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#605: How do I help my home-schooled brother get the education he should have had as a kid?

Dear Captain Awkward,

My siblings and I were all home-schooled, and we all turned out all right, finished school, have decent jobs…until tale-end Charlie was born twelve years after the rest of us. My parents decided to home-school Charlie (PUBLIC SCHOOL EVIL! DRUGS! GANGS! ROCK MUSIC!) except by then they were both tired of the time commitment and just…didn’t.

They kept Charlie home and didn’t teach him anything. Since they live in a state with zero government oversight (BECAUSE FREEDOM!) they got away with it. One of my other brothers taught Charlie to read when he was ten. I’m the oldest and I moved to another state when Charlie was seven, and moved out the house when he was four. I knew on one level things were slacking, but I was wrapped up in my life, finishing college, and getting the hell out of my hometown. I never spent very much time at home for various reasons I won’t get into, but my cousin would tell me Charlie doesn’t know this, or Charlie doesn’t know that so I’d talk to my parents and they always had a reason.

“We haven’t started the unit on that yet, that’s the next grade, we’re taking break for Nov/Dec because of all the holidays and we’ll start again in Jan, I just ordered this great new curriculum…”

I should have called the police on them years ago. But I didn’t. I still believed my parents could turn this around and teach Charlie like they taught the rest of us. I didn’t want to call the police on my own parents. But I should’ve. If I could go back in time I would.

Last fall, I had a heart-to-heart with Charlie via skype and his desires to join the military and Do Exciting Things do not at all jib with what he knows. Every time I asked him about school he’d say he was really studying hard, then (over skype) I got him to show me his ‘Math reviewing’. It was a third-grade adding-columns-of-numbers book like the dollar store sells. Which he couldn’t do because he didn’t know/had forgotten how carrying works. I flipped out on my parents, who promptly blamed everything on Charlie (who was deeply addicted to WoW and ‘wouldn’t study’, therefore it’s Charlies fault).

I live in another state so I started tutoring Charlie over Skype every second we were both home. We covered third and fourth grade math in three months. Charlie’s smart, he’s just *NEVER* had to study/take tests/learn how to push through frustration to comprehend information before. Right after he turned eighteen, he moved in with me and my wife. Using a hodge-podge of elementary school/middle school resources, we covered the basics up to sixth grade, and now he’s doing seventh grade work at a REAL, ACCREDITED, online middle school.

The problem: Charlie WILL NOT study/do school unless I sit at his elbow. My wife and I both work full-time. Charlie has a job with erratic hours at a cleaning service to pay for his car and insurance, so there’s no regular time we’re all home, and he’s got to cover five years of school. I want to send him to school, but since he’s eighteen he’d have to go to the alternative school in town and each grade takes a year to cover…and he couldn’t go past the age of twenty anyway. This is bullshit. I can’t hire a tutor, we don’t have the money. I would like to do other things besides stick to Charlie like a tick on my few hours off. (I work 4 12s and a 6).

I am so angry at my parents for allowing this to happen, and I’m so angry at Charlie for screwing off and ‘catching up on Netflix/assorted bullshit’ instead of studying and working through his classes. I can log onto the website and *see* he only spent twenty minutes on a lesson, when I know (because I rolled him out of bed at seven before I left) he doesn’t go in until noon). If he’d bust ass and do it, he could finish school in about two and a half years but I don’t know how to make him understand working at the cleaner is not a successful life-choice. He’s really good at faking knowledge to get by. He says he doesn’t like learning all this because it makes him ‘feel dumb’. His solution is to ignore all the things he doesn’t know instead of learn them. He has no interest in a trade (probably because my parents have always sneered at trade-schools). When asked, he claims he wants to join the military and be an infantry commander. I have explained the military does not want him with his lack of education, he says he understands, but he’s NOT TAKING THE STEPS TO FIX IT.

What do I do? How do I motivate an adult? I want my brother to have a shot at a decent life. But he won’t do school without me right there and that’s not going to work for the *years* this process is going to take.

Please help me.

This is slightly edited – I missed the detail where Charlie lives with the LW the first time and thought he was still living with the parents.

I am going to start with a moderation note because I’ve seen the shitshow of amateur debate shenanigans that happens when you mention the word “homeschooling” on the internet:

Successful homeschooling exists. The Letter Writer had it. It in no way looks like the above model of how “Charlie” was educated. If you are here to talk about why homeschooling is the best idea ever, how it worked for you, and soapbox in favor of it, I will delete your comment. If you are here to talk about why homeschooling is stupid and useless and shouldn’t be allowed, I will delete your comment. It can be right for certain kids. It can be abusive and neglectful for other kids. This is not Debate Club, and I don’t want to read your arguments or collect anecdata for an unwinnable argument (since we don’t have a time machine and can’t go back and get Charlie what he needed as a kid). Please keep your comments to the above  specific situation and focused on constructively, actively helping the LW and their brother. If your experiences apply to that end, like, you were neglectfully homeschooled and then got an education later, by all means, share them. But if you want to write extensively about the merits or evils of homeschooling, may I suggest your own blog.

Thank you. We now return to your regularly-scheduled programming.

Letter Writer, I suggest that you express to your parents how angry and worried you are. Use words like “criminal neglect.” Use words like “I think you failed him, and I feel guilty for not being around to pick up the slack, and terribly worried about his future. Is that a concern at all for you?” Ask them outright to pay for Charlie to go to school and for all of his educational needs.

Then I suggest that you offer yourself as a sounding board or tutor to Charlie when he wants it. “When you are ready to go to school, or study on your own, I am here for you.”

And then I suggest that you back the hell off for a while and focus on your own life, and drop all statements like “I don’t know how to make him understand working at the cleaner is not a successful life-choice.” He’s eighteen, he has a job, working at a cleaner is a job. Your family’s snobbery – toward public school, toward trade schools and trades (which I’m glad you realize is wack)- is one of the things that has y’all in this mess, I suggest you dismantle as much of it as you can for yourself. Keep having weekly Skype chats Brother Time. Don’t make all of your time together about tutoring/teaching him unless he wants to do that. It’s okay to make staying in school/completing school work regularly a condition of his continued living with you, but once you articulate that and create a structure to spend time with him that works for you, focus on having a relationship with your brother where you show him that you like him and aren’t just testing his ignorance or looking to fix or improve or parent him. That is, seriously and from the heart, your best chance in having him actually come to you when he is ready to buckle down. We avoid people who only want to fix us. If you see him as an ignorant failure, if you talk to him and about him like someone who is not living up to his potential, if you audit him for all the things he doesn’t know and can’t do, if you keep him as a living example of how your parents fucked up (and your anger at them for not sending you all to school-school), he will eventually delete you from his life in favor of people who are, well, nice to him. He doesn’t owe it to you to turn out a certain way.

Charlie may well drift for a while. He may fake it for a while. He may work jobs that you see as below his potential for a while. He will do this until he wants something different – like, to really join the military, for real, or to impress a romantic partner, or to get a promotion/better job/earn more money so he can get his own place, or just because it interests him. I know your worry, that it may be “too late” – too late for the alternative school that ends at 20, yes, probably/possibly. But eventually he will grab onto something that he wants to learn how to do. Or he will figure out other ways to be happy and other things that he values. The author of this book is that Canadian guy who said a bunch of dipshit things about teaching female authors in his classes, so, caveat emptor, but I think it’s a good read and is a good read for you specifically, right now. His bright, lazy son was struggling with school so they made an agreement: You can drop out, as long as you watch a movie with me every week and we talk about it. A list of movies can be a syllabus. Yes, you have to know some math. Yes, it’s embarrassing to not know certain facts. But there are a lot of ways to be educated, and many many functioning autodidacts have good jobs and careers doing stuff they like.

I teach beginning students at an open enrollment arts college, which means that I meet a lot of people who took nontraditional paths to get where they are. Returning veterans, including a senior citizen Vietnam vet who finally cashed in on the GI Bill benefits he was entitled to. Kids from struggling high schools that didn’t supply toilet paper or have a library. Kids from fancy suburban schools that had video programs for 14 year olds with fancier gear than the college has. Homeschooled kids (who do just fine/great). Foreign students who are doing college in their non-native language and doing it beautifully and blowing me away with their dedication and courage. I meet a lot of students who struggled, gradewise, in traditional school settings but who thrive when they apply themselves to making art. I meet a lot of students who were straight A students who struggle with creative expression, because, like, how do I make it perfect the first time? And I meet a lot of people who should not be in college. They don’t want to be there, they don’t know why they are there beyond “it was the logical next step” and “I think it will get me a good job” (this has become less and less true of late, have you noticed?) but they don’t have a real interest in anything. I also meet kids like Charlie, smart, lazy, shockingly ignorant in some areas, who wake up and learn to thrive by being challenged and having their asses consistently kicked by something that can’t be faked. There are a lot of ways to be smart, and a lot of paths to learning, and the students with great test scores and supportive families and the single, teen parents who stock shelves all night at Costco and then come to class in the morning all teach me more than I teach them. When he wants it, That Thing, whatever it is, it will be there for him.

Your parents failed Charlie, horribly, and believe me, I get why you are angry. And I admire your commitment to your brother. But you can’t re-parent him and if you try you will poison all that is good between you. Set up a weekly date to hang out, and don’t stop checking in with him or being close to him. And tell him, “Charlie, I really want you to try to go to school, and I want us to work together to push mom and dad to get you into that alternative program while you still qualify. I hope you can just trust me that opportunities will be better for you if you have a high school diploma. Whatever you decide, I am always here if you have questions about schoolwork or want ideas for stuff to read and watch and learn. But I don’t want our relationship to be just about that, and I don’t want to bug you and feel like I’m forcing you. You’re an adult, or about to be, so you let me know when you want to work, and otherwise we’ll just keep talking.” Offer the opportunity to work when you talk, but ask him if he wants it. “Do you want to work on some more math today, or just hang out?” Go with whatever he says, teach him that it’s up to him and that you will respect him either way.Then, ask him questions, like, how was your day? Do you like your job? Did you meet anyone cool there? Are you dating anyone? Find the stuff that he is smart and knowledgeable about. Be a big brother who loves him and sticks by him and encourages him.

Final note, on pedagogy, since you asked a teacher your question, and you’ve stumbled into two of my bugaboos, namely 1) Education is about more than getting a job someday 2) Seriously, why “be educated” unless there is some pleasure & personal fulfillment aspect to it? One problem in Charlie’s life right now, a real problem, is that middle school schoolwork is fucking boring as fuck. It was boring as fuck when I was in middle school and reading secretly* under my desk, and you could not pay me to redo that stuff now. Online courses can be great, if there is a lot of student-teacher attention and interaction, and the course materials are made by someone with basic design/videography skills, but it can also be very boring and hard to make yourself sit through. I’m taking a class on teaching & learning online through Coursera, and even though the videos are decently-produced and it’s a subject I actually care about, it’s still a struggle for me to get my ass in the chair to focus on something that feels dry and impersonal for a visual learner like myself.

One way to motivate Charlie as a learner is to plunge him into more advanced, age-appropriate material that he can read for pleasure. Middle school history texts and reading exercises, or Devil in the White City? A Distant Mirror? Bury My Heart At Wounded Knee? Guns, Germs, and Steel? Manhunt? There’s a lot of good stuff out there for someone who is interested in the military down the road, right? And I’m sure this commentariat can recommend more history books and popular science books for a Big Brother/Little Brother Book Club. The other thing I suggest is signing him up for in-person arts classes if possible:  theater, film, music, whatever. They have a social aspect to them, they involve doing and making, and he doesn’t have to become a professional artist or musician to benefit from learning something about them. Divorce yourself from the idea that he needs to “learn the basics first”, or somehow “earn” the pleasures of “difficult,” interesting books or creative arts. A kid who gets sucked into subject matter and a kid who is learning something as part of a community is a kid who will level up so fast you won’t even be able to see it.

 

*Not so secretly, since my 6th grade teacher started acquiring new books and placing them at my eye level on the shelf right next to my desk. <3

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313 comments
  1. Hey Captain, good answer, but I think you missed that Charlie is currently living with the LW and his wife? That doesn’t change the general tenor of the advice but does change some specifics.

    • JenniferP said:

      I did miss that, thanks!

  2. I did the thing of reading under the desk too, by the way. School was hellishly boring for many years, I was not being challenged at my own level. My teachers weren’t as cool, though, I got detentions and stuff rather than them buying more books.

    • JenniferP said:

      I got a lot of detentions, especially in junior high and high school, until my mom came down to the school and in an uncharacteristic act of support* said “Her grades are fine and she is not disrupting class, right? Either hold her attention, or let her do something that does.”

      *support of rebellion, not support Of Me. Mom is a rules-follower to the bone.

      • Actually my grades were lousy too for a while, but I managed to pull it out just before the results actually counted for anything (which is age 16 in Britain).

