if they have no teaching to impart.
0Desrtopa8yIf an adult wanted to learn to relate to other adults, they would do poorly by attempting to learn from children. If a child wanted to learn to relate to other children, they would most likely learn things by relating to children which they would not learn by relating to adults. Children are behaving inappropriately by adult standards, but they're still learning skills about relating to their peers which will generalize to their experience relating to their peers as adults, which they are unlikely to learn without having peer relationships.
5Eugine_Nier8yIs this supposed to be a euphemism for getting punched by bullies?

No, and I think that would take a very uncharitable reading of my comment.

"Being punched by bullies" was one of the more common social interactions I had during my three years of middle school.

My suggestion, if that ever becomes the problem, would be to have the victim carry a concealed tape recorder and get the entire (verbal) portion on tape, including as much of a narration of the events as possible ("Why are you blocking me from going down this hallway?"). Armed with that recording, the guardian needs to confront the school officials and demand that effective measures be taken, or the media will become involved.

In my experience, the school administration either ignored stronger evidence or took actions which were ineffective; I never actually involved criminal court, although I should have, but I expect that they will decline to prosecute as well. The media, however, would love something like such a recording, combined with a "think of the children" banner. Threatening the administration with such a fate should be enough motivation to make them stop looking like they are looking for a solution and start looking for a solution; in addition, they might accept reasonable suggestions.

Again, I don't think that's what's happening in the OP, but I think it's important enough that anybody who has that kind of problem find it wherever they search; the low probability that my target audience is ever going to see this particular post is accounted for.

9dougclow8yI'd urge people to think very, very carefully before going to the media in this sort of situation. The media's agenda is not yours: it's to create as much interest as possible. Sure, you might get a media outlet interested in publicising wrongdoing: that might make a good story. But other outlets (or even the same one later when the initial interest has faded) will be interested in 'monstering' the complainers: that might make a good story, too. The school administration and their friends will be highly motivated to help in this endeavour. If you make a sufficiently large splash, every detail of your and the child's life will be raked over for something that can be distorted to appear scandalous or wrong. Almost nobody likes whistleblowers, and they (almost?) never prosper afterwards, regardless of the merits of their case. (I think this is a big problem for society, but hard to resolve.) If the school administration is so committed to not seeing the problem, I'd expect that it'll be more in the child's interests to take them out of that school than it is to go to the media.
2Decius8yThe hope is that the threat alone will suffice. We now enter decision theory territory when we ask if the threat becomes less credible if the follow-through is not performed. In the abstract, general, idealized case where the threat fails, I would consider switching schools (to actually solve the problem) AND leaking the story to the media (partially out of spite, partially to provide an impetus for change benefiting others, and partially to maintain the credibility of one's threats). In any actualized scenario, my advice might differ.
8Desrtopa8yThis sounds like a possible viable way of dealing with bullying, but in general, I think that if the children bring the bullying to their parents' attention, and the parents are willing to intercede and make a serious effort on the kids' behalf, bullying is usually solvable. It's when adults insist that kids "need to learn to work these matters out among themselves" that troubles become intractable, and since I became an adult myself, I have on a few occasions had to remind adults that the way it works in the grown up world is that we have authorities we call on to intervene in conflicts because we don't expect victims to be able to resolve matters amicably with their victimizers.
9Viliam_Bur8yAlso, one important step is that the parents must believe the child's report of bullying. As opposed to e.g. thinking "this is an exaggerated version of something that is probably harmless". (This was a mistake my parents were making all the time.)
-4Multiheaded8yQuick, what are your thoughts on the concept of rape culture?
2Viliam_Bur8yGive me a reasonable definition, and I'll give you my opinion. Without at least an approximate definition I try not to have opinion on things. (Not that I couldn't imagine some definition myself, but what's the point if your definition may be something very different? I think rape is a bad thing, should be punished, and should not be made fun of. That includes also rape in prisons, or when a woman rapes a man, et cetera. On the other hand, I consider rape to be in average less serious crime than murder. Please note that this answer does not include the "culture" part, because that's the part I don't have a reasonable definition for.)
2Multiheaded8yOh! It's ok, it sounds like you've simply never heard it explained. In a nutshell, my analogy here is that women in grown-up society who suffer some kind of sexual violation or threat are overwhelmingly likely to meet the same blind/wilfully ignorant/worse-than-useless response that is typical of adults overlooking bullying. (It sounds like you and me both have suffered from the latter.) [] So yes, this is not all of what feminists usually mean by these words - but they often do bring up such attitudes in the same vein as your description of bullying here. Given that you've previously decried some stereotypical "social justice" issues, including anti-sexist activism, as pointless/dishonest/hypocritical (IIRC), I wanted to point out how, this time around, you've independently echoed a popular feminist talking point.[1] Here's another analogy, with a widely used contrast of robbery vs. sexual assault: [] “So you’d been drinking. Are you sure you didn’t tell him he could take the money? You know, maybe you were feeling sorry for him, feeling bad about telling him you weren’t going to lend him money any more… Are you sure you didn’t give him one last bundle of cash, out of sympathy, but maybe you’re feeling bad about it today?” “Hey-” “Maybe you’d had a few too many and it’s all a bit hazy? Are you sure you didn’t tell him he could have the money, but you can’t remember it?” “No! He stole it from me-” “What were you wearing at the time, Mr. Smith?” “Let’s see. A suit. Yes, a suit.” “An expensive suit?” “Well–yes.” “In other words, Mr. Smith, you were alone and drunk late at night with someone you had previously given money to in a suit that practically advertised the fact that you had money, isn’t that so?” Etc, etc

We didn't have a political thread on LW for a long time, did we? Would be a more appropriate place for this discussion. On one hand, I do not want to ignore your question, on the other hand, I have no desire to make this a long off-topic thread. Unfortunately, political topics are usually heavily mindkilling, they have thousands of connotations, so unless one writes a full book about the topic, there are many ways to misinterpret their answer.

