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What’s the Difference?

I know, as a parent, that I’m not supposed to compare my children.  But something just happened that is absolutely remarkable, so I’m going to bend that rule just a tad.

Girlie Bear just came home with her first official progress report from her freshman year of high school.  She got 4 A’s, 1 A-, and 2 B’s, and all of her classes except for JROTC and Choir are in the “Advanced” college prep track.  She called me when she got home and was ecstatic about the grades, and actually had reasons for why the B’s weren’t A’s.  I, of course, reassured her that a B was entirely acceptable, but if she wanted to work to an A, I wouldn’t complain.

In comparison, at this point in his freshman year, Junior, who went to the same school and took the same classes from a lot of the same teachers, had one A (Band), 1 C, four D’s, and a couple of U’s, which is modern educational jargon for what we used to call an “F”.  The rational discussion I tried to start over what went wrong and what he was going to do to rectify the situation pretty much degenerated into one of those arguments that’s spoken of in hushed tones at family reunions after everyone has had a decade or so to cool off. 

Junior is very bright, as is his sister.  Girlie Bear has grown up here in Kentucky surrounded by college educated people who thought that getting a good education was the most important thing a young person can do.  Junior spent his educational years, up until his freshman year of high school, going to excellent schools in California with his mom and step-dad, both of whom are college educated and also value learning.  When he moved here to live with us and go to high school, he was in the same situation that Girlie Bear and Little Bear had grown up in.

So what is the difference? 

Junior was identified early in his life as one of the smart ones, but never seemed to polish talent with hard work.  He was one of those who didn’t do homework or participate in class, but could do OK to well on tests.  His teachers in California did him no favors by putting up with this, because when he reached middle and high school, the habit of hard work just wasn’t there.  When being smart wasn’t enough, and he was expected to also put in the hours and show product, he failed.  To a large part, I blame myself, if for no other reason than the fact that I, as his father, should have been more forceful in his younger years to get him held back until he matured enough to handle both being intelligent and doing the work.

Girlie Bear, on the other hand, has never had anyone tell her that she’s the smartest girl in the room.  Of course, I praise her when she does well, and I reward success as much as I try to motivate after failure, but we never blew sunshine up her skirt and as far as I know, neither did her teachers.  She learned early that if she wanted to succeed, she had to work hard at it, and the habits stuck.  It took one summer of giving up two days a week to go to math tutoring to convince her that it was easier to learn the first time.

The two have a much different attitude toward life.  If anything, Girlie Bear is too hard on herself.  If she comes home with a C on an assignment or test, we have to talk to her about how much she worked on it, and convince her that if she put forward her best effort, we were satisfied with the grade.  She still looks at each A she gets as manna from heaven, even if she busted her tail to get it.   Junior, on the other hand, looked at top marks as his birthright, and lower grades were blown off as “not his fault” or were because he “wasn’t interested” in the subject. 

Now, will the grades on a six week report card when they were 14 mean much in the long run?  Honestly no.  Unless Girlie Bear becomes a mathematician, she won’t use a lot of what she learns in Geometry.  The same goes for her other subjects.  But the habit of working hard and wanting to earn each and every thing she has will help her in life.  Junior is still struggling to learn that lesson, but he will eventually come around to it.  It’s just easier to do when you’re still sheltered by your parents and school.  Doing it when you and you alone are on the hook for food and shelter is much harder.

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  1. MaddMedic

     /  October 12, 2012

    Same issue. My eldest is bright. School Administration even told us he was. His IQ tests were remarkable. But he hated school and struggled within the system. He finished his senior year in Alternative Learning and graduated early..
    Now no desire at all and is stumbling through life. It hurts a lot and whenever we try to talk about it, going to trade school or such….Not good.
    Our youngest? Works his butt off. Knows what he needs to do and has goals and his future planned. Sports Medicine…
    Why are they so different?
    If anyone ever figures it out..
    I hear you and know how fun it can be…or not..


  2. Just between the two- if I were picking a crew to do a crappy job- I’d pick girly-bear.
    Not because she can *do* a manual-physically hard job- but to show that a *girl* can out work a south San mexican..because she shows-up and listens to the guys who are telling her how to do the job easier.


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