        I found my old school reports just recently:
        Kate aged 11 and 12: Painfully shy and quiet, might have a brain.
        Kate aged 13 and 14: Angry with everything, never does any work, deliberately sabotages stuff quietly, might get better grades if she put in any effort
        Kate aged 15: Starting to work, needs to keep it up to live up to her potential
        Kate aged 16: Holy shit she actually did it!

        This is apart from sport, where I got the same comments for all five years: Kate is terrible but keeps trying. :)

        • Emma said:

          Oh gosh, that could have been me. Except mine would have been:

          11 and 12: Painfully shy and quiet, but gets good grades. (More so in the classes where the teachers didn’t try to stop me reading under the desk).
          13, 14 and 15: Never does any work. Never talks to anyone or takes part. Doodles and writes angsty poetry instead of paying attention in class. When forced to talk, gets detention for being rude and swearing. And yet she gets good test scores??
          16: Didn’t attend school for six months, mock exam results were terrible, but still got a full complement of As and Bs at GCSE. And how?

          PE: Emma is terrible and refuses to even try.

          I actually once had a 6-months pregnant PE teacher get down on the floor and start doing pushups in front of me, during a detention, due to an unfortunate failure to realise that “I can’t do it!” didn’t mean “I am physically incapable of aerobics”, it meant “I am literally petrified with fear at the idea of exercising where people can see my body.”

          Then when I went to college, I had to start actually studying for the first time ever – while recovering from depression and crippling social anxiety – and got terrible grades where it counted for the first time in my life. Happily, university went a lot better!

          Which brings me to my original comment – which is that I really, really struggled to learn to study independently after 13 years of attending school, and doing some of the work (only in class, homework didn’t happen unless it was something fun) but never being challenged. I spent a lot of my first few months at uni playing video games and being furious and ashamed that I wasn’t working, but just… not having the skill to sit down and -study-. So I totally get LW’s frustration with Charlie – but the fact is that you really can’t learn, until you’ve learned how to learn. It’s not that he’s necessarily lazy or unmotivated, it’s just another skill that he should have been taught and wasn’t.
          I don’t think that changes any of the Captain’s excellent advice; learning to learn is something you do on the job, so it’s still a question of him wanting education enough to push through and gain those skills. But maybe it’ll help LW understand what’s going on with Charlie a bit better.

          If Charlie wanted to learn to learn right now, I’d probably say it’s a stamina thing, so the best approach might be to up the study time by ten minutes each day, starting small. But as the Captain says, it’s up to him whether, or when, he wants to do that.

      • “Either hold her attention, or let her do something that does.” Oh man, I wish more people thought like this. Schools are run like a sort of learning prison these days, because kids don’t want to be there but they have to, and that kind of environment is not at all conducive to learning. If more people prioritized the child’s own interest, I bet a lot more learning would be going on. I would have LOVED to learn about history from books like Devil in the White City, but because history was presented as a series of names and dates I had to memorize, I hated it.

        • Laughing Giraffe said:

          There are unfortunately a lot of very negative attitudes towards non-traditional learning programs. The bias is less in North America than in many countries, but there’s still a lingering conviction that if children are not sitting in rows memorizing things out of books, they’re not really learning. “School isn’t supposed to be fun!” rage the traditionalists. Well, no, that isn’t its primary goal, but it does seem to be a lot better at educating the tiny humans – and even the bigger ones – when they WANT to be there.

        • KnowThyself said:

          That’s because the modern school system was designed on the factory model – to teach children to be good factory workers conforming under a foreman. It helps for making sure that a large number of kids are taught the same things, but the model doesn’t work for every kid and in every situation and style of learning.

          For example, I was a visual learner and teachers sometimes thought I wasn’t paying attention when I doodled in class, but it actually helped me translate lectures into a way I could learn and remember better. Some teachers started to get it when I turned in homework with drawings in the margins that were related to the assignment. The habit helped enormously later with college-level chemistry and physics.

          • Cactus said:

            I’m kind of the same way, though I guess I’m tactile as well as visual: if teachers would read aloud to us in elementary school (which was an experience I enjoyed), I sometimes liked to keep my hands busy by drawing pictures of what I thought the characters in the book looked like. It helped me to pay attention. I had one teacher get so arbitrarily angry at me for this, and I’m thinking: “okay, why are you focused on me and not those 5 asshole dudes in the back who are being blatantly disruptive? Right, I’m easier to handle and you’re power-tripping.”
            I kind of do the same thing now: if I’m reading, especially if I’m reading something “heavy” (brick-thick works of literature written before 1950, postcolonial theory, etc), I highlight A LOT. It’s ridiculous looking. But if I’m reading, my fiancé is probably watching TV or playing video games, and the sounds from those can be so distracting that I need the physical contact with the book to keep my attention fully focused, and the marker going over words helps so much.

        • Hah. I wish I could say something like that at work.

        • Liz said:

          I went to an alternative school founded by hippies (public!) in the US, and while not as, er, radical as it was in the ’70s (no streaking, for example), I did have a very relieving relationship with my Chemistry class…which was just…so slow. I went to I think every other class. On the classes I skipped, I played bridge in the hallway with friends who had a free period. I would photocopy the homework from someone who went to class. If I saw the teacher at lunchtime on a day I’d skipped his class, our conversation went something like this:

          Teacher: Hi Liz, missed you in class today.
          Me: Yup, I got the homework, I’ll be there tomorrow to hand it in when it’s due.
          Teacher: OK, see you there!

          My partner is still bitter that she had to explain what hall passes are to me.

          But honestly, it was such the better system. And that conversation went the way it did because I kept up with the work and I was getting one of the highest grades in the class. If I was failing/never going/not doing the work, there would have been a different talk…possibly with the principal about whether I needed to go back to the traditional high school system with more structure.

          Which is not to say that it was a complete Utopia. Teenagers are still raging balls of hormones and bullying was still a thing. But at least it’s not coming from the administration too?

      • I was very lucky in that I was mostly either allowed to amuse myself in school once my assigned work was done, or given opportunities to do things that would hold my attention. I started reading early, and throughout elementary school, my teachers up a few grades for reading and writing classes. When they ran out of reading curriculum, one of the teachers asked, “Would you like to start a school newspaper?” Yes. Yes, I would.

        I had two history teachers and a lit teacher in junior and senior high school who sent me off to do independent work. (Because they knew I was going to be a pain in their collective asses? I don’t really know.) So I worked variously on a project on women’s suffrage in the U.K. and the U.S., a project on refugee resettlement patterns following the Vietnam War, and a project on Asian-American literature.

        I had one German teacher who was determined that the whole class was going to work on the conjugation of the word “to be” until everyone had it solidly, despite half the class knowing it before the class began. We spent 10 days on that verb. Good grief. I am so grateful that is the only example I’ve lived through of how boring school can be for some people.

      • Courtney said:

        My mom had a discussion like that with my 2nd grade math teacher. My grandmother taught 2nd grade, and the summer prior, I got into her teaching manuals. The reading curriculum was different at my school, but 2nd grade math is pretty much the same fromanner school to school. I wouldn’t do the homework or class work or pay attention because I already knew the concepts. I deigned to take the tests (and aced them) but the teacher started pushing to put me in a lower skills math class. My mom blew a gasket.

        • Neartmhor said:

          The same sort of thing happened to me, only it was teachers in my previous school that just kept giving me more, and moving me into higher classes, so by the time I had finished yr 5, I had also done most of yr 7. We moved back to the city in time for yr 6, and I was so incredibly bored in class, I refused to do the work and acted up- not much, but noticeably. The teacher told my mother that I needed learning assistance; my mother insisted I needed more challenging work. The teacher wouldn’t let go of the idea that I was a bit slow, so my mum went to the principal, who had very fortunately, recently read a paper published by a psychologist who had visited me at my previous school. (That was lots of fun- I was pulled out of class once a week to do tests, which very much appealed to nine year old me).

          I ended up changing schools and skipping the rest of yr 6- starting term 2 in yr 7, so it all worked out in the end.

    • Laura said:

      I was also a big reader as a kid, and my mom actually called the school and told them to confiscate any books they saw me reading on the playground because I was supposed to be socializing instead. I thought this was the height of unfairness, since the school was pushing really hard for students to read more. I WAS reading more! What was the problem! /still grumpy about it.

      • Jessie said:

        Seriously! I actually had an *English* teacher scold me for reading when I was done with assignments instead of chatting like my classmates. This scolding goes against your stated goals for me! Book worm Solidarity!

        • Laura said:

          I was also told I could no longer bring books to class, but that was kind of my fault- I was reading Animal Ark instead of working on my math sheet. Womp.

          • Linden said:

            I did that, too, only the book I couldn’t put down was “The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe.” My teacher took me out in the hall and whacked my ass with a paddle. What a lot of good that did.

          • Light said:

            In high school I had a deal with my math teacher- I’d finish half my work in class and he’d let me leave early to go to the library. Score!

        • therufs said:

          My parents once went to a conference with my second grade reading teacher, who said I wasn’t doing the work in class. When they asked her what I did instead, my teacher said “She just reads all the time.”

          When they got home, they reenacted the blank stares they gave her, and 20+ years later, it is still hilarious to remember.

      • I asked if I could do an English assignment on science fiction, and the teacher said no.

        I then asked if I could do it on 1984 and Brave New World, and she said yes and was surprised/pleased I had read them.

        Still grumpy about that.

        • JenniferP said:

          I sometimes invented entire books and then did book reports on those. :)

          • thebearpelt said:

            I wish I had thought of that! That would have made the 150 Books Reading List thing way more bearable.

            Seriously though the 150 Books things every year in elementary school was stupid. It just made kids resent reading before most of them had learned to enjoy it. Hell, even I didn’t like doing it and I was the kid who checked out like 12 books at a time from the library and finished them in 2 weeks.

          • L said:

            You are my hero for this. (Because we changed teachers so often, I got away with doing the summer reading book report on the same book for two years in a row. I was a huge reader, but the summer reading list books were SO BORING.)

          • elizilla said:

            Jealous of Bearpelt. They only let us have two library books at a time, and we could only go once a week. I would finish them the same day, usually. The tragedy of my life, was when I would forget to bring my library books back on library day and couldn’t get my two new ones.

        • GAH, I will always be bitter about the sci fi story I did in school that got lower marks because it “wasn’t realistic”. It was fucking realistic, within the bounds of the world I described, and I know I write well. Jerk.

          Never had an English teacher that I felt taught me much either. I got in the top 2% of the Australasian English thingimy (a test you can choose to do that is graded on ability rather than specific coursework – also in maths and science) yet my essays could be an A or a C and I could never figure out the difference. :( *resentment*

          • JHS said:

            I wrote a science fiction story for my final exam in second level, and got top marks. To be fair, the essay prompt they gave was totally an SF one!

          • A. Y. Mouse. said:

            yet my essays could be an A or a C and I could never figure out the difference.

            Oh god THIS. When I was in middle-high school, every essay that I dashed off in 30 minutes the morning it was due? Got an A. Essays I actually worked my ass off on, outlined and drafted and redrafted? Never higher than a C. Really excellent way to teach a kid to work, that :|

          • Neartmhor said:

            Man, I loved those tests (strange kid that I was). Quite amusingly, one year they misspelled my name on the certificate of the maths test- apparently my name was Matherine. It spawned a new family nickname for me that is still used to this day :)

      • clodia said:

        I was a big reader as a kid, and my brother wasn’t. I always thought it the height of unfairness that my mother was always getting on me to put down my book and go outside to play while getting on my brother to stop playing outside and come in and read more. I recognize now that she wanted us to be well balanced, but the irony was real obvious, even to kid-me.

        • L said:

          Totally unfair. My little sister was not a reader, and I was. My parents would buy books for her, but me? I had to use the money I got from my grandparents (I didn’t get an allowance) to buy books. Their excuse: they’re trying to encourage her to read. I was like, “why are you punishing me FOR reading???”

          • MB said:

            same! I used to steal the good books they bought for my brother, which he wouldn’t read. Because I would read anything, my mother once gave me a book for small children when I was 15. I think I gave her shit about that for about two years.

      • Anne said:

        My mom did the same thing! It ended after a month and multiple emotional break downs at school (silently crying, withdrawing from all socialization, etc.) Taking away interests/coping mechanisms by force does not somehow help the educational process.

      • Cactus said:

        Oh hai, are you my secret long-lost twin? Because I had the same experience. I hid books under my jackets and sweaters, dreaded recess (I had a couple of friends, but most of my classmates were racist assholes), and 3rd grade was the first year of school I truly hated because of this. She also convinced me that my friends were spies who would tell her if I read instead of being sociable. So then I didn’t even like the people who I liked, because I didn’t trust anyone.

        • KatieBaker said:

          Any one here ever read books in the shower?

          It can be done.

          • I prop my ipad on a stool outside the shower, and read through the glass of the shower stall. When I’m using a conditioner that’s supposed to sit for a few minutes I’ll shut the shower off and read while waiting.

          • elganda said:

            I have read in the shower for as long as I can remember! Books for all that time, and, sometimes, articles via my phone (which I cradle in a face washer). I do draw the line at taking in books I’ve borrowed from friends because I don’t want to risk someone else’s book getting wet.