Here are a few things that would deserve a longer discussion, but I don't want to have all of those discussions right here and right now:

1) Just because a word is used, even if it has its page on wikipedia, does not mean the concept is well-defined. To quote from the wikipedia page: "there is disagreement over what defines a rape culture and to what degree a given society meets the criteria to be considered a rape culture". What I am trying to say is that I agree that rape is bad, and I also agree that if you write a victim's report on a web page, you will find many comments blaming the victim. I agree with this completely. The part that I don't know (and wikipedia says there is no consensus even among people who use the word frequen... (read more)

0Error8yUpvoted for making this specific distinction explicit. I think it's important to note that A and B are not contradictory and should not be treated as if B->!A Also upvoted the parent; the failure mode it describes is real, whether or not one subscribes to "rape culture" with the quotes.
7Lumifer8yOne has to be careful not to let this devolve into a "we had to destroy this village to save it" scenario. It is possible to win the battle and lose the war, that is, completely screw up the kid's social life for the rest of his time in this school. It's hard to give generic recommendations, it all depends on particular circumstances. Obviously there is a balance to be struck between helicopter parenting and "as long as he's not in a hospital it's all fine". In some cases it's better to let the kid handle it himself, in some cases it's better to go to the administration, in some cases it's better to switch schools.
5Decius8yMy intention isn't to create a typical social interaction where none currently exists. My intention is to prevent non-aggressors from feeling like the only course of action is to become an aggressor, and the general-case solution to that problem requires an appeal to the social systems set in place for that purpose.
1Emile8yHow about teaching the kid to handle it himself, as in "okay let's analyze this situation together and come up with some creative solutions"? That would be my first choice; get the kid to practice something like rejection theory for standing up to bullies or something like that, or practice martial arts, or invite "potential allies" out to Disneyland or I dunno, my kid isn't getting bullied yet (that I know of).
4Lumifer8yProvided the kid can. The "traditional" way of stopping bullying is quite painful. It essentially involves treating the bully as a Skinnerian rat and hurting him every time he attacks you. You pay a high price in pain yourself, but if, basically, every time the bully hassles you he gets kicked in the balls, pretty soon he'll stop hassling you even if each time he "prevailed" and beat you up. Other usual ways are to use social skills (which are usually lacking) and/or bulk up / learn effective fighting. Of course that all presupposes physical aggression and boys. Girls tend to go for passive-aggressive emotional attacks which can be harder to deal with.
4Error8yBoys will do the passive-aggressive thing if they think they can't take you physically. I had that experience growing up; I was too big to beat up but too socially inept to handle other forms of bullying. School was hell.
0wedrifid8yDid you try punching people who dissed you? That works for some people. Especially if they practice their skill at recognising the effective ways to deploy the power.
2Error8yOn a couple of occasions, I did. Trouble was, I was sufficiently clueless that the people who were inclined to wind me up also managed to direct my ire towards third parties who didn't deserve it. "Let's you and him fight," more or less. Those were not shining moments in my moral life, although some bits of them do make funny stories twenty years later. I have this mental list of people to locate if and when the government collapses sufficiently that law enforcement closes up shop....
2Emile8yEh, it can be quite painful, but you just need to reach the point where bullying someone else is less of a hassle. The rejection therapy and the Disneyland solution might still work here. Though in that case I'd look for advice from girls; I'll get to that if I have a daughter AND she gets bullied; no hurry :)
1Desrtopa8yKind of a late reply on this one, but I'll point out that this depends on what kind of bully you're dealing with. Not all bullies are opportunists or cowards, and in particular some are playing a dominance game which they will not permit themselves to lose. To respond to a challenge by changing targets would be to implicitly acknowledge that they don't have dominance over their original target, something they're unwilling to accept, so they'll respond to challenges by escalating until one side is unable to keep up. This is the kind of case where getting outside intervention is usually the most necessary.
-4Decius8yOr take the Ender route and kill the aggressor. That sure stops the bullying, but it fits 'destroy the village to save it'.
3Viliam_Bur8ySome children commit suicide because of bullying. If those children instead killed their bullies, I think it would be a net improvement for the society. It would prevent those bullies to do the same with more children, and it would send a message that bullying is dangerous for both sides. More cynically, it would motivate schools to investigate the cases of bullying when the bully is a popular person and the victim is low-status. We don't want popular people to be killed, do we?
0Decius8yI think you made the assumption that each suicide would kill only one bully. Even if it isn't true, I'm inclined to agree that it would be a net improvement, but it would be on the opposite side of the maximum of the curve with 'strength of response' as the independent variable and 'desirability of outcome' as the dependent.
5seez8yI don't think this is an optimal or especially good way of dealing with bullies unless the bullying is so serious that it is a threat to the child's safety. It encourages a habit of appealing to the authorities whenever things are suboptimal, instead of developing interpersonal skills to deal with the problem without an authority. It teaches the child to depend on authorities to save them when things aren't going his/her way. In my school at least, being a "snitch" had serious social consequences. They were despised, and often bullied more, and more furtively. Someone who can stand up to a bully, on the other, was seen as brave, as a leader. Also, there are certainly authorities who sometimes offer help in the adult world (as Desrtopa notes) but often an appeal to an authority is difficult or impossible. What do you do if a coworker verbally bullies you? Or an in-law gets nasty? A friend of friend?
