My daughter sat on the family room couch, her ever-present phone alternating between her hand and a throw pillow. On the TV, Harry Potter was battling Voldemort for Hogwarts supremacy. The family dog lay at her feet as her eyeballs ping-ponged between the wide screen and the small screen.
“Aren’t you supposed to be studying?” I asked. The dog looked at me, then accusingly at her, as if to say, “Yeah, that’s what I thought.”
She muted the movie. “I am studying,” she said.
It was then I noticed the physics book on her lap. “How is that possible?”
“Dad, this is the way I study best,” she replied, taking a glance at her phone and composing a Snap. A tap on the remote returned Harry Potter to full volume. Several years ago, she received the Harry Potter box set DVD collection for Christmas. One of the eight movies is ALWAYS playing when she studies. Now, I need only hear one or two lines when I enter the room, and I can correctly guess which film she is watching and what stage of puberty Harry is experiencing.
“But, but…” I began before realizing I was about to dispute the study habits of a sophomore enrolled in, and succeeding in, a slew of honors and advanced placement courses; one who has already drawn interest from some Ivy League placement offices, and one who has never come home with a note of concern from any teacher, counselor or administrator. I left the room.
As I create this column, my office is void of any outside distractions. Years ago, my wife surprised me with an office TV, which, to her dismay, I rejected. It now resides in a guest room. I store more than 4,000 songs on my Mac but listen to none of them while writing. The dog is welcome, but knows she’ll be banished if she emits a single bark. Bottom line? My creativity and retention demand total silence. It was true in high school, true in college and remains true today.
Maybe that kid in the family room is adopted?
Seeking answers, I turned to my social media community, and a journalism newsgroup I subscribe to, asking other parents if their children excelled in school while a cacophony of outside noises and tech toys infiltrated their brains. The answers were quick, informative and, oftentimes, hilarious.
“When my son was taking high school biology and AP biology, he liked having me read the textbook to him,” said Lain Ehmann, an Arizona-based marketing strategist and copy expert. “I’d make it like a story, using different voices and inflections. I didn’t make specific characters; it was more like, ‘Once upon a time, a Golgi apparatus was told it had to process and bundle macromolecules…’”
I didn’t ask Ehmann how the adventure ended, for she lost me at “Golgi apparatus.” However, the story had a happy ending; her son is now majoring in biomedical computation at Stanford.
My Facebook friends, who often contribute to my columns, provided I promise to use only their first names, were happy to reminisce about their unorthodox homework techniques. Growing up in Ann Arbor, Mich., my college friend Bill revealed he could only study history while listening to 1970s music on a TEAC reel (Google it) and balancing on a Bongo Board (Google that too).
“As long as I got good grades, my parents didn’t care how I did it,” he wrote. “The Commodores’ Brick House never really caught on (with them), though.”
“I get the Harry Potter thing,” said Facebook friend Ashleigh. “In college, I would study for finals with Gilmore Girls on in the background. Mostly because I knew the show inside and out, and it could basically be white noise.”
My daughter agreed whole-heartedly with that theory. So, as she and Harry prep for finals, and I try to ward off a lingering case of writer’s block, I may put some of these suggestions into action. The Bongo Board could cause lasting damage, but I like the idea of writing along to a movie with a script I have memorized.
All my columns will now contain the addendum: “Written with the aid of Caddyshack."