      • aebhel said:

        My fifth grade teacher did end up confiscating my books, but that was mostly because I was reading instead of doing work or paying attention–a habit that continued until, oh, my second year of college.

      • miss_chevious said:

        Yeah, my mom’s punishment for me when I was a kid was to “GO OUTSIDE” because if she grounded me, it just meant I got to read more. ::Readers Unite!::

        • JenniferP said:

          Introvert punishments: “Go to your room!” “Yaaaaaaaaay!”

      • Barbara said:

        my 5th grade teacher confiscated my book I was reading on the playground and called my mom to say that I was reading inappropriate material. The book was “Valley of the Dolls” I read everything I could get my hands on. My mom bought boxes of books at the auctions and I read every one – no matter how badly written.

    • thebearpelt said:

      I actually read my own books during the reading class when the teacher would read a book to us for a short while in earlier elementary school. I was always several grade levels higher than my grade when it came to reading (although those levels are pretty arbitrary) so the books my teacher was reading us were always really boring to me. I’d pull my own book out of my desk and start reading in my lap. Fortunately my teachers didn’t really have a problem with it, probably since I was reading instead of being read to.

      I remember one particular book I refused to listen to was A Series of Unfortunate Events in like 3rd grade or something. I thought that it was too depressing so I think I read Rowan Hood instead.

      • “I remember one particular book I refused to listen to was A Series of Unfortunate Events in like 3rd grade or something. I thought that it was too depressing so I think I read Rowan Hood instead.”
        OT but I totally relate to that decision. I couldn’t stand reading A Series of Unfortunate Events when I was younger but I LOVED Rowan Hood.

        • thebearpelt said:

          OH MY GOD, YOU READ ROWAN HOOD TOO?!?!? I thought it was a lesser known book. It was one of my favorites, along with this Bailey School Kids series that had titles like Cyclops Don’t Rollerskate and fun stuff like that, and this book series called stuff like Searching for Dragons, Living with Dragons, etc.

          • code16 said:

            eee, Enchanted Forest Chronicles is the best! And I also read Rowan Hood!

          • The Dealing with Dragons Series! By Patricia Wrede! I loved those! Deconstructing helpless princess tropes before that was a thing. The author has a nice blog nowadays about the craft of writing iirc.

          • bloodygranuaile said:

            Enchanted Forest Chronicles for the win forever!! Mark Oshiro over at Mark Does Stuff read the entire series on video just a few months ago, and it was STILL awesome, and I’m 26 now.

            That Bailey School paranormal stuff series was also a lot of fun, I remember, but I haven’t read those in like 15 years.

          • @bloodygranuaile: High-5 fellow Mark Does Stuff fan!

    • Revolver said:

      I was also an under-the-table reader. I was reading The Horse Whisperer while my 6th grade teacher was reading something like the Indian in the Cupboard out loud to us. a) I am not an auditory learner especially when it comes to books, b) I can read much faster than listening to it read out loud, and c) I had read the book already.

      I got scolded for it…I still harbor resentment towards that teacher for it.

      • My particular weakness, at least in elementary school, was the Babysitters Club.

        • penguinonmyhead@gmail.com said:

          A book series about a group of Middle Schoolers responsibly running a business and taking care of children with compassion and attentiveness while working through their own life problems? Nothing weak there!

          As a kid’s bookseller, Scholastic’s reprinting of the BSC series (now with graphic novels!) has been so enjoyable. Also I love talking to parents about how The Truth About Stacy is a great way to start talking to their daughters about having autonomy over their bodies in an age appropriate and non-sexualized way.

          • Yeah, it was a long time before I realized that what I loved about that series was that the girls had autonomy. I didn’t even like babysitting myself, but I loved reading about a group of girls running their own business and doing what they loved to do.

        • monologue said:

          Babysitter’s club was the best! I used to chew through a few of those a week. I couldn’t wait till I was old enough to babysit too since I already looked after younger kids a lot when parents were home but in another room or something. I really wanted to start a babysitter’s club with my friend group but by the time we were 12 we all just had our own few clients and weren’t really interested in it anymore. I think they did a pretty good job in those books of setting good examples for girls in elementary to look up to. I had no older sibling so it was key for me.

      • Wow – I read Horse Whisperer when I was 12 or 13 and it was racy for me! How did you go with all the sexual stuff (or was it a bit “meh” for you?)

        • DaFunk said:

          Haha, that’s exactly what I was looking for in books at that age. ;)

        • elizilla said:

          I was late to puberty, and it didn’t really register for me. In a world that never had enough books I would read my mom’s books. She loved those huge thick historical romance bodice ripper novels, and it never occurred to me to notice how incredibly rapey all that stuff was until decades later. Now I am amazed that she only ever said a word about me reading her books, if I took the one she was currently reading.

          • Revolver said:

            elizilla – same for me. I just wasn’t a sexual person til much much later so I skimmed those parts.

      • Neartmhor said:

        I still have issues with being read to- which is a bit of a problem now that I have a reading age child. Thankfully I got over my reading aloud issue- I would trip over my words because I’d read much faster than I could speak, and I’d start getting ahead of myself. I naturally read anywhere from 600-900 words a min, depending on what I’m reading. I did eventually learn to slow myself down, mostly through practice when reading to my daughter.

        My reading weakness as a kid was the Tomorrow, when the war began series by John Marsden. I reread it as an adult, and it still held up. I feel almost evangelical when it comes to the series- I want to convert everyone! 😊

        • Don’t underestimate the upsides of reading faster than you can speak. That was my mom’s problem, too, and it made reading-out-loud time hilarious. Eventually she embraced it, and if she tripped over a character’s name, or something, then she would refer to the character that way through the rest of the book.

    • I read under the desk in some classes, over the desk in others, and in one or two even napped or skipped to go to the computer lab. (Generally only if we were doing something like watching a movie for “fun”.)

      • Cactus said:

        Oy, sometimes watching movies for fun actually was fun, but sometimes…no. There is no reason to watch The Patriot in English class. That’s just laziness.

        • Carpe Librarium said:

          In my final year of high school, I took Media Production and Analysis.
          Teacher requested movie suggestions for review, and we ended up watching Natural Born Killers. The teacher was thrilled to discover that movie because of how much it opens up discussion on the influence of entertainment on society.
          And yes, we all referred to that class as ‘Media Prod & Anal’, because how could we not?

    • I slept through most of my yr12 math class and my teacher just let me. I had the best scores in the class so obviously she figured it didn’t matter :P

    • DaFunk said:

      I read under my desk pretty much constantly from age 7 to age 13, when I went to high school and school got a little harder. Except for the time I spent drawing maps, family trees, beautiful young heroines in interesting dresses, architectural plans for castles, and historical time lines of imaginary places. This was … never encouraged.

    • Kaz said:

      I was too rule-abiding to do the reading-under-the-desk thing*, but I did have a teacher take me aside and tell me that I was totally allowed to read in her class as long as I read English books. This was right after we’d moved back to Germany and I discovered that the German school system’s compulsory English-as-a-foreign-language classes made no exceptions for things like “thanks to having learned English at age five and spent the next six years living in the US, student probably speaks better English than German at this point.”. I am still grateful for that English teacher, because even if it *is* a remarkably easy A and leaves you with excellent spelling and grammar there is nothing quite as hideously boring as foreign language classes in a language that’s effectively your native. Later English teachers were sadly not so keen – I remember my mother had to meet with one to convince him that there was absolutely no point in forcing me to keep a vocabulary booklet – but at least the material had grown a bit more complicated than “and this is how you form the simple past” then.

      * although when we got super-expensive calculators in maths where you could run basic programs on them, I may have made use of the resulting black market trade in Tetris and shooting games for the TI-82/89

    • Adrian said:

      I thought my second-grade teacher was very cool when she caught me reading under the desk (though some of the commenters here seem to have had even cooler teachers.) She offered me a bargain–if I would sit politely in class and pretend to be attentive all week, she would give me a book to take home and read over the weekend. I remember being grateful that she understood me even on weeks when the book was kinda dull.

    • the-robin-to-your-batman said:

      Before my first year of elementary school, I visited the school with my parents and was supposed to bring my favourite toy. I brought a very heavy book. The principal thought that my parents were trying to show off and that I couldn’t read that well.
      I ended up skipping the first grade since I had learned to read when I was three years old. There just wasn’t anything to learn there and I ALWAYS read under the table. XD

  3. Sarah G. said:

    I’m a middle school teacher (United States) and yes, the curriculum can be really miserable at times. :(

    But I’m writing this because one of the things I wish I could do (and please don’t tell me I’m evil) is have military recruiters come into my classroom. A lot of my students believe that if they join the Army, the military will give them lots of guns and targets and they can just go shoot people like in all the video games and movies they play. And they’ll get paid for it.

    A recruiter has a vested interest in making certain that the people who join the military are going to be competent and careful. They are not allowed to recruit anyone under 18, and now they have requirements for things like high school diplomas, no tattoos, and clean criminal records. At this time your brother doesn’t qualify to join the military so there’s no fear he’ll sign on the spot and be off in Germany tomorrow (they have no control over where they’re sent). Kids can get by with Algebra 1 if they want to be infantry, but if they have specific jobs in mind (like working the plant on an aircraft carrier) they need advanced math and physics and things like that. So recruiters will tell kids what they need to do to qualify for the military. This has the salutary affect of weeding out all the kids who think anyone can join and they’ll give you a gun and a license to kill. It also helps the kids who really do want to join the military know what they need to do (and not do) so they qualify when they turn 18. A lot of my kids are poor and they see the military as a pathway to US citizenship, college, or other things they can’t do on their own.

    So my advice, LW, is if he’s so on-fire to join the Army, take him to an Army recruiter. Leave him with the recruiter for an hour or two. And then just don’t talk about it afterward. Let your brother come to his own conclusions. Either he will stop wanting to join the military, or he might decide – on his own – that finishing his math curriculum is more important than getting his weekly Netflix fix.

    • Barbara said:

      Yes, I agree with this suggestion. Honestly, for all that the military gets a bad rap for mindless obedience and hazing, a little exposure (like a year or two with basic training) can and has done an amazing job for several people I know to find their self-motivation in life.

      It sounds like Charlie is really going to need to find his internal motivation before he gets much further in schooling and life, and as far as dreams go, joining the military has a comparatively low bar, one that he could reach with a little more effort. At that point, he’ll be in for a whole lot of harsh reality, sink or swim. But it will be out of your hands, and (hopefully) under the direction of people whose job it is to make people into better people.

      • David said:

        I served for 4 years after a first desultory attempt at college, and while I didn’t have Charlie’s particular challenges, it did me a world of good and finished “growing me up.” After I got out, I got a job in the field I’d studied in college (without ever graduating), went back to school, and absolutely nailed it, thanks to the discipline I learned while in uniform.

        The military does indeed get a bad rap for mindless obedience, but it has a place for servicepeople who think for themselves and can stand up for themselves while doing it. In fact, it *needs* those people. They are the military’s conscience, though just like one’s own conscience, they aren’t necessarily loved for it.

        • JenniferP said:

          This is my dad’s experience (12 years USMC, very lucky in the placement of those years as he did not wind up in Vietnam) – he wasn’t into school, but was handy and loves structure, and it was a great fit for him. Then he did great at night school when he got out and had a satisfying job he was good at.

      • aebhel said:

        This, honestly. My brother (who is actually stunningly brilliant) dropped out of college to enlist in the Marines. My parents were appalled, but it’s actually done him a lot of good on the ‘learning functional social skills’ and ‘developing a modicum of self-discipline’ fronts. And he’s been all over the world, which is cool, although if he were stationed in a hot zone instead of a tiny little base in Japan, I might feel differently about it.

        There are certainly issues with the military, but you can find that kind of expectation of mindless obedience and vicious hazing on plenty of college campuses, and for some people, the military is really good for them.

    • Sarah suggests what I was gonna. I’d also make sure your brother knows about how to get a GED where you live and maybe buy him a couple of books on “How to Pass the GED” and stick them in the bathroom or something.

    • Amber said:

      Chiming in to say my boyfriend is a recruiter (USMC) and he did/does (he’s no longer canvassing) backflips for school visits. They love having the chance to talk to kids. Even if you’re a middle school teacher, ask your local recruiter office to send somebody. They can even do a talk on some military history or something if your school is weird about it.

    • Professor Mew said:

      This is a great suggestion. I didn’t want to join the military, but I did have some of my own ideas about what I wanted to do with my life when I was 18-20 that I just wish that my father had let me do.

      Here’s the thing, even if you know, absolutely know for certain, that you’re right about the his choices being unrealistic, you *cannot* convince him of that. He *has* to experience it for himself.

      That was the way I was when I was that age and I’m pretty sure that’s the way a lot of kids still are. In the end, I can’t deny that my father was right about my idea being bad, but if he had just backed off and let me fail, I would have figured out by the time I turned 20 that opening my own coffee shop was a terrible life plan for a teenager with no business-running experience or investment capital. Instead, what I got was years of fighting, rebelling, and half-assed compromises, which only served to delay my actually figuring out a realistic life plan.