5ChristianKl8yBlackmailing authorities by a smart plot that involves having a evidence that you can take to the media isn't "being dependent on the authorities". It's the HPMOR way ;)
4ygert8yYou know, this environment is probably as close to the Hobbesian state of nature as it gets in modern first world countries. The solution to that has traditionally been for society to create a government to hold over itself, a leviathan able to be applied to. Thus, violence is curbed, by the threat of intervention by the overseeing power. As in the world, so in this microsim. Is this a desirable state? As someone who leans more towards the libertarian side of things, I think the answer is no. But despite that, there are two very valid points. The first is that like it or not, this is how the world is. You can try to set up an alternate system of governance, but if you play in a certain society, you play by their rules. Or overthrow them and institute your own rules, but that is a task of much greater scope. Second, there has to be some rules. Life in the state of nature is nasty, brutish, and short, after all. In the "state of middle school", it's not short, but it's pretty nasty and brutish. This problem has to be overcome somehow, and the established way to do it is by government, that is to say in this case by authority figures. Have you got a better way? Many libertarians over the years have tried to hammer out alternatives, but as of now it's still an open problem.
-1Decius8yIf you add that middle school lasts for three or four years, and after that most people are no longer in middle school, I think 'short' applies. I wish that there was a well-documented way to apply the ideals of libertarianism in a manner that had effective results; I don't see such a option.
3Multiheaded8yNot to one's subjective experience. Oh no.
1seez8yOkay, why I think this is a bad idea: 1) It teaches the child that power is in the hands of bad guys and authorities. 2) It is a strategy that is dependent on having a genuine authority that is sympathetic to one's cause (which may not always be true). 3) It is unlikely to directly teach the bully a better way to behave, and is likely to get him/her in a lot of trouble that might affect the rest of the bully's life, especially if his/her identity is revealed (especially ethically problematic with a young child). 4) A person, especially a child, might misunderstand a situation. The "bully" might be reacting to something offensive or hurtful that the child did. If someone goes to authorities before attempting to resolve the problem quietly, s/he risks getting the "bully" unjustly punished, and not learning about his/her own inappropriate behavior. This one is especially important, IMO. 5) If the bully is a bullying a lot of people, gathering those people together and having them unite against a bully may simultaneously allow many people to feel like they and their community has power outside what an authority grants them (this seems like a more HPMOR-type of solution to me). 6) Once something reaches the mass media, you lose all control over the outcome. Your school administrator or dean or principal might be replaced (which may or may not be a bad thing). The bully could be sent to juvie or removed from his/her family or whatever. 7) You don't know the full context behind the event. Maybe the bully just suffered a traumatic or tragic event. Maybe s/he has a mental disorder. Sure, then s/he needs help, and the authority should help him/her get it, but that approach seems lacking in the compassion due to the child in the midst of a tragedy. 8) You shame the bully and force him/her into a corner. The bully now loses face, especially if s/he backs down. With an especially impulsive person with little regard for his/her future, this could provoke some sort of d
1Viliam_Bur8yI am curious: what kind of intepersonal skills (which don't include using authorities) would you use to deal with a person who is three times as strong as you (and most of people around you), enjoys hurting you (physically), and makes it obvious to others that only you will be hurt (unless someone tries to defend you, in which case they will also be hurt, but it will be a one-time event for them)? Depending on your answer, my second question would be: If such a situation happened to you tomorrow (and then every day) and you couldn't avoid it, would you prefer to use only the interpersonal skill, or would you (also) use a threat of authority?
3Emile8yBut why would you be singled out this way, and not some other small kid? The explanation probably involves interpersonal skills at some point (I would expect likelihood of being bullied to be more correlated with being weird and friendless and "a pushover" than it is with being weak). Also, even a small kid should be able to bite really hard, or come up with something foul-smelling that sticks in the hair or something like that - but I don't think either one of those are what is usually meant by "interpersonal skills" :)
3Viliam_Bur8yWould it be too unrealistic scenario to imagine that I am a best student in the classroom, and the bully is the second best, but he used to be the best one in his previous school, he cannot emotionally accept not being first and when he cannot deal with competition in a fair way, he uses his physical strength as a backup option? People can also hate you for being good at something, not just for being weak. Yes, I used this kind of solution, and it worked. It just took me too much time to overcome the taboo about hurting other people (even in self-defense).
-3Decius8yLearning to win fights despite a physical development disadvantage is exactly the wrong interpersonal skill to teach.
6wedrifid8yThis does not seem like a claim that is universally true or obvious. If for whatever reason (such as bad judgement, incompetence at parenting or simply lack of resources) you choose to expose your child to one of the many environments where physical aggression is socially advantageous when they are at a physical disadvantage then it is neglectful to not also train them in at least the low hanging fruit with respect to succeeding in that environment.
-3Decius8yTo win one thousand fights in one thousand battles is not the skill you should be seeking. To resolve the confrontation favorably without fighting is the skill you should be teaching. Either that, or firearm lessons. Biting and stinkbombs simply won't work in environments where physical aggression is required, and there is no good reason for partial measures.
