How Housekeeping is like Advanced Math

Photo by Minibe09

On the heels of my little cleaning freak-out the other day, yesterday I decided that I needed a new approach and a fresh perspective.   I would set a timer (a la Flylady) for 10 minutes, and 10 minutes only.  I’d give my full attention to picking up, cleaning up, and generally getting things done cheerfully for those 10 minutes, then I’d take a break.   I asked the kids if they would join me, and they were very willing (probably because I asked like a friendly mom instead of a crazy person).   We did our 10 minutes, and later did the same thing twice more.

That combined 30 minutes of cleaning was a million times more productive, and honestly more enjoyable, than my entire previous day of frustrated huffing and wandering around, picking up this and that, and overall spinning my wheels.  Why?  Because 1)  I was ready to do it, 2) I wanted to do it. 3) I was motivated to do it, and 4) I was willing to give it my full – positive – attention.

Really, isn’t everything like that?  How much more efficient, and productive, and useful is our time when we’re doing something that we willingly choose to do, that we’re personally invested in, and truly motivated to do?

It’s the same exact concept I learned 20 years ago in my advanced math class my senior year of high school.  I’ve written about that class before, but the short of it is that it was a class that made me all kinds of miserable.  A class that I wasn’t interested in.  A class that I felt I didn’t need (and I didn’t).  A class that I struggled with to the point of tears.  And after a l.o.t. of torture, frustration, and a fair amount of humiliation, I dropped it.  What I didn’t mention in my first re-telling is that before I could drop the class I had to be passing the class, which meant that I had a whole lot of make-up work to do.  I’d pretty much stopped doing my homework, for the simple reason that I didn’t understand my homework.

My teacher suggested perhaps having another student tutor me during a study hall, and in desperation I took her up on it.  Pete was a straight A student, and was one of those people, like my husband, who finds math – even in its advanced varieties – easy and fun.  He patiently sat with me during one study hall, and went through the work point by point.  And for the first time, it made sense to me.  For the first time, I actually saw a glimpse (though a teeny one) of what math-inclined people find so cool about all those numbers and formulas.

I learned more in that one 45 minute tutuoring session than I had all semester.

And it wasn’t because he was a better teacher than the teacher.  It was because I was ready to learn it.  I wanted to learn it.  I was personally motivated to learn it.  For a myriad of reasons, I needed not to be in that class anymore.  In order to do that, I had to finally learn what I’d resisted learning for most of the semester.   Once I had that motivation, the learning came quickly and relatively easily.

The same is true for learning anything, and is a big factor in why I unschool.  The only time we truly learn something is when it “arise(s) out of the experience, interest, and concerns of the learner.” (John Holt)  The rest of the time?  The times when we’re daydreaming sitting through classes that don’t interest us or are not meaningful to us, or wandering around our house pretending to clean when our minds are clearly somewhere else?    We’re wasting our time.

I recently learned that the teacher of that math class has since passed away.  I was genuinely sad to hear it.  Like any good teacher, she wanted to me to do better, and try harder, and live up to my own potential.  I think I’m finally doing that.  And as it turned out, I did learn a lot from that class.  It just didn’t happen to be about math.


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