      • “Here’s the thing, even if you know, absolutely know for certain, that you’re right about the his choices being unrealistic, you *cannot* convince him of that. He *has* to experience it for himself.”

        I was going to chime in with a more long-winded version of this, but you beat me to it!

      • J. said:

        Oh yes — my father was (is) exactly the same way. He ALWAYS knew best, ALWAYS pooh-poohed my tentative ideas and goals, and lost no occasion letting me know that I was dumb and mistaken (hear the bitterness? Still fighting that attitude today!) One very simple example of what that can bring: he would never let me have a checking account (even though I had a job in high school, I wasn’t allowed to touch my money) and as soon as I got to college, I got a free checking account when I opened my new savings account at school. Bounced my very first check out of carelessness and general ignorance and maybe a belief in magic or something. I was just so DUMB from general lack of experience. He was right about many things, BUT. This is all to say that young adults falling on their faces serves the learning curve, and telling them that you know better breeds LOTS of resentment. It’s a pretty predictable scenario.

        Be patient, LW, and heed the Captain!

        • Absolutely. And it’s not just the resentment, as significant as that is – it’s also that it effectively frames the whole thing as a ‘young person vs. parents’ scenario, which becomes about both sides feeling they have to prove they’re ‘right’. Which is incredibly damaging because it makes it harder for the young person to take the kind of leaps and risks they need to take to get anywhere, or to make the mistakes that need to be made in order to move up that learning curve. When you’re in a scenario where you fear mistakes might be held against you as proof that the other person is right in their low assessment of your skills, it’s so much harder to put yourself in the situation where you might make those mistakes.

          The best thing the LW can do for Charlie here is to convey the attitude “I recognise that you’ve ended up without many of the skills you need, and I am willing to give you what support I can while you learn them, but I have complete faith that you have the *qualities* you need to make a success, and I’m going to demonstrate that faith by standing back and giving you the space to apply them.” One of those qualities – a key one – is the ability to figure out for himself when he thinks it’s worth applying himself to get to a goal he wants.

    • Jill said:

      I LOVE this idea. If Charlie is anything like my knucklheaded little brother than he’s learned who in the family will pity him, baby him, put up with his crap, etc. And advice from family probably goes in one ear and out the other. But maybe hearing Reality from a non-biased, non-family member, like a military recruiter will finally wake him up.

      And I agree with what others are saying. Trust me, as with my kid brother, it is MADDENING when you can see the fix so clearly and your loved one is just not getting it. LW, you really have to accept what you cannot change in this situation. You can’t change his lacksidaisical attitude about his life. And what your parents did, and the end result, sucks. But you also shouldn’t baby him!

      I think the best way to help is tough love. Set and enforce expectations like those expected of any adult. Like “I’ll let you live here but only if you’re attending school” or “I’ll let you live here but I want $x in room and board fees (get a better job in other words)”. And then evict him if he’s not. These are reasonable expectations here in the adult world and he’ll either meet them or find someone else couch to flop on.

      Love him, support him….but don’t be his crutch either.

      • neverjaunty said:

        No, that is probably the WORST way to help. Charlie is trying to recover from an extremely crippling childhood. He HAS A JOB which he is using to pay for certain of HIS OWN EXPENSES – he’s working in the adult world and learning to take responsibility for things that need to be paid for. What you’re saying is ‘throw him in the deep end of the pool, he’ll swim eventually’ and forgetting that the person you’re throwing in has a childhood of being prevented from learning even to dogpaddle.

        I’m sorry your brother is being babied. It’s really unfair for you to project that here.

        • aebhel said:

          Okay, but is the LW just…supposed to support him indefinitely while he figures his shit out? Yes, it does actually suck that he was given no adequate preparation for living as a functional adult, and if the LW has the resources he(?) can certainly decide to let his little brother live there rent-free for as long as that’s feasible–I did it with one of my own brothers, and it worked out fine–but at some point he’s going to have to learn adult responsibilities, and he’s not going to if he’s basically living rent- and bill-free but for his car.

          Also, it is not LW’s responsibility to gradually introduce his brother to the adult world. It was his parents’ responsibility. Obviously, they fucked it up big time, but that still doesn’t mean that LW is a villain if he decides that he doesn’t want to carefully parent his adult sibling.

          • neverjaunty said:

            Good grief, who said anything about LW being a villain? LW said he wants to help his brother. Not that he feels he is obligated to; he wants to. LW wants to know what he can do (not what he is OBLIGATED to do) to help.

            There is a HUGE range of options for LW in between the extremely ineffective and damaging choices of “support Charlie indefinitely” and “throw his ass out, tough-love style.” CA’s answer and many comments here talk about those options.

        • monologue said:

          It’s not necessarily the deep end. The rent charged could be way below the market rate and just designed to give Charlie a little nudge towards the reality of life expenses he’ll experience should he choose to move out of the LW’s place. If done gently and not super harshly, this can help motivate someone a little if they realize, “oh, I can’t live alone in my current situation. I need to change something.”

    • AJB said:

      No tattoos?? That can’t be accurate. My husband was Navy and half his class had tattoos from before they went in.

      • Season said:

        The ‘no tattoo’ rule for the military is crap, has been crap for decades. Don’t get one on your face or anything, because the key here is that the tattoos cannot be visible while you are in uniform, but every single service-person I know (and I come from a 5-generation US military family) has at least one tattoo, usually service related. For example, all PJs in the USAF (that I personally know) have two little green feet somewhere, usually their behind. I don’t know where or when Sarah G got her information, but it sounds incredibly outdated. I mean, the education requirements for entering the military are NOT NEW AT ALL. But it comes across like she thinks they are. “Now they have these requirements” I believe she said. Um, wot?

        You can totally get into the military with a criminal record, too. Especially since juvenile records – usually the ones in question – are seal-able, expungable, etc.There are rules about ‘no felonies’ and all that, but for, say, a petty offense, all you have to do is write a letter about how you learned your lesson, blahblahblah. Seriously. All a juvenile record will do is put a few more pieces of red tape in your way.

        Also, I feel compelled to point out that recruiters are well-known for being assholes. They do not have your best interests at heart – they have a quota to fill. They can and do lie to applicants, trick them and generally fuck them over. There are horror stories about recruiters to be found on every base. Get a second opinion, is what I’m saying. Talk to more than one recruiter, verify what they say (or attempt to) with a google search, approach this like a lawyer poking holes in an argument. If you approach it at all.

        • evil fizz said:

          Active duty Army here. The rules about tattoos are now much stricter than they have been previously. If the tattoos aren’t racist, extremist, gang affiliated etc and can’t be seen in a short sleeve shirt and gym shorts, it’s okay. But arm and leg tattoos are now frowned upon and some of them will prevent you from commissioning (becoming an officer).

      • aebhel said:

        When my brother joined the Marines a couple of years ago, the rule was no tattoos that would be visible in the PT uniform unless they were small enough to be covered by one hand–otherwise, they’d require a special dispensation (which, to my understanding, they usually got). My brother had a couple of tattoos, but he also has huge hands, so it was fine.

        People who were already in were grandfathered in, IIRC. It was a pretty new rule at the time. Not sure if it’s different for Navy.

    • That’s an excellent idea. Another thing to remember/impart to Charlie is that people may be able to join without advanced maths, but those people might end up doing jobs which are not very different from his current cleaning job.

    • YES!
      A desire to join the airforce is the only thing that got me through god-awful 6th form physics.
      I hate physics with a vengeance going into 7th form (final year), until I had a conversation with my teacher (a different one to the year before), about why I was doing it. And the fact he was interested in that somehow changed my attitude, and that is the only reason I got a grade good enough that if my history of asthma would have let me in, I could have done it.

    • David S. said:

      When I went to recruiters after college, they were so eager to get me in that they told me to lie about what medications I was on to the people doing the required medical. I’m pretty sure when I said I had never done drugs, that he took that as a lie, too, but throughly approved. Not all recruiters seem to have much interest in making certain the people they recruit are qualified.

  4. paddlepickle said:

    I remember once I was reading ‘Portrait of the Artist As A Young Man” when I was supposed to be doing a horrible standardized test review worksheet and my teacher walked over to scold me, stared at me for a minute, sighed and walked away. But I got a lot of detentions aside from that.

  5. MellifluousDissent said:

    I had an ex who never finished HS, who claimed to want to get his GED. I bought him books, I sat with him when he did his homework, I even drove him to a physical GED class two towns over. Your description of Charlie, LW, reminds me a lot of Ex. Here’s the thing: I couldn’t *make* Ex do anything. I couldn’t persuade or bribe or cajole or beg or force him to do his homework. When I tried? His dog mysteriously got hold of and destroyed the work books. I’d come over to pick him up for class and he’d be drunk/ high/ didn’t-do-laundry-so-he-couldn’t-get-dressed/ insert-other-random-thing-here. He wasn’t ready to deal with the eight million self-esteem and other issues that had caused him to drop out in the first place, and so he couldn’t face classes/workbooks/whatever. He didn’t need school or a teacher or a workbook; he needed a therapist, because the “obstacles” to him getting his GED were NOT academic, they were profoundly personal, and were the byproducts of a really tumultuous and difficult upbringing, which it sounds like Charlie has had.

    Any chance of getting Charlie some therapy? It sounds like it would do more for him right now than the online classes.

  6. Jessie said:

    Hi Big Brother,

    I wholeheartedly second the Captain’s advice to back it off. You can’t force someone to learn a new skill if they don’t want to do it (see: toddlers and potty training all the way through ‘you can’t teach an old dog new tricks’). If he has a real interest in the military, you have an in for quiet learning in a million fun ways like movies, trips to battle fields (I live in VA so that might not be as easy for you), and even board games (basic math skills).

    Since he lives with you, I’d charge a nominal rent since he’s not in school, then back off and do your own thing for a bit.

    Best of luck.

  7. Emily said:

    I think it might be helpful to get him thinking specifically about what he needs to do/learn in order for the military to be a possibility, since that’s something he’s expressed interest in. First, he will definitely have to take the ASVAB and do well on the math and reading/verbal sections. There are test prep books out there that will give them a good idea of what he needs for that. And the gap between what he knows now and what he’ll need to know to do well on that may not be as big as the LW thinks. The material itself isn’t very advanced – much of what’s tested on it is covered in junior high. Like, yes, ideally he would actually learn the stuff that his older siblings learned in high school, but if he can just learn a little algebra and geometry, that may be enough math. Second, depending on the specifics of his homeschooling, he may or may not need to get a GED. If he has some sort of certification that he passed (homeschooling) high school, he shouldn’t need this. But if he doesn’t, he’ll need to take it and pass, and that has its own set of requirements.

    Tying learning stuff to his actual career goals may help with the motivation piece. And it may not be that much stuff.

  8. Rivikah said:

    It might be possible to harness that WoW addition for awesome too. Unless things have changed drastically since I last played, many of the best players are highly numerate, at least up to middle school skills. (Arithmetic, percentages, basic probability) With a good dollop of mathematical problem solving skills thrown in.

    Maybe instead of adding columns of numbers he’d prefer to build a mage spec optimized for burst dps? (Disclaimer: I haven’t played in a year and the details might not be correct) For ideas on where this can go there are plenty of websites dedicated to “theorycrafting”.

    • I was thinking the same thing, tbh. High-level WoW play can be incredibly complicated, particularly if he’s going on raids regularly. Calculating DPS scores, drop rates and the most efficient way to down a boss are all great ways to encourage learning and it’s a subject he’ll feel passionately about. My own education was neglected in a few places when I was growing up, but my interest in video games really helped spark my passion for certain subjects, such as archaeology, mythology, religion, writing, language, and history. Never underestimate the power of video games in an education. (Especially if you have someone who is difficult to motivate/seems uninterested in “traditional” curriculum, like I was)

    • Things have changed quite a bit – theorycrafting isn’t really a thing anymore. And thank goodness for players like me – I already have a full-time job; the LAST thing I want is another full-time job crunching numbers.

      • Oh boy – well in reading the reply above me, maybe I need to take back what I said. It seemed to me that the game design was tweaked away from the massively complicated, counter-intuitive theorycrafting of the old days, and further changed to make things more accessible to casual players, but it appears that there’s still a place for theorycrafing perhaps.

        • Rivikah said:

          I think I saw some of these changes. In some ways, it might make it more accessible for the “casual” theorycrafter. Things like more transparency in how various quantities are calculated make this a little easier for people who don’t have the time to gather tons of data.

          • And that may be where my initial confusion was coming from. They have a whole lower tier of content accessible for the casual, un-guilded player, whereas previously if you weren’t a serious player, you never even got to see some of the end-game raid content.

        • EB said:

          Maybe playing EVE would encourage math skills.

      • Rivikah said:

        I know that the requirement for optimization was starting to fade a little by the time I left. Depending on the more recent changes that I have not been following, It may still be possible to do some of this — perhaps on a smaller scale. (Hint: ask the PvP crowd. If there’s still space for individual decisions, optimization, and problem solving, they’ll know.)