6wedrifid8yTo avoid losing a thousand fights through the mere presence of a deterrent is a valuable and generalisable lesson. Finding ways to resolve confrontation without fighting is desirable but once again I have to point out that it is not always possible. Children do not get to choose whether or which school they are subjected to and so can not rely on the most important aspects of personal boundaries (those that follow from having the ability to choose situations). If they are forced into an environment where pacifism is a suboptimal survival strategy then forcing pacifism on them for ideological reason is adding insult to injury. Or adding more injury and permanent psychological damage to injury as the case may be. Taking firearms to school is frowned upon. At least it is in my country, I can't speak for anywhere else. I also haven't ever seen either biting or stinkbombs advocated as an optimal fighting strategy for humans. Yes there are. There is a reason not all wars consist of total nuclear obliteration in the opening day of conflict. There is also a reason why comparatively few physical conflicts between individuals, including individuals confined to schoolyards, are fights to the death.
0Decius8y"environments where physical aggression is socially advantageous" are frowned upon as well. If the people who frown upon violence in the school don't take effective measures to address moderate violence, then they might take effective measures to address serious violence. I think we might be talking about different things; I'm not addressing social posturing. I'm addressing things which would be felonies and treated as such if done openly by one adult to another: If someone punches me in the stomach and demands cash or he will do it again, why should age or the amount of money involved be deciding? Fights are to lesser stakes than annihilation because the outcome is typically less important than existence to both parties. I'm not sure why the minimum required deterrent is better than the maximum possible deterrent. That said, using weapons that are less likely to attract as much attention from an incompetent school administration while still being sufficient have a cost advantage. I suggest things which are also legitimate educational supplies, like metal or metal-edged rulers, if low-social-cost weapons are desired. As with any weapon, learn to use it effectively before you use it.
3wedrifid8yThat is as it should be. But you do not fix this problem by crippling the victims and still not giving them a way out. Those things certainly should be illegal and treated as such. Authorities who control such environments and who permit such behaviour are collectively evil. But it is also abhorrent to me to cripple the victims with idealistic morality that doesn't work in the world in which they live.
0Decius8yYou're trying to change the world so as to make one person not be bullied. I'm trying to change the world such that fewer people are bullied. It bothers me a little bit that our responses both make sense in context but are so different.
3Emile8yIs it? I agree it's probably not the best, but is it worse than having the kid learn that he sucks, that the world is a nasty, unfair place, and that there's nothing he can do about it?
0Decius8yI'll grant that in some cases it might be superior to no intervention, or to teaching acceptance.
-2Decius8ySo, do you advocate Ender's solution?
5James_Miller8yThankfully, bullying has not been a problem for him.
0pragmatist8yMy model says that "being punched by bullies" is much less likely to be a problem faced by smart/nerdy kids going to public school in and around Northampton, MA than it is in most other parts of the United States. I say this as someone who didn't go to elementary or middle school in America but who is pretty familiar with the demographics of the Northampton area (I went to college/lived in nearby Amherst for four years). ETA: On further consideration, this comment is a little pointless and non-responsive to the interesting issues raised in the parent comment. I'm retracting it.
-4Eugine_Nier8yOk, frankly the most charitable reading I can make of your comment is that you have no idea what typical social iterations in public schools are like [].
5Desrtopa8yI went to public school, I tutor kids from a selection of of public schools, all of my best friends were nerds in public school, and besides which, I read that article before I even started to participate on Less Wrong. If that's the most charitable reading you can take, I think you're either not making an effort, or you have an emotional investment in this issue which you're unable to separate yourself from.
1NancyLebovitz8ySometimes it's a euphemism for getting bullied (a good bit of bullying is emotional rather than physical attacks), sometimes it isn't. In any case, homeschooling parents frequently make efforts for their kids to have a social life, and this can work very well.
4coffeespoons8yIt strikes me that very little has been said about the costs to the parents of homeschooling. Even if homeschoolers only spend a few hours a week teaching their children (and that assumes the children are motivated enough to teach themselves the rest), they still have to make sure someone is in the house with the children all the time, which requires either career sacrifices (unless they can work from home), or probably more money than private school would cost (childminders are very expensive). Also, I'm not convinced that even the average gifted child would be motivated enough to learn everything they need by themselves. I expect that the total time a homeschooler would end up spending would be substantially more than a few hours per week, which would again require major career sacrifices. Finally, it can be very draining for a lot of parents to be around their children all the time. Often parents find having jobs outside the home to be a welcome break from childcare.
2Vaniver8yIndeed. But the primary reason I haven't mentioned the costs when recommending homeschooling is because the costs are nearer to James_Miller than the benefits. If he's going to overestimate the costs or benefits of homeschooling, it's more likely that he'll overestimate the costs- and so it makes sense to focus on the the benefits. It also works as a door-in-the-face []: well, if you aren't willing to devote full-time employment to your child's education, then surely private school is a bargain?

