12 July 2009

Gold Stars Ruined My Life

Growing up and in school I lived for the gold stars, the A+, the special awards, telling me how well I had done. When I got a different color star, I believed I had not done well enough. When I got a B, I knew I had not done good enough. If I got a C, I was heart broken. I knew a C meant average, and my mother had always told me I was so much more than average. My early school teachers had talked of my great potential.
And then I graduated, and real life began. No where was there anyone to give me my grade, to give me my gold star, to hand me my special award. I began to flounder. I bounced from one job to another, always excelling, but still not achieving the elusive gold star. Little did I know that gold stars do not exist in the real world, nor did I realize that the gold star was what I was looking for, what I was missing.
When I started homeschooling I tried to recreate what I thought were important parts of school, but in a way that suited my daughters learning style and activity level. Mind you, I did not even know about learning styles then, and speak only of the way I saw her learn best. We had workbooks, and would sit down at the kitchen table to do them. I would teach the lesson, and then work around the kitchen while she completed the assignment. I even drew out worksheets for her, when money was too tight to buy more worksheets. When I graded, I only gave her As. If there was anything she had done wrong, I put a pencil check by it. We went through the part of the lesson she didn't understand, and then I gave her the chance to redo it. Once it was correct, I erased the pencil mark and gave her an A. 
I started reading every book I could find on homeschooling. I ordered in books that the library didn't carry. Then I started reading everything I could find on how children learn, and teaching techniques. I read books that explained that reward systems could back fire as the child grew, because a low grade could make them feel not good enough, hence lowering their self esteem.
I had no intention of making my daughter feel like she was not good enough, and that was what grades and stars had done to me. So instead of grades, I starred all of her papers, and made sure that she knew that the color was not important. I would even let her pick the color of the pen I used. Maybe it was silly, but it was the best I knew at that time.



Later I learned what unschooling is, and learned how reward systems can set up a behavior pattern of doing things to please others, accomplishing their standards, and not allow for the child to learn their own innate ability to establish standards and limits for themselves. 
I did away with the stars at that point. I sat down and talked to my daughter about taking away the stars. I told her that she was the most important judge of her own work. I told her that my opinion was just that, and it was no more valid than hers. We talked about how rules and boundaries were put into place to protect her and keep her from getting hurt. We talked about how as an adult I often knew more than her about certain subjects, and she would learn them as she grew. It was a struggle initially. My daughter became confused about whether I really liked something she had done. She was insecure that anything she did was really good enough. I didn't know how to praise her without judging her, and was unsure what to do. This was a new way of doing things for both of us. I did the only thing I did know how to do, and that was love her, encourage her, and hug her.
Somewhere along the way we worked it out. She became the judge of her own work. Unfortunately there were other adults who did not understand, and they did judge her. They told her that she should listen to them because they were adults, and all adults knew better than her. This adult influence outside of the house just didn't understand how she could be learning, and so my journey to help my family learn about homeschooling began.
The influence in my house was the worst. This was where the emotional abuse began to affect us, in the middle of our insecurities of trying new things. We didn't even know to call it emotional abuse for another ten years, and my children and I are only now beginning to find ourselves again. The man who abused us emotionally never did it knowingly. I am not even sure he ever saw what his words and actions did to us. After all, the man was my husband who loves me, and loves our children... when he did finally seek help from the VA for his time spent in Desert Storm, things started to change. His counselor pointed out what he was doing to me and the children, and my husband was horrified. He left the house at that point, while continuing to support us to see if we could make things better...and that story is still writing itself.
I did not mean to write about the emotional abuse of my family in this post, but it is an integral part of my story. You see, it is only in the last year that I have come to realize that I found the gold star in my life within that emotional abuse. To always have my husband's approval, to know if I was good enough, that was something he gave me. Now, as I heal from the abuse, and learn to stand on my own two feet again, I realize that I am not getting anywhere because I am still looking for the gold star. I am still searching for the answer to how well am I doing, what grade did I get, and I am looking outside of myself to find it. 
Now that I have seen this so clearly, maybe I can start looking inside of myself for the answers. Maybe I can finally let go of the gold stars, and see the true value of who I am, not how well I can do.

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