        Alternatively, if WoW no longer allows theorycrafting, I’m sure the optimization crowd has fled somewhere else. There is probably a video game out there somewhere with significant scope for simple mathematics.

        • BitterAlmonds said:

          League of Legends has a very vibrant theorycrafting crowd, especially among people who follow the professional scene. Riot themselves have started posting articles about their core design values and where they get certain numbers and how; they’re making a big push towards greater transparency in the game’s design and towards better onboarding for new players, so now would be the best time for him to get into League theorycrafting. The calculations involved in build optimization are pretty basic and would teach him probability in a hurry. I know Defense of the Ancients 2 also has a strong theorycrafting community, and Dota’s math is probably a little less piecemeal than League because of the way it was designed (namely, all of the champs were released when the game first came out, so the game never has to adjust to new champions). A word of warning about both games though: the communities are an incredibly mixed bag personality-wise. I’ve met lovely and shining paragons of humanity and abusive rager trash in the same game. You learn quickly not to be afraid to mute and/or report.
          Honestly though, you can really get into number crunching for pretty much any game with rpg elements. If/when he wants to move onto something more advanced, most rpgs have high min-maxing potential and the formulas are either all online or in the game code (if he’s interested in such a thing). If he has any interest in tabletop gaming, roll20 is a site that hosts tabletop games online for free and more combat-oriented campaigns can get quite math heavy especially in character creation. (Also, anything that expands his social circle to even more supportive people who can tell him ‘You’re not a fuckup and I believe in your ability to do zxy thing’ is always a good thing.)
          LW, there are so many ways to harness an interest in video games for sweet mathy good and I could write at least two more paragraphs just full of suggestions. If this is a path you want to go down there is an entire corner of the internet to be your oyster.

        • Not a video game, but Warhammer. It’s SUPER mathy, especially if you play with mathy people. It can be pretty expensive, but if you find a good group and you don’t want to play tournaments you can get away without buying all the models. Especially if LW’s brother is interested in the military (like, legit interested, and not just grabbing onto it as a magic ticket to careertown), he could get a lot out of the strategic aspect.

      • Marvel said:

        Wait, what? Since when? If you’re into raiding in any non-randomized capacity (i.e. LFR), the theorycrafting community is absolutely alive and well! It’s not a requirement to play anymore, but it still exists.

        • It does look pretty different than it did three or four years ago, though. To the best of my understanding. (Never was a theorycrafter.)

    • MargoVictorious said:

      If LW is looking for nonfiction books, there are plenty that explore the learning-gaming connection. The Multiplayer Classroom by Lee Sheldon and The Gamification of Learning by Karl Knapp are both popular, but there are dozens of others. If he likes gaming it might spark his interest and maybe even make him think about learning in a new way.

      What I’ve noticed with some of my middle-school students while experimenting with this idea in my classroom is that the conversations about it are often more effective than applying the actual methodology. My gamers are typically kids who aren’t inspired or engaged by school. Talking about the application of game theory to education taps into something they actually know a lot about: ineffective schooling and the rapid-fire learning that occurs when they play videos games. For some this opened up a path to more assertiveness in their education. They wanted to talk about it when something wasn’t working for them rather than just sitting there like a lump, waiting for the bell to ring.

      There are a ton of great books about gaming in general too. Along with a decent amount of free or low-cost computer science learning resources. If he likes games, maybe get him reading one of those books, set him up with Codecademy and see what happens. Computer science is probably an area that dedicated autodidacts can flourish.

      Plus gaming book club and free online coding classes are something brother and LW can do together.

    • Professor Mew said:

      Okay, I feel like I can chime in here, as someone who was a Wow addict and hardcore raider (5 nights a week during progression!) up until pretty recently. Firstly, the theorycrafting community is alive and well, but it tends to move every xpac as people quit/join and existing theorycrafting forums become neglected. Currently it’s mostly on MMO-Champion, though there are some class-specific sites as well, and a few good podcasts.

      BUT. BUT. I feel like I have to insert a really big caveat here. MMO gaming communities are some of the least friendly places I’ve ever seen. If you show up not knowing exactly how something works, or even if you show up knowing how things work but having an insufficiently large epeen, you *will* get called any one of a number of ableist and or homophobic slurs. Heck, I’ve shown up occasionally, in possession of a big epeen, to (gently) correct someone’s misinformation and had insults thrown at me. I would be pretty hesitant to send a kid, particularly one who already lacks confidence, to one of those sites.

      The 5 years I spent playing Wow also taught me a lot of other things. Of the top of my head, I learned basic economics from playing the auction house (some of which apply directly to my real life finances), programming from writing my own addons (you can also avoid directly coding by using one of the many robust pre-existing addons; consider them developer’s tools), leadership & management from running my own pugs and, briefly, running my own guild (though that’s an experience I will never, ever, ever repeat). Oh, and I also made friends, a few of which became meatspace friends.

      But, even though I did glean some lasting benefit from playing Wow, I’m not sure I’d really recommend the “education through Wow” approach. I believe most people who have been addicted to an MMO would agree that you get addicted by having a much suckier real life than virtual life. It became for me an easy way to feel like I was good at something. Real life achievements take longer to materialise and require way more investment. Plus, you can’t be in debt in Wow. I also used the education excuse, reasoning that I was totes getting something valuable out of it.

      Of course, it became a terrible cycle because spending that much time in Wow meant I didn’t have time to fix my real life, which I sort of knew was bad on the one hand, but on the other hand, I felt like my life was hopeless and was never going to be any good, anyway. I imagine Charlie feels similarly right now. What would have helped me the most was some help fixing my life — not by being told what to do, but real actual support, preferably from a therapist and/or career counsellor, and oh, supportive family would have been nice, too.

  9. Laura said:

    Ooh, are we recommending nonfiction! I LOVE nonfiction! Some books I’ve read in the past year that might interest Charlie (well, in terms of their writing style; I don’t know what his personal interests are) are The Black Count, The Friar of Carcassone, Arn’t I A Woman, The Worst Hard Time, The Grand Inquisitor’s Manual, and Triangle. Generally with people just starting to read history, I find it’s easier for them to read books with a sort of anrrative thrust to them- it resembles reading fiction, so it’s a lot less dry than a litany of dates and places.

    • thebearpelt said:

      Oooh, ooh, and anything by Malcolm Gladwell is fascinating!!

    • Anothermous said:

      Ooh, yes nonfiction! I can recommend Bill Bryson stuff, The Beak of the Finch by Jonathan Weiner, Seabiscuit by Laura Hillenbrand, A History of the World in Six Glasses by Tom Standage (should really be “A History of the Western World” but it’s still fun and fascinating), and The Dark Lady of DNA by Brenda Maddox.

      There is so much great nonfiction out there, it’s one of my favorite ways to learn about history.

      • Oooh, yes! I second the Bill Bryson! His book A Short History of Nearly Everything is a great general science book. I don’t think I can pick a favorite of his travel books; I’ve loved them all. (Probably just pick the place that looks the most interesting.)

        Other travel books I love are Pole to Pole by Michael Palin and Last Chance to See by Douglas Adams. (Humor and learning, yay!.) I also really liked To the Elephant Graveyard, by Tarquin Hall, about a group commissioned to track and kill a rogue elephant in India.

        For military stuff, I suggest And No Birds Sang, by Farley Mowat. It’s heartbreaking, but an excellent look at the life of a soldier in WWII.

        • Also, for books outside his reading level: audiobooks.

          He can probably download many of them from the library right onto his phone.

    • I’ve also found things like memoirs and travel narratives to be an accessible way for people to learn supposedly dry subjects. *Assassination Vacation,* for instance, will teach you all manner of weird things about American history, but it’s funny and a fast read. *A Voyage Long and Strange* is a decent overview of colonial North America, from the perspective of someone who is also learning a lot of it for the first time. And also books on “sexy” subjects – like a history of pirates – or historical fiction; really anything that will be interesting and make reading feel enjoyable instead of a chore.

      • I recently read Argo which is a book about the CIA mission to smuggle six Americans out of Iran back in the 1970s and how they did it, written by one of the guys who orchestrated it, which is also pretty good. It reads like something out of Hollywood but if gives a lot of information on geopolitics at the time (which tbh are still pretty relevant today, esp for someone with military interest) and how places like the CIA actually work, etc.

    • History was one of my worst subjects. Lists of names and dates and battles, etc. I had no head for it…but then I see a really good movie or read some books and all of a sudden they are interesting people and amazing events and OMIGAWD COOL! I’d have to go searching dryer sources to see what parts were made up and what was fact or what was still undecided.

      • bloodygranuaile said:

        I’m always amazed at how boring they manage to make history in school, because history is literally just “shit people have done in the past” and the shit people pulled in the past was at LEAST as wacky as the shit people pull nowadays!

        • Jenny Islander said:

          The boringness of history class, even when the teacher was trying her darndest to wring some interest out of the awful text, and the randomosity of science class were two of the things that prompted me to homeschool my kids. If anybody’s interested, here’s what I’m using for a combined class of an 8- and 10-year-old (note that I present the text orally):

          History
          A Child’s History of the World by Hillyer, updated by me to reflect the status of current research
          The Story of US by Hakim
          Primary sources translated & paraphrased, such as Viking Tales by Hall
          Articles from National Geographic & Archaeology Today, paraphrased by me, as relevant
          Online museum exhibits, etc.
          A scrapbook with a timeline drawn in it; events are added each day so that the reader can get a snapshot of what was happening around the world at about the same time–for example, the first named practitioner of what we would call the sciences, Dr. Merit-Ptah, chief physician at Pharaoh’s courts (and BTW a woman), was working at about the same time as the oldest dated civil and foreign wars were being fought over in Mesopotamia. (Evidence for war is of course much older, including in Egypt itself.)

          Science
          Building Foundations of Scientific Understanding by Nebel
          Elementary Science Education ditto
          Where have these books been all my life?! Nebel organizes his lessons into four major fields, then provides a flowchart that goes from BFSU to ESE. Start at any of four points on the flowchart and just follow the arrows to choose which lesson to teach next. Each lesson includes clear, simple explanations for the teacher of the actual science vs. the slightly simplified information provided for the younger grades. Experiments require very basic equipment and discussion topics focus not on what the writer wants the students to be interested in, but on the questions children of a particular age tend to ask.

          • Splash said:

            I absolutely second Joy Hakim and A History of US. Those were my history textbooks as a homeschooled kid, and I really liked them. She’s written some history of science books too; I have not read them, but I trust her work.

      • David Starkey’s series on the Tudors (no idea whether you got that in the States or not, so may not mean anything to most people here) was what opened history up to me. I had a lousy teacher at school and loathed the subject, but thought I’d try this one series on Henry VIII’s wives because my husband had it on and I remembered reading a fictionalised account of Elizabeth I’s childhood that I liked when I was a child myself, so I watched Starkey’s programme – and got blown away. Whoa! Here was I thinking these people were boring because they lived hundreds of years ago, and in fact they were a total soap opera! Started an interest in the history of the British royal family that lasted for years.

        (Sorry, getting OT because that probably won’t be of interest to Charlie, but hopefully it’s a good example of how the right book or programme can make a major difference.)

    • aebhel said:

      Ooh, NF recs.

      I’m not much of a nonfiction reader mostly, but I cannot recommend highly enough Lewis Dartnell’s The Knowledge: How to Rebuilt Our World from Scratch. It posits rebuilding a post-apocalyptic society as a way to go into a ton of history of science, basic chemistry, agriculture, etc. Definitely not a structured curriculum, but it kept me riveted, and I’m the sort of person who opted out of high school science classes as soon as I was able.

    • Cactus said:

      Some recommendations:
      An African in Greenland, Tété-Michel Kpomassie
      The Great Influenza, John Barry
      Medical Apartheid, Harriet Washington
      Carrier, Bonnie Rough
      Let Me Clear My Throat, Elena Passarello

    • Private Editor said:

      Lewis Thomas was an MD who wrote a column for the New England Journal of Medicine. His essays have been collected into half a dozen books. He writes about science and medicine in a voice that inspires excitement about and fascination with the natural world. The essays are only a few pages long, so low barrier for entry.

  10. akestra said:

    I’m gonna echo Captain’s advice to get Charlie into some IRL courses in *something*, doesn’t matter what. I’ve dealt with unemployed partners/roommates/siblings, and a large issues I’ve found is the lack of structure in the day leads to a lot of procrastination. If you are expected to be somewhere, dressed, and on time, to learn something interesting or fun, you will get out of bed and go there. If you have to run thru three or five hours of online coursework with boring busiwork quizzes, you will put it off until 10, then until 2, then until after dinner, then you can always finish it tomorrow. Computers are always there, people require that you show up and participate.

    I would caution against “skipping ahead” too much tho. I have a sibling who struggled with reading/writing at grade level for pretty much ever. Pushing him towards more advanced books in topics that interested him only resulted in frustration and giving up because he couldn’t read fast or well enough for the book to be satisfying, and that made him “feel dumb.” If his reading level is grade-appropriate, this may not be as much of an issue, but I would be very careful pushing material on him that he may not have the educational groundwork laid to really appreciate.