Honestly, my "strategy" was "make hilarious amounts of trouble, eventually get sent to a private school where I was actually challenged."

Between the lack of challenge and the lack of socialization (I do hope he has friends, but if he doesn't he's going to have social problems for a long time (generalizing from my one example)), moving to a private school was the best thing that happened to me.

This seems like a story of many gifted children. I was a teacher at a school for gifted children, and a frequent story of how the parents discovered their children were gifted was something like this:

"The child was originally in a school for muggles which was so boring the child couldn't focus on lessons, and started making trouble. Teachers suspected the child cannot pay attention because of mental retardation (!!!) and sent the child to a psychologist. The psychologist gave the child an IQ test, concluded that it's actually Mensa-level smart, and told it to parents, who then used google or some other source to find the school for the gifted children."

Another random data point: Spending hours listening to boring stuff is something I cannot do even today, as an adult. Every meeting feels like a torture. Or if the meeting is longer than an hour, I sometimes fall asleep, which caused some trouble in one of my previous jobs (the managers insisted on having 90-minutes meetings every month, where they spent the first hour repeating the very same basic company strategy, only at the end getting to the new stuff). A child is expected to do similar stuff for 6 or more hours a day. I would go insane. Of course the usual coping strategy is to do something else to keep yourself awake, the main difference being what specific things one chooses to do.

8CronoDAS8yMy first grade teacher refused to believe I was gifted until the principal showed her my standardized test results at the end of the year. (I eventually ended up in special education because of behavior problems. Ugh.)
6NancyLebovitz8yI made a little trouble, but mostly I found ways of killing time. (Drawing a tesseract in 4 point perspective is educational the first few times, doing it again and again is not. And most of my doodles weren't quite that cool.) Killing time is a bad habit I've still got.
-3James_Miller8yMy counter strategy for him trying to do this: no video games!

I'd add another call for caution with this approach. This got longer than I meant; the short version is: beware of getting in to an arms race with smart people, particularly ones you love, because one or other of you will lose.

A bright child will be able to out-manoeuvre you in areas where they are motivated and you are not. If not now, soon. Think about it: there will already be things they are better at than you. (Some of those games, for instance.) Better not to rely long-term on a strategy that only works if you are able to continue to out-think them.

To spell it out, the risk is motivating him to avoid you learning about his behaviour, rather than motivating him to avoid the behaviour.

That was my experience as a child. Between about 11 and 16, I hung out with a bunch of troublemakers, but was regularly able to evade almost all the negative authority-imposed consequences their actions led to, largely by being much better at subterfuge than the others in the group. (The others in the group were among the least bright in the cohort.) My parents were both smart - but I knew more about what I was up to than they did, and was much more motivated in practice to avoid punishment than ... (read more)

My counter strategy for him trying to do this: no video games!

This strategy seems optimal for achieving the goal of maintaining your personal social dominance and in signalling your affiliation with the authority figures that the child chooses to defect against. Depending on just how gifted and resourceful the child is it may or may not result in the child optimising around you in the same way that they would optimise around any other part of the problem.


Okay, so. I really can't say very much, between Generalizing From One Example and not knowing anything about specific circumstances.

I am going to say that there exists a certain kind of intelligent child who will see what you are doing, resent you for it, and initiate a downward spiral that leads to a rather unpleasant relationship going into adulthood.

Not saying that this is an example, but ... be a little careful.

When I was in the third grade in suburban Massachusetts, I was bored in class. Somehow it was arranged that an MIT student (can't remember if grad or undergrad) would come chat with me periodically, I think for an hour or two a week. This was wonderful and he suggested all sorts of books and suchlike and explained what a derivative was.

I gather you're in the Pioneer valley. You might see if any of the college students around would like to spend time interacting with your young'n.

I drew a lot. My friends were always telling me what to draw. I still think very visually, and it feels very useful. Related to this I also learned the important skills of pretending to listen and hiding what I'm actually doing.

0Emile8ySame here, I'd draw a lot.

I think the common cause of boredom among bright students in public school might be that the class performs drills on skills which the student in question has already mastered.

Are you already ambidextrous? On assignments that are simply repeating the same content, try doing the work with your off-hand. For repetitive lectures, try taking notes with your off-hand.

5Luke_A_Somers8yIn some cases, it was performing drills at all whether I'd mastered it or not. 3rd grade is multiplication tables territory. That's deadly boring even when you haven't mastered it yet. And it's one of the few times I really would advise just sucking it up and memorizing the danged thing. Of course, it's not so bad if you realize that there are only 15 'hard' one-digit multiplication problems - those without either factor being 0, 1, 2, 5, or 9 (there are only 15 combinations of 3, 4, 6, 7, and 8, which require more than one simple step + one trivial step) This is also a good time to introduce a variable x, when talking about the different shortcuts. Like, 9 x = 10 x - x. My daughter gets the idea of that at 7.
5buybuydandavis8yNot for me. I got into a competition with the other smarty pantses in the class to see who could get passed to 12x12 first. We all stayed after school one day in a round robin competition being quizzed by the teacher.
3ChristianKl8yI would advice to play some computer gain that trains multiplication. If you approach the problem in a gamified manner it's not boring and you will likely learn it faster.
0Decius8yI'd refine that- find/create a software toy that employs skinner-box methods to reward increasing skill at (withbout loss of generality) multiplying.
0Decius8yRather than memorize how to multiply a small number of permutations of numbers, learn in the general case how to multiply small numbers quickly. Few people who memorized the 12x12 grid and then moved on can quickly say that 13 times 7 is (70+21=91). Caching the products of small factors will develop naturally as a result of training the general skill.
1Luke_A_Somers8ySplitting 13 7 into (10+3)7 is very much the kind of thinking as using the 'easy' multiplication problems like 9X. The idea was to focus on showing how addition and multiplication fit together. But if there's an 'easy' way to get 3*7, shorter than 7+7+7 and less brute-force than memorizing it, please do tell!
0Decius8yI think that 7+7+7 is short enough, with enough general arithmetic skills. Probably the best drill for that is keeping a running total at a external pace; that will take a long time to get boring if the total is something you care about. If 7+7+7 requires paper and 'carry the one' twice, then the problem isn't with multiplication, the problem is with addition. At the very least, everyone should be able to find the difference between two numbers when the difference is four digits or less, in their head, in the time it takes to receive change. People good at math should be able to add small amounts so that the change contains fewer coins. That particular practical requirement doesn't require being able to multiply 7 by 3.
0Luke_A_Somers8yThere's a large gap between 'fast enough to be a decent substitute for a LUT' and 'needs paper'. There's no doubt that one needs to be ABLE to add 7+7+7, but I don't think that each repetition on the path to memorizing 3*7=21 needs to involve it.
0Decius8yDoes it take longer to ad 7+7+7 than to say "Seven times three is twenty-one" and "three times seven is twenty-one"?
0BlazeOrangeDeer8yif you have to memorize 3x7 and 7x3 separately, you're doing it wrong
0Decius8yReally? Which one is in the standard form? How long does it take to convert the other into standard form, as opposed to doing the multiplication?
3James_Miller8yHe says he is willing to try this. Thanks!

Unconventional advice for an 8 year old. Distinct from advice for a parent.

Study humans and take notes on their behavior, because when you are older it may be hard to understand what it was like to be a kid.

Recognize strengths in others that surprise you. One of the ones that eluded this 31 year-old for 29 years is that interest in a subject is a variable that you are capable of controlling, and helps a lot with being good at a subject.

Teach others, and give others an opportunity to teach, because that is a social skill that will provide value in the setti... (read more)

This seems obvious but no one said it so i will:

Skip ahead some grades? (only for the classes he's bored in).

2Desrtopa8yEight years old is typically third grade, unless he's already skipped grades, a point at which public school students generally have only one teacher for all their subjects, meaning he probably does not have the option of skipping grades in some classes but not others.
2CAE_Jones8yWhere I went to school, we started having multiple teachers in first grade, but in a much more limited sense than in Junior High/High school; it was basically one primary teacher, with a small amount of time for up to two other teachers. I'm actually having trouble remembering if which was a daily thing; I know that I actually missed most of third grade science because that class was with a different teacher, and I was doing blind people stuff during that time (somehow I didn't even notice until most of the way through the school year, since I brought home a different science book from the library every week just because I wanted to). However, I wouldn't be surprised if this is not the norm; my VI teacher talked about her colleagues warning her that I'd start needing to travel between multiple classes, which left both of us kinda confused, but implies that most elementary schools don't do it that way. Even at mine, though, I'm not sure that the schedules between grades really lined up well enough for mixing it up to work very well.

There's the Davidson Academy.

If he hasn't learned algebra yet, get him DragonBox; I'd be curious to learn whether he prefers explicit instruction.

3James_Miller8yHe is in Davidson Academy and finished DragonBox. He is fine with either type of instruction.

I'll brainstorm suggestions, then.

  • Ask him if there's a language he'd like to learn. If there is, provide him materials to learn the basics (grammar, alphabet, fundamentals) and promise to send him to a language school that immerses you for x months during a break.

  • Ask him if he'd like tutored instruction in a subject; if he would, then, as others suggest, enslave a grad student.

  • Gift him a "Learn X the Hard Way" book. Alternatives include Real Python; I don't know what else they include.

  • Ask him if he has any life goals. If they are scientific in origin, take the goals seriously, lay out some milestones that might help in achieving them, and utilise Davidson's resources for all they're worth (including people).

  • Ask if he'd like to learn an instrument and/or how to sing, with instruction in music theory being another option. Accommodate.

  • Ask if he'd like to learn a martial art, and if he has any preferences. You could ask him this after taking him to a demonstration of the Shaolin Monks. If he has an interest in oriental languages, instruction in the language he's learning offers a practical immersive environment.

  • Have family writing competitions - everyone w

... (read more)
7Kaj_Sotala8yOf course, at age 8, he is unlikely to have very realistic life goals (if any) - and settling too strongly on any goal you have at that age may even be harmful, since it will be based on rather limited information. That said, it would be useful to have some driving goal in one's life. Meta-goals such as "I should learn things as broadly as possible, so that I will be in a position to do whatever I want when I do figure out my real life goals" are probably the most useful at this point, if he can be made excited about them. Having him read What You'll Wish You'd Have Known [] may help with that.
2James_Miller8yThanks! He doesn't attend the Davidson school, but is a member of the organization.
2Zaine8yHope it helps! Does that mean he has access to Academy resources, and could attend should he wish it?
2James_Miller8yYes for the resources, but we live too far away for him to attend in person.

I remember my teacher would give me special assignments. Everyone in the class would have to turn in small book reports to showcase our reading and writing skills, but my teacher would assign me more challenging (and interesting!) books, both fiction and nonfiction. He would ask me to answer more challenging and complex questions in my reports. This probably depends on the personality of his teacher, but s/he might have taught children like your son before, and have some ideas for keeping him engaged.

For me, reading was the best coping strategy, with ... (read more)

[-][anonymous]8y 6

I also went to a suburban public school. I coped with the boredom by reading.

My boredom turned into frustration, though. Boredom still allowed me the freedom to learn more advanced material, whereas frustration turned school into a terrible experience.

If your son expresses any interest in skipping grades, do it sooner, rather than later.