    As to the motivation question, well, he *is* an adult, start treating him like one. Are you charging him rent, or is he just living with you as a sibling? I think some hard deadlines for adult-type behavior could be strongly motivating, e.g. “You aren’t making enough progress on school to qualify as a full-time student, and I know you’ve been working enough to support your car expenses, so in six months, you’ll need to start contributing household expenses. This is market rent for a room in our area, because you are family, I will cut you a 20% discount.” This will probably make him balk, and threaten to go home to mom & dad, but it will also hopefully help him really think about his situation. He can’t just mooch off of family *forever*, but right now your timeline of support probably seems pretty open-ended. He needs to see that unless *he* makes some effort to become qualified for what he wants to do, that he cannot, as it stands, support himself with his current level of education without strong familial support. You need to make it clear that your support, while unconditional, cannot extend to free room&board indefinitely. Perhaps an exercise in budgeting for a single-person household in your area, with rent, utilities, food & clothing all factored in might be a good lesson plan to work on math with him?

    • wondering said:

      Co-signed. My teen sister has been having problems at home, so moved in with my partner and I last year with the stated intent of returning to school and graduating. Well, she did take some high school courses but she is far from a motivated student. She ended up only completing 2 courses per semester, which is about half of what students here take normally. On the other hand, it was more than 0, which is what had happened the previous years, so progress!

      Now it is summer and she has turned 18 and she’s working. This month marks her very first time paying rent. It’s not a large amount, but it is a big milestone into adulthood. We’ve told her that if she goes back to school she gets to live rent free again, so right now she is considering returning in January (instead of September) but better than not finishing at all.

      (There’s an adult graduation track here that is different from GED but still requires fewer courses than normal graduation does, maybe once Charlie’s skills are improved, that’s an option for him?)

  11. EitherAda said:

    Just a practical suggestion, if your brother is up for it and the resources are available: At the community college in my hometown, they teach courses that begin with the very absolute basics of math and English language skills and you don’t even need a high school diploma or GED to attend. It could be cheaper than other schooling options, but provide the structure that is missing. I am tragically terrible at taking courses online, and it’s not like I can’t be educated (I’ve got all the degrees–ALL OF THEM). But, I need my butt to be in a chair in a classroom with a teacher holding me accountable if I’m going to stay on track. Maybe your brother could take just a course or two at a time just to get used to actually being in a real live classroom. If it doesn’t work out, it’s far from the end of the world–but it could be worth looking into. My mom started taking courses at the local community college, even though she hardly believed she was smart enough to do it (n.b. she is far more than smart enough). But the teachers were helpful and her curiosity was piqued–she took off like a rocket.

    • sometimeswhy said:

      This. This was going to be my suggestion. If something like that is available, it is a very, very good option.

    • espritdecorps said:

      Seconding this. Our local community college has an adult high school program, GED program (where I got mine, which along with work experience and certifications has served me very well job-wise), and pre-college curriculum that starts at the 8th grade level. There is no time limit on learning, when/if he’s ready it will be there for him.

      I dropped out of school at 16, I was given the choice to attend GED classes or leave. At 18, paying for my own food, car insurance, and paying rent for my room was added to the things I had to do to continue to live at home. When I moved out at 20, I had a basic education, job experience, and practice at managing money. I
      hated this at the time, and thought it was terribly unfair, but it was one of the most loving things my mother did for me.

      • EitherAda said:

        Oh boy, do the life skills matter more than anything. Hearty returns of your seconding! Some people in my family have struggled mightily with this because no one really required them to, say, be responsible for buying their bread and cheese and then combining them into sandwich form. Or cleaning. Or paying bills. Or turning up to work regularly and on time. Or planning their budgets or their life longer in advance than a week from now. This has hurt them far more than their limited educations. I was forced out completely on my own early and, while it was rather hard for me to try to learn how be a functioning person then, now my life isn’t the bundle of dependency and chaos that it can be for them.

    • Marvel said:

      This is precisely what I came here to suggest. Community colleges are often very good at remedial education.

    • Another great thing about community courses is that you can get a really diverse group of students taking them. Everything from 18yos who need to repeat a year of high school to graduate to people who never got a chance to go to school and are now taking these classes in their 50s or older. This tends to be even more obvious if you take night classes, which are designed to cater to people who already have jobs.

      Meeting other people in a similar situation to him, but who all have a different story about how they got to the point where they want to educate themselves, might be a better incentive for Charlie than hearing from people who finished their schooling (whether at home or in school) when they were expected to.

    • Jenny Islander said:

      This is what I was going to suggest too! Teachers who are not Mom, Dad, or Big Bro will help him shake out some of his childish habits. (Actually I just assumed that all community colleges offered a GED track the way mine does, but it sounds like I”m wrong.)

      BTW, Captain, I have recommended your Darth Vader tag to so many people since I discovered your site, it’s not even funny. I’m glad you’re here.

    • purple0 said:

      + manying this. Look, if your brother was good at self-motivated unschooling, he would have done it before now. The comments above me are full of bright, driven people complaining that school was boring and asserting their right to check out. I have absolutely no doubt that that’s true for the commenters. If they were in Charlie’s situation, the outcome would have been very different, probably. I was/am very bright, but I’m not driven. My executive function is for crap; I have a really hard time learning sequences of actions – like the steps necessary to do long division – unless someone is prepared to explain them multiple times. This is one normal way for brains to be. But as a “gifted kid” I have many painful memories of getting kicked out into the hallway to teach myself from a more-advanced workbook and absolutely not being able to do it alone. Honestly, the Captain’s advice will serve for maintaining the relationship, but the suggestion to remove the structure that Charlie has without replacing it worries me a lot. It sounds like Charlie needs to be taught by a real person, not like he’s being stubborn when you’re not there. If you want to help, find a way to get him with a real person. I would go talk to an advisor at your local community college about what can be done. It is 1000% okay to call in a professional. Think of it as doing what your parents couldn’t and accepting not just your limits, but Charlie’s.

      One last note, you will definitely need to walk him through financial aid forms, but there is financial aid out there. Good luck.

  12. TreeByLeaf said:

    LW, try not approaching this as a homeschooling problem. It is – but from where you are standing (not being him, his parents, and lacking a time machine), it’s a motivation problem. The problem with that problem, of course, is that you can’t force someone else to be motivated or choose what they get motivated for. A totally personal suggestion? Stop trying to teach him things, start trying to learn more about motivation and learning WITH him. Because I haven’t yet met anyone that feels they couldn’t learn some new tricks for more willpower and better learning skills. There are some great books out there. “Make it Stick’ by Peter C. Brown changed how I approach learning, and I’ve just started ‘A Mind For Numbers’ by Barbara Oakley – it looks very promising. ‘The Willpower Instinct’ by Kelly McGonigal helped me with motivation as well – it’s essentially the book form of a Stanford class on getting ourselves to do the things we know we should but don’t do anyways. I’ll also second the advice to find things that are interesting to your brother and help him pursue that. That’s the awesome thing about learning, if you approach it right, much of basic and not so basic ‘education’ can be both subsumed in almost any topic of interest to you, and also be used as a springboard to go farther it anything that interests you. Maybe consider trying to model life long learning habits around him (but not AT him). Find something that YOU are interested in, but know nothing about and lack some basic foundation in, and daily work at filling in those holes.

  13. eblue said:

    I was homeschooled as a kid, and it worked remarkably well for my personality. However, it worked so well because my parents did the sort of things that the Captain is advising you to do, LW. It took years for me to care about anything STEM related, but then I got really obsessed with time travel and wanted to write a novel about it. That led me to reading Stephen Hawking at 11. That doesn’t mean that I understood most, or anything, in A Brief History in Time, but a lot of my education was about working backwards. Once I had a goal in mind, it made all of the dull work of getting there more bearable. Novel writing required an understanding of grammar, which led me to resources like Grammar Girl. Wanting to have my own website led to basic coding skills. A sudden interest in the history of mathematics got me obsessed with mathematics itself. Just as the Captain is saying, eventually Charlie is going to get frustrated by his lack of skills, and finally be willing to experience monotony and drudgery in order to fulfill his ambitions. You can show him resources, express your support, and nudge him towards educational opportunities that you think he’ll enjoy, but at the age he is now, you can’t really force him to go where you want him to. He has to crash and burn on his own to really understand it. However, if there is ever a point where he seems to open to you providing resources, I’d heartily recommend Khan Academy, and the Youtube channels Crash Course, CGP Grey, Minute Physics and SciShow.

    • PBnoJ said:

      Seconding, thirding, nthing Khan Academy.

      • Ooh and check out vsauce for your curious awesome maths and science, and pbsideaschannel for putting philosophy and sociology on pop culture – a great bite size way to get thinking about ‘academic’ stuff in fun concepts.

      • LW here said:

        I have been using Khan Academy extensively. We’ve watched all of John Green’s History of the World and Charlie liked it. The other history videos are dry as dust, and I know the information won’t stick. I think we’re going to have to watch a lot of movies and documentaries thinly disguised as entertainment for history factoids.

  14. Amber said:

    Delurking to comment as a person semi-knowledgeable about it (my significant other is a USMC recruiter, and has been for 4+ years now. As an SO in this situation you learn many parts of the job vicariously): if he wants to do military, start speaking with your local recruiter now. It could be any branch, but there are some Things to Know and Reasons to begin speaking to them now.

    First: typically, joining these days is about a year-long process anyhow. It varies branch to branch, and I can’t speak directly to anything besides what the SO does. But, even once you do the preliminaries pre-enlisting (getting educational, medical, and criminal history paperwork together), once you enlist, it’s 9-12 months before you actually ship to Boot Camp. So if it is something he wants to do for real, get moving on it sooner than later.

    Second: he will have to take a standardized test: The ASVAB. Depending on whether or not he decides he wants to Do The Thing, this could be a big motivator to start studying- the Marines require an ASVAB score, if I’m remembering correctly, of 40 or 50. The higher the better- it will open up more job opportunities to him, but he doesn’t NEED to be a perfect genius. And if he doesn’t score high enough, he can’t enlist. They don’t do waivers for this anymore, and they are a loooooot more choosy. And if you don’t score high enough, you generally have to wait (about a month, sometimes more) before you can retake it. If he really wants infantry (physically, one of the toughest MOSes), he doesn’t necessarily need a sky-high score, but he WILL be expected to be a lot more fit, physically. At least they do in the Corps.

    Third: He may even have to get a GED before he even enlists. This, too, is a process. But it’s also a good reason to sit down and talk to a recruiter (or recruiters, definitely try multiple branches) before you do anything else- if the military is legit what he wants to do any not just some far off goal to keep bringing up to prove he really does want the Do A Grown Up Thing to shut you up, LW, he needs to get his ducks in a row. Many people think that joining the military is a last-ditch thing that just anyone can trip and fall into. Maybe once upon a time that was the case, and in some cases it takes less than, say, going to college/trade school, but it’s just not true.

    Fourth: His time in the DEP (delayed entry program) pool will do a number of things. A big problem my SO has had recently (he now runs a recruiting station, instead of being the actual guy who herds these kids together) is the kid due to ship getting in some sort of trouble. Usually legal or medical. But if he stays healthy and out of trouble, it will prepare him for boot camp as much as anyone can be prepared for it. Recruiters I’ve met do their damndest to give these kids, not all of whom are Troubled, structure. There are weekly to bi-weekly workouts. There will be real accountability to the other kids in the pool. My SO has personally tutored kids striving to score better on their second or third ASVABs. I’ve tutored them, and I’m not even a service member. The kids push each other to behave themselves, they push each other to achieve goals, physical fitness wise. They push each other to stay with their commitment when times get tough.

    If brother is a person who, as the Captain put it, thrives with someone kicking their ass, he will take to this like a pig to mud. If he is not, he will find that out, possibly before he even ships out. I’d also like to stress trying multiple branches. The Marines, for instance, are more lax on tattoos and possession/underage drinking charges than the Army is. But I believe (not 100%) the Army will take lower ASVABs. As far as the Navy and Air Force go, I’m much less sure. An actual recruiter can and will be more than happy to tell you more.

    • espritdecorps said:

      Thank you for this. I grew up in a Marine family. Other family members have served in the Navy and Air Force.

      There’s this perception that you can get drunk and wake up in basic training. The Armed services are like any other employer, they spend a lot of time and money on training, and won’t hire you unless they are reasonably sure you will be a good fit, and they will get a good return on that investment.

    • Lisa M. said:

      Definitely talk to multiple recruiters. I had a friend who got pretty far in the Navy process before finding out that a childhood surgery made her ineligible. Fortunately for her, that Navy recruiter worked closely with an Air Force recruiter, and she was able to pick up pretty much where she left off, since the childhood surgery was NOT a disqualifier for the Air Force.