7Baughn8yStrongly seconded. Hell, tell him it's an option; he won't automatically know. As a child, I was offered the opportunity to skip a grade. I decided not to, on the basis that (my parents claimed) it would cause my socialization to suffer. It's questionable to what degree that was really my decision, but regardless... Of course it later turned out that, in fact, I was still bored. And socialization? Well, you don't actually learn that from your peers; you learn it from those older than yourself, so skipping a grade or two would actually help. Don't make that mistake - and report back, this is still an anecdote. Another thing you can do is hire a tutor. PhD students are usually good for this kind of cheap labor.
0[anonymous]8yGood point on telling him it's an option. in elementary school, I only became aware of grade skipping when I encountered a student who had done so. I had a similar experience. Apparently, I was offered the choice to skip a grade, but my parents decided (without involving me in the discussion) that it would hurt my social growth. This was irksome to find out. Their concerns were valid - I didn't connect well with my peers - but skipping a grade actually would have helped. In the end, the friends who drew me out of my shell, and had the greatest positive impact on me, were all two or three years older.
[-][anonymous]8y 6

Back in that grade I got my hands on a Math book for a higher grade, and studied that whenever I had nothing better to do. By the time I started high school I was several years ahead in that subject. I'd recommend trying it, but it is a bit of a mixed blessing; on one hand its something productive to do, but on the other it only means he'd be more bored in later math classes.

It also depends a lot on the school and the teacher. If the teacher is one of those who actually cares about helping children, he or she may have some suggestions to offer, and having the teacher on board with the child doing something a little different in classes were he is ahead makes it a lot easier.

9roystgnr8y"Get your hands on a more advanced text" has worked fantastically in my life. I ripped through self-directed math workbooks during elementary school and used math textbooks during summers. By the time I was 8 they just had me go to an upper grade's classroom for that subject; later I'd get a ride to a nearby middle school; likewise for taking high school math classes in middle school and college math classes in high school. If I'd just had to suffer through reruns of everything I'd already learned it might have been awful, but the combination of me studying ahead and my father working the public schools' bureaucracy was invaluable. I probably wasn't emotionally ready to skip a grade entirely, but thanks to a school system that was relatively conducive to individualized learning I still managed to skip ahead in the subjects I was best at. And for that matter, the one time I did have to relearn the same thing twice, that worked out pretty well too. One of my favorite high school teachers knew I was doing college-level math and had watched me excel in her chemistry class, so when I subsequently got assigned to her physics class she just gave me her old college textbook and let me study on my own. This basically saved my scholarship when I finally got to college. My "sign up for the hardest classes I can get into" strategy didn't work as well at an elite private college as it had at a slightly-above-average public high school, and earning an easy A+ in an accelerated physics class kept my overall GPA from dropping below 3.0 while I struggled to adjust to the sudden necessity of actually studying and working hard to learn.

I used to read a lot in class, and the teachers didn't care because they were focused on teaching students that needed more help. I had a calculator I played with, and found things like 1111^2 = 1234321, and tried to understand these patterns. I discovered the Collatz Conjecture this way, began to learn about exponential functions, etc.

I also learned to draw probability trees from an explanation of the Monty Hall problem I read once, and I think learning that at a young age helped Bayesianism feel intuitive later on, and it was a fun thing to learn.

Second the Anki recommendation, but I'm not sure it's the most fun thing.

Writing fiction was something I enjoyed too, and improved my communication skills.

My parents stopped me from skipping a grade, and apart from a few math tricks, we didn't work on additional material at home. I fell into a trap of "minimum effort for maximum grade," and got really good at guessing the teacher's password. The story didn't change until graduate school, when I was unable to meet the minimum requirements without working, and that eventually led me to seek out fun challenges on my own.

I now have a young son of my own, and will not make the same mistake. I'm going to make sure he expects to fail sometimes, and that I praise his efforts to go beyond what's required. No idea if it will work.

Books, books, books (judiciously chosen, of course). Let him have his own all-you-can-read buffet at home.

I didn't get into a top-tier school until late high school, and it cost me dearly in lost opportunities later on. However you decide to handle your son's education, keep him challenged for as long as you can. If you are not into home-schooling (it is quite taxing on a parent), consider hiring a tutor or two. Grad students are cheap and would frequently give a discount or even do it for free for the sheer enjoyment of talking to a smart kid for a change.

4John_Maxwell8yI'm curious why you feel this.
6Kaj_Sotala8yMy guess: The Curse of the Gifted [], and not being forced to learn self-discipline until a time when it was very expensive to learn.
0[anonymous]8yNo, that wasn't it. I finished my undergrad in the top 3 out of 120 or so graduating students in my department, and I did work for it, never skipped a class or missed an assignment, not without a very good reason, anyway.
0buybuydandavis8yI was thinking tutor as well. Maybe find other home schoolers to share the burden? The parents could trade off days, and a few smart kids together could learn from and challenge each other. I responded to competition from other smart kids.

Is there any option to make him "jump" to next year ? That's what I did in primary school, when I was getting too bored, my parents and teacher just "jumped" me to the next year, and it worked quite well.

Edit : well it has a lot of pros and some cons, if you care I can elaborate, but it's evidence from an individual case which isn't very reliable so...

3Baughn8yWhat, in your opinion, are the cons? (I had the option of skipping a grade or two; I "chose" not to. I'm pretty sure this was a mistake, but I'd like to hear the other side.)
4TrE8yI skipped a year while I was in the first school year, and I was heavily bullied for the rest of grade school. My interpersonal skills definitely suffered, or rather, developed only slowly and in the wrong direction. In case you're wondering, academically I performed fine.
2kilobug8yBeing younger than the others can be a problem, from bullying (I never was badly bullied, but still a bit) to some emotional maturity problems. To make the things worse, I was even 2 years younger, not just one... that does lead to some little problems when you're 10-11 and still emotionally a child and are with schoolmates who are 12-13 and entering puberty. But overall, I don't regret it.

I became a trouble-maker. By the fifth grade I was doing advanced math self-study in a corner and hanging out with the class hoodlum, smoking pot at recess. The teachers feared me because I saw through their constructs. I was easily the best speller in school, but I used to intentionally spell words wrong in spelling bees just to spite them. I guess I've always been a villain.

1James_Miller8yThanks for the warning.

I was lucky, was put into a class that corresponded to about the top 2% of a suburban population, probably about as filtering as the 30 or so best colleges. Put in that class starting in 3rd grade. It was such that I actually did OK in 3rd, had a VERY hard time in 4th grade (too hard, too much work), but emerged in 5th grade as in the top 25% or so of this very filtered class.

Many of my friends homeschool, more at younger ages than older. Often high schools have enough stratification in classes offered that a smart kid can merge back in taking APs and so on.

Resources for home schooling have never been better than they are now.

Well, we're still waiting on that proof of the Riemann Hypothesis.

Seriously however, how about introducing him to the Collatz Conjecture? Something to mull over when the vanilla work is finished. And given his interests, he'll no doubt think of multiple ways of attacking the problem. I saw chess, computers and videogames listed as interests, so he perhaps he could try writing a chess engine from scratch. Design the algorithms in class and code them at home.

These suggestions might be a little advanced for eight years old, but I expect the boredom problem will get worse over time.

While he doesn't have a proof of the Riemann Hypothesis, after reading your comment he immediately told me what the Collatz Conjecture was.

5Kaj_Sotala8yHas he read the Sequences yet?
0James_Miller8yNot yet.

What is he interested in?

6James_Miller8yVideo games (especially Minecraft), computers, math, reading (all types), art, chess, origami, and strategy games.
7Decius8yGet him a copy of a tabletop role-playing game, a notebook for writing down campaign ideas, a couple of people willing to include him in their group as a part-time DM, and (importantly) an understanding from the teacher that when he is sufficiently done with the classwork, his time is his so long as he isn't disrupting other students.
0polymathwannabe8yHave him learn Go. It's not only a game; it forces you to examine your thinking patterns, review your expectations, and meta-model other people's model of your mind. It's a tremendous booster.
0James_Miller8yI have. Unfortunately, I enjoy the game far more than he does.

Encourage creative projects, which build skill and accomplishment, and create opportunities to meet people who share common interests.

I hated school when I was 8. But I loved it whenever we traveled for a vacation. Meeting new people, seeing new things, eating new food, dropping out of my regular social circle... I enjoyed all of that the most in any given year. So, travel a lot. Museums and tourists spots of course. But also go to out of the way places. Visit new countries, if you can afford it. Maybe poorer countries as well, with significantly different lifestyles. Maybe show him religious places (I'm sure you're not religious) or take him on a pilgrimage just to see how much religion... (read more)


Read everything, even if you don't understand it. Read the words and symbols until that item is boring, them read another. At this stage, it barely even matters what you are reading. There is no teacher that can show you everything that there is to know, but strong reading skills will help you discover anything.

2James_Miller8yHe reads a lot. He literally started at age 1.
0Jayson_Virissimo8yMy son is 8 months old. I point to each word as I read them to him, but that's about it. Is there anything else I should be doing?
5shminux8yIt's pointless to rush it. He will get interested in reading when he is ready. Remember that most people are nothing like Bean or HJPEV. At this point you are way out of his zone of proximal development []. Pointing out words to him is as useful as showing him the equations of particle physics or a score of the Magic Flute: it's way beyond his comprehension. Imagine instead blocks with letters he can play with, which make sounds when he touches them. This is much closer to what he can comprehend. Imagine further that these blocks can be stuck together and that touching these block trains results in the syllables they make being vocalized. An so on, until words and sentences can be constructed. I suspect that toys like that already exist out there. Unfortunately, written English is extremely anti-phonetic, so the reading barrier might be lower if your native tongue is Spanish or something.
2James_Miller8yNo, genetics almost certainly played a huge role in his reading this early. We didn't intend for him to start reading at 1.

When I got to 5th grade, my parents homeschooled me, because I got into trouble all the time at school, complained loudly all the time about how much I hated it, and all my teachers would tell my parents "That kid just really doesn't like school." I didn't have nearly the dedication to teach myself, and my parents could only devote so much time to teaching me, but the standards to which the school district held me were ridiculously low. When I resumed normal schooling in 9th grade, the only subject I was behind in was the formal study of grammar... (read more)

[-][anonymous]8y 0

My coping strategy was to cause large amounts of disruptive trouble, generally go my own way and not pay attention, and then when I learned to read in grade 5, read books about physics and whatnot (I wish I'd found better books).

The best thing that could have happened to me at that age was a good mentor to build stuff with me and point out what I didn't know, a wider variety of better books, and a computer programming environment.

I guess the weakness of the above is that it doesn't build skill. Foundational skills and knowledge (socializing, reading, writi... (read more)