      • Amber said:

        Yes. It happens to BF a lot- his particular office is literally in the middle of the offices for the other 3 branches. They snap up Navy and Army kids all the time. And National Guard. And sometimes, they get kids who end up having to go to other branches for some reason or another. Luckily, most enlistment paperwork is the same no matter which branch.

  15. guydudebro said:

    I think just about any time you want someone to do something significant–go out with you, get more education, get a new job, work harder at life, stop sucking–all you can do is what the Captain says: Let your feelings be known and then back away while continuing to remain available as an emotiono-practical resource. It’s like Princess Leia tells Tarkin, the more you tighten your grip, the more star systems will slip through your fingers.

    • I really, really, really want to second this.

      I was going to write a long winded probably over projecting comment to elaborate, but decided against it.

      I think the best call is offer support, back off, let the other person make their own decision.

  16. Sophie said:

    I think the Captain’s advice of letting him set his curriculum is really good. We’ve got such a narrow view of what learning is and we often don’t trust young people to decide for themselves what they want to learn. A little guidance is good obvs because of societal expectations and what not but overall schools/ standardised testing do a really good job of sucking the fun out of learning. I worked for an institution for a while that worked from the basis of partnership and would emphasise that students were teachers and vice versa. We don’t often teach kids that the knowledge they already possess is valuable and that they can teach their peers.

    Also, I kind of empathise with Charlie not wanting to learn. The stuff I learned at school seemed really irrelevant to me even though my parents said I’d need it later. Well, I didn’t. I think young people should be encouraged to ask those questions because doing some subjects I hated and really wasn’t good at completely destroyed any confidence and self worth I had as a learner. So I definitely second the advice about taking an interest in him and having a more reciprocal relationship!

    • Jenny Islander said:

      Hopefully he can find a course called something like Practical Math or Everyday Math online or in meatspace. I used this for my college math requirement–yes, I’d gone clear through AP Calculus in high school, but it didn’t matter, whateverrrrr. Anyway, textbooks used for courses like this start with questions like, “So how big could a land animal theoretically be?” or “How tall could a redwood grow?” or “If you have to make deliveries of pizzas or packages all over town and you only have X hours and X amount of gas, how do you figure out the best route?” and explains the math step by step. I got through AP Calc and forgot it right after the final; I enjoyed Practical Math.

  17. panda flannel said:

    I feel like the captain and other commenters have touched on this, but I am a little wary of labeling him as “lazy.” Maybe he is, maybe he isn’t, but I feel like bringing that label into the equation adds this element of “he has to work harder in school RIGHT NOW or else what if the lazy sticks and he stays lazy FOREVER?” I.e. what if he doesn’t turn out a “hard worker,” which is definitely a very important thing in my family and maybe in yours?

    I say this as someone who most of my teachers when I was in high school would have called lazy – like, coming to class when I felt like it, not turning in a single assignment “lazy.” But I don’t think I was actually lazy, I think I was bored and unengaged as shit and had very well-honed passive resistance skills.

    And spoiler, once I was able to figure out what I liked and get into an environment I was excited about, I was able to start working my ass off towards my goals. I think the only thing anyone could have said to me that would have helped when I was a teenager was, “What do you actually want to be working on? What do you want to do instead?” Guilting me and making me feel stupid and making assumptions about the reasons that I wasn’t getting work done only made me more resistant and resentful of whoever was doing it.

    • eblue said:

      I agree with this so hard. I was homeschooled, and prior to being fourteen and attending online high school, I carried a lot of guilt and anxiety about my abilities and my work ethic. Although I did really well with my alternative education, there was a great deal of fear about being able to make it in “the real world”. Now that I’m almost done high school, I have a 95%+ average and several job experiences to keep that fear in check, but if Charlie’s main experiences have been ones of criticism and failure, it’s going to contribute to his motivation and focus. Once he gets out of the house and is able to develop some real interests, you may be surprised by how his laziness changes. Acquiring a sense of personal competence can change just about everything.

    • Also, one more thing: finding adult education-style night classes about the things he really is interested in can be awesome. Like, when I was 16 I convinced my mom to let me take evening Russian classes, even though I would have skipped that whole day of school. Do I remember a single fucking thing about how to speak Russian? No way man. But it was exciting and I was doing SOMETHING. (And when I finally ended up in college I ended up doing Russian studies for years.)

      There may be holes in his skill sets that could make aspects of night classes hard, but that might actually be a motivator, ya know? Like if he’s loving carpentry but having trouble with the math necessary, he might be more inclined to learn it for that specific reason, rather than a more abstract “you might use this someday.”

      • JenniferP said:

        I never used algebra, or trig, or physics and then suddenly: cinematography and sound recording. Calculating lighting ratios. Bouncing light. The properties of light. Waves of sound, acoustics. Ooooohhhhhh, that’s why.

        • thebearpelt said:

          Oh my god, right?! Or using sin and cos and tan for expressions in Adobe AfterEffects. Like wow. Film is awesome.

        • I was a pretty decent math student in high school, but trigonometry never really clicked for me until I took a lighting design course. There’s a world of difference between “if you screw up this equation, you will do poorly on your homework” and “if you screw up this equation, no one will be able to fucking see.”

          • JenniferP said:

            Exactly!

          • Marvel said:

            Amen to that.

        • Mary said:

          I used to work with a woman who’d had the same experience with textiles. Scraped the GCSE maths grade C she needed to get into college to study textiles and fashion design, mostly thinking how stupid and unfair it was that even fashion required a C grade in maths. Got to college, and found she had to size things up and down and work out pattern layouts and pleats and folds and suddenly maths was this brilliant amazing tool that let you make gorgeous stuff.

    • I really think “lazy” almost always means “just doesn’t care about this”. Sometimes it is something that really needs to be done anyway, but sometimes it’s better to find something else.

      • Laughing Giraffe said:

        I’m pretty sure my math and chemistry teachers thought I was on the verge of flunking out of high school. At least one of them expressed amazement when I managed to get it together enough to get an A on the final exam. Another’s jaw almost hit the floor when he came to ask another teacher something and found me conversing with said teacher in fluent French. The idea that I wasn’t doing so hot in their classes because I was busy getting 95s in English literature and Francais Langue hadn’t crossed their minds.

        • Kaz said:

          Teachers who think that because you’re not good at their subject you must be a terrible student period make me angry. I had an art teacher like that – I always got terrible grades in his art classes, except that one term we did architectural styles. I had to resit the exam because I was ill, and I still remember how he informed me of the mark I’d gotten: by grabbing me in the hall and going “You know… your exam… it wasn’t that bad! [rough German equivalent of B+/A-] or something!” in a tone of absolute stupefaction. Gee, thanks, dude! Just because I can’t draw straight lines/without smudging the paper worth beans and that’s a D offense for you doesn’t mean I can’t learn what type of windows are Gothic and what are Romanesque, but I’m glad to know how little you expect of me.

        • Xenophile said:

          I had a pre-calculus teacher who used to interrupt class to tell me I was lazy and just an all-round awful student. At the time, my physics teacher was sexually harassing me and there was a lot of overlap between the two courses. Trying to solve kinematics problem sets, and anything else involving sin curves or derivatives, gave me panic attacks, so I just stopped trying to do my homework in either class. But I was just lazy in my math teacher’s eyes.

  18. the alternative school in town and each grade takes a year to cover

    I’m 20 years out of touch with this, but when I was a smart but lazy high school student there were night school classes that went way faster than this. At his age you may need to stop looking at programs designed to replicate the traditional schooling experience and start looking more at stuff targeted at the older GED crowd. The fact that they age-out people at 20 makes me think that the AS you’re talking about is deliberately trying not to include that crowd.

    • MamaCheshire said:

      +1.

      I don’t know where the LW is, but where I am the alternative high schools have “credit recovery” classes, which are basically self-paced with assistance of a teacher “get the stuff you missed quickly” things. A lot of the foster care/juvenile justice programs I work with have kids who have been truant a lot (including but not limited to LGBTQ kids with school refusal due to severe bullying) and this presents an alternative option for them that will take considerably less time than “one year per grade level”.

      • LW here said:

        I have looked for programs like that, and the nearest one is more than a hundred miles away. Unfortunately. He doesn’t know enough yet to succeed in a GED program or that would be our answer.

  19. akestra said:

    For military reading, Bruce Catton’s Civil War histories, especially “A Stillness At Appomattox”, are all excellent. I would also look into military fiction, which is very readable and also introduces a lot of military concepts about leadership, logistics, esprit du corps, etc. “The Killer Angels” is a wonderful historical novel about the battle of Gettysburg, which has a nicely produced TV miniseries made from it.

    Barbara Tuchman’s “The Zimmerman Telegram” and “The Guns of August” are very readable histories of the diplomatic and political machinations behind the First World War, written by someone who had unique access to the actual people who made the key decisions, being a relative of several very influential men of the time.

    In fact, most branches of the Armed Services have official reading lists, with both suggested reading for troops and required texts. Here’s the Army’s: http://www.history.army.mil/html/books/105/105-1-1/index.html and Here’s the one for the Marine Corps: http://guides.grc.usmcu.edu/usmcreadinglist (the Marine Corps one is organized by rank, including one for enlisted recruits). “The Red Badge of Courage” is a perennial favorite on these lists, as is “Starship Troopers” by Robert Heinlein. Pick out some books from these lists and have him work on them. Let him see for himself the kind of reading and coursework he’ll be expected to do as a soldier, because he will be expected to learn quite a bit. He may be under the impression that if he can just get in to the Army, he can leave schoolwork behind. Seeing these reading lists may help he understand that it will just be the beginning.

    • L said:

      If he’s interested in military historical fiction and not picky about the country, I highly recommend the Sharpe books by Bernard Cornwell. They’re set in roughly the Napoleonic wars (they cover a lot of ground) and, as a bonus, include historical notes at the end.

      • Seconding the Bernard Cornwell recommendation.

        • neverjaunty said:

          Third or whatever-ing. His Archer’s Tale series is also wonderful, but for recreations of military history you can’t beat Sharpe.

      • akestra said:

        Oh yes! Also, again, really good British TV miniseries based on these books have been produced, there are like a dozen of them, spread over many years, all starring Sean Bean! (And *spoilers*, he doesn’t even die in any of them!) Also am obliged to plug the Horatio Hornblower novels, a slightly older series about a British naval officer, also heavily researched and set vaguely during the Napoleonic period.

    • maudie said:

      First-time commenter creeping in to add that if he’s not in the habit of voluntary reading, he might find audiobooks a more accessible way to ease in. They might have fewer bad I-am-being-forced-to-do-school associations.

      Audible and Audiobooks.com both offer a download of one free book, and if LW’s local library has access to Overdrive, they’ll have access to literally hundreds of great-quality recordings. My SO, who feels guilty about never sitting down to read, listened “Starship Troopers” and Cornwall’s Saxon Tales driving to and from work. It’s something!

    • LW here said:

      Thank you! I’ll set him up with these.

  20. Jessica said:

    Seconding the idea of enrolling him in classes like those for theater. At the very least, it gives him a fun outlet that is structured and gives him an idea of how classes work, but that isn’t linked to your telling him to study all the time. I know you want him to “get with the program,” but he’s had years of being able to do what he wants. Suddenly putting in the effort to zoom through several years of schooling is quite a switch when it comes to daily routines.

    And really, he could be very artistic and creative. He could find a niche in those classes. Middle school math doesn’t really bring that out in people. :-)

    Something that’s also getting my attention is where he’s placing his attention. Burying himself in Netflix movies isn’t necessarily a sign of a lack of motivation. He could realize how far behind he is, relatively speaking, and there could be an element of embarassment driving this. In other words, the movies are a way for him to avoid being reminded that what he learned with your parents wasn’t adequate. It could be totally subconscious, but it is possible that it’s avoidance due to not wanting to be reminded. Face it, catching up on middle school and high school is a monumental task. I’m glad you’re helping him. But remember that to him, the work you’re doing with him may represent more to him than just catching up. It could be a daily reminder that he’s somehow not “normal.”

    The best of luck to you both!

  21. akestra said:

    Oh yeah, keeping with the martial history theme, if he’s really into just watching stuff instead of reading, have him watch “Band of Brothers”, “The Pacific” and “John Adams” if he hasn’t seen them.

  22. I agree with the Captain that backing off is probably the best strategy, LW. I work in a middle school, so I know how boring some of the curriculum can be, and also how if you just try and force kids to do it because they’ll need to go to college someday/they’ll need to get a good job someday/they just have to, okay?! it does. not. work. Middle schoolers dig into their schoolwork when it’s relevant to their lives, when it’s something they’re interested in, or when it’s in a fun format, not because it’ll be good for them in the long run. While Charlie is beyond middle school age now, he’s still only 18, and I doubt your parents bothered to teach him how to think about long-term consequences or see the future as a real thing that he can affect through his choices right now. Trying to force him to do boring work because it’ll be good for a career he doesn’t seem to want to immediately start is almost certainly a losing proposition.

    While you’re backing off, though, you might want to read up on a few things. This part of your letter stood out to me:
    He says he doesn’t like learning all this because it makes him ‘feel dumb’. His solution is to ignore all the things he doesn’t know instead of learn them. It might be interesting for you to read Mindset: The New Psychology of Success by Dr. Carol Dweck. Dweck has done a bunch of research that shows that individuals in a “growth mindset,” who really believe they can improve certain personal qualities — intelligence, creativity, sports skill, etc. — can actually make huge gains in those areas. They improve because they see instances of failure as signs of learning and effort as an essential tool, and so they seek out challenges to make themselves better. Individuals in a “fixed mindset,” on the other hand, believe that their qualities are unchangeable, and the amount of intelligence/creativity/athleticism they have right now is all they’re ever going to have. As a result, they see instances of failure as permanently labeling them as A Failure and effort as something that only dumb/unskilled people have to exert, and they shy away from challenges — and never improve in those areas. It sounds like Charlie’s very much in a fixed mindset about his schoolwork. He sees challenging work not as an opportunity for growth, but as a threat will just prove to you/the world that he’s not smart. Add on to this any shame or stigma he might feel about being an 18-year-old struggling with 6th grade math, and it’s easy to see why he wouldn’t want to put a lot of effort into his online classes.

    The good news is, people are capable of changing their mindset! Just because Charlie’s mindset is discouraging him from doing his schoolwork now doesn’t mean it’s always going to be that way. But in order for that to happen, you need to lay off the pressure. Let him explore some topics or subjects that are more interesting to him. Let him learn through other formats — movies, books, etc. Let him excel at his job without insisting that he really should have a better one. And then, once the tension has died down, you might be able to talk to him about mindset as a concept, or even have him read the book (the writing is pretty simple and very engaging, with lots of examples and not a lot of jargon). It’s admirable that you want to bring him up to speed as quickly as possible, but continuing to push him is going to ruin your relationship and not help him learn anything.

    • Amy said:

      Seconded! Dweck’s work is really important and accessible. Another implication is to focus on praising the work Charlie DOES do, and even his mistakes as evidence of taking risks and trying. I don’t just mean in schoolwork, which the Captain is right that you should step back from supervising. I mean all the work he does in trying to figure out the Having a Life thing, including his job.

  23. clodia said:

    I used to volunteer at a Literacy Council, where we not only provided English and math classes for adults who were ESOL, but also for English as first language learners. There were also GED prep courses within the same program. These classes were free with a minimal charge for books.

    I’m not saying that’s the best choice for your brother, LW, but it is another option if he wants to take it and needs the structure. There’s nothing wrong with needing structure for learning. As a college graduate, I still have (major) issues with doing things on my own without a classroom. One of my friends flunked out of grad school because it was online only. I agree with everything CA says, that you don’t want your relationship defined by your expectations for him. That’s strained my little brother’s relationship with both of our parents, and we’ve largely kept an open, friendly relationship because I’ve refused to do so.

    Good luck to you, LW, and to your little brother.

  24. Nicole said:

    LW,

    Another unusual suggestion- have you looked into your local BOCES/vocational ed/community college program? You can try googling your location + GED prep course. They’re likely to have the sort of courses your brother will need (covering a wide array of high school topics faster than a conventional high school program), and if a classroom setting is helpful/motivating to him, it could be a way to both enable him to get an education and also disentangle you from that immediate process.You can also find hobbyist-level VT courses, in everything from auto repair and welding to cooking and foreign languages. If it’s something he’s interested in, go for it. Even if it winds up not being something to pursue as a career, being able to DIY your car repairs or prepare food from scratch can help reduce household costs- which can be a helpful way of looking at VT at first, if your brother’s absorbed a lot of your parents’ attitudes towards technical educations. Plus, learning alongside actual humans in meatspace can be comforting, especially if it’s a skill *everyone* is new to, so he’s not constantly feeling left behind and inadequate.

    It stinks that your parents failed your brother in this way, but now that he’s an adult, it’s up to him to right this himself- you can’t turn back the clock and parent him better. He’s able to hold down a job and pay (some) bills, which is a pretty adult thing to be doing! It’s more than plenty of 18-year-olds can manage right away. If you can find ways to appreciate the things he *is* doing great at, it can help ease some of the tension between you on the schoolwork front, if he knows he’s being seen as a functioning adult and not a remedial child.

  25. Phospher said:

    CA, how was your teacher that awesome?

    LW I just wanted to say, both my brothers were conventionally schooled … and yet both of them were lazy, ignorant flakes with nothing to show for their schooling until either literally or metaphorically, the Long Term Consequences bit of their brains matured somewhere around the age 22 mark, and remarkably suddenly they snapped out of it.. My youngest brother had to repeat a year at school, and retake all sorts of things, and still ended up with crappy/fail grades. While he was unusually articulate to talk to, couldn’t string a coherent written sentence together to save his life. He now admits he was probably mildly dyslexic and yet he was so profoundly resistant to anyone even hinting at that, that nothing was ever done (something I think my parents should absolutely not have let go, but there it is). Anyway, he had legitimate issues. But he also did not try, at all.

    Until … suddenly he did. I even remember him saying that he was amazed to discover that when he *tried* to make progress,he actually could. (And we were all DUDE THAT IS WHAT WE HAVE BEEN SAYING FOR TEN YEARS.) He also adapted to his learning style — visual/kinetic, i.e, he decided it was almost impossible for anyone to teach him anything, but he could learn by gathering materials himself and moving around while he worked on them.

    He’s still sometimes a bit flakey, and I still worry about him sometimes — he’s so talented with his music and he lacks confidence! He could achieve more if he was a little more confident and focused! But … he now has a Masters degree, owns a home, teaches music and he just married a lovely (and very successful) young woman. It is ten years since he was that scarily flakey kid, and he has come further than I think anyone could have imagined.

    My other brother worked really hard at school until the EXACT POINT the exams started mattering, when he essentially went on learning strike which lasted for seven years. He went to university anyway despite terrible-to-nonexistent qualifications, and got the lowest possible degree (the grades go down further than you think!) and spent an infuriating period of time just lying on the sofa doing nothing. He now works for the police as an analyst, has the house/wife/baby works and cares for his sick father-in-law, and is all-round the most impressively responsible person you could ever hope meet.

    TL;DR, I know why you’re worried and scared and angry. But people end up where your brother is even without his past, and it’s not an irreversible doom. Nor is he going to lose all opportunity to make positive changes any time soon. Even if he loses the specific opportunities he has now, there will be other paths he can take to a good place. Even though he’s no longer a child, he’s still growing, 20-year-old or 22-year-old him may be noticeably different from 18-year-old him, and much more capable of making good decisions.

    (Incidentally, during the worst of all of this people loved to say to me: “Oh, maybe it’s because they’re intimidated by YOUR success,” like my academic achievements –which did not come effortlessly! I’d have liked to spend all day on the sofa too! — were attacks on my brothers’ fragile self-esteem. I hated that.)

    • boutet said:

      Oh my god yes! I was made to feel so guilty for being good at school, good at reading, because it apparently was the reason my next-older brother wasn’t good at those things.
      The thing is, there’s some truth to that but it was in no way my fault. It’s because assholes tried to “motivate” him by constantly reminding him that his little sister could do these things! His little sister knew how to do this! His little sister could read this! They just ripped him up until he gave up, and then blamed me for being “intimidating.”

      • Phospher said:

        I felt particularly aggrieved because it seemed predicated on the assumption I was the Golden Child who got everything right and … I really wasn’t! I was always in trouble and under pressure at school! And no one ever blamed it on my being intimidated by someone else! It seemed like I transitioned seamlessly from “it’s Phospher’s fault she’s not reaching her academic potential,” to “it’s Phospher’s fault her brothers aren’t reaching their academic potential,” with scarcely a break for “Hey! Look at the A’s/Firsts/Distinctions Phos got when it counted!”

        (This wasn’t really my parents’ doing, it was family friends and other people.)

    • neverjaunty said:

      Yes, this so much. If you had asked me as a teenager what my stepbrother was going to do when he grew up, I would have said “time”. He eventually got his act together – largely because, like Charlie, he worked at a job for a while and it helped give him some responsibility and skills – transferred from community college to a respected state college, and now has the whole stable career/wife/kids thing and is happy as a clam.

  26. Puck said:

    I love all the answers and the comments here.

    LW, I highly recommend a Sibling Book Club or Sibling Movie Club. Do things that are interesting with Charlie. Education can be gotten pretty much anywhere and boring-ass middle school workbooks aren’t the be-all end-all, even for someone who’s never reached middle school level abilities.

    Treat your brother as an adult who has agency and ideas of his own and interact with him based on those. Say, “I’m interested in helping you with school stuff, if you want that. Otherwise, let’s watch Paris Is Burning* and talk about it.” You can watch/read “not serious literature” type books/movies/shows and discuss them critically. Everything has relevance. Good luck.

    *or whatever movie you wanna watch together

  27. Liyana said:

    The Captain has given much better advice than I ever could, LW, but if it helps to hear success stories:

    One of my ex-boyfriends was a lot like Charlie. He was a bright kid who was failed by the parents he lived with (his biological parents divorced and both remarried when he was quite young, and one set had full custody of him until he was a teenager, and the education he didn’t receive (in my ex’s case, he slipped through the cracks in public school and learned to be good at flying under the radar and faking that he knew what was going on so that he didn’t get in trouble at school or at home).

    By the time he moved in with his other set of parents at the age of 15, he was vastly behind in school and vastly unmotivated to change that. He attended an alternative high school for a while, but dropped out when he was 18, in the middle of his fourth year, which would not have been his last–he had failed so many classes that he was considered a sophomore, credits-wise. After he dropped out, he spent most of his time for quite a while playing video games and surfing the internet. In an act of awesome parenting, his dad agreed to let him keep living at home while he did this, provided that he get some kind of job. He got a part-time, work-from-home job doing website design and management for a local business, and his dad laid the hell off and let him do his thing, even though I’m sure he worried privately.

    My ex’s life looked pretty aimless for a long time, but he was happy with it. And eventually, the gaming and internet circles he ran in inspired him to teach himself computer programming, which he took to like a house on fire. When we met, he was 25 and working for a big web-hosting company as a server admin. He’d bought his own house and adopted a cat and was active in a bunch of nerdy hobbies, both online and off. He was pretty damn happy with the state of his life. (He was also a hell of a lot more conventionally successful than college-educated, former straight-A-student me, by the way–I graduated from college with my fine arts degree and proceeded to work a bunch of low-paying, unchallenging day jobs in order to support my art habit.)

    My ex’s education was patchy and full of holes. He never learned the multiplication table, so he either used a calculator or added numbers by hand. When I asked him what his favorite book was, he said, “Hmmm. I remember I really liked _Sarah, Plain and Tall_ when we read it in school?” But it didn’t matter, because he figured out what kind of life and career he wanted and taught himself the things he needed to know in order to get them. He didn’t need to know the multiplication table or anything about adult literature in order to get those things, so he didn’t learn them.

    When we met, he didn’t have a high school diploma or a GED, even though technically he was supposed to have one in order to hold his job. (He’d written down “4 years of high school” as his education level on his job application, since it was true, and neglected to mention that he hadn’t actually graduated.) He confided in me that he sometimes worried his boss would discover that he didn’t have a high school diploma and that he’d lose his job. He’d considered trying to get his GED but was put off by the idea of going back to school, since K-12 education had been agony for him. I said something like, “You know, you don’t actually have to take the classes if you don’t want to. No pressure, but if you’re ever interested, here’s a testing center where you could register to take the GED on your own and see how you do. And hey, if you pass, you’ll be all set, and if you don’t, you’ll have a better idea of what you need to review before taking it again,” and then dropped it. Forever.

    About a year after that conversation, 6 months after we’d broken up amicably, he contacted me to say, “Hey Liyana, I just thought you might like to know that I took the GED last week, and I passed! I’m up for a promotion at work that’s requiring me to submit proof of my high school diploma, so it’s a good thing I passed on the first try!”

    And that’s how my ex got his GED at the age of 26, after spending his entire life hating school and dropping out of high school: when he needed to have one in order to do a thing he badly wanted to do. And I’m so glad that his dad had the sense to lay off the pressure and let his 18-year-old kid find his own unconventional route to success and happiness, because my ex has done swimmingly.

    • What a nice story.

  28. commanderlogic said:

    Just wanted to drop a recommendation here for Making a Science Thing as opposed to an Art Thing.

    I think every episode of Mythbusters is available streaming from somewhere, and though they disclaimer NOT TO TRY THIS SHIT AT HOME, some of it can be done in miniature to excellent effect. They BUILD stuff. Cool stuff! Simple stuff! Robots! And figuring out how to replicate it in a non-blowing-up-or-injury-causing way can be a great entry to not only science, but math, history, and practical abilities.

    Take for example the annual Punkin’ Chunkin’ Festival (required Thanksgiving Day viewing at Chez Logic) http://punkinchunkin.com/ – there’s science and math in determining how each different category of machine works, history behind how they were developed, practical building know-how in the people who build them. Maybe you two could build miniature trebuchets and torsion throwers and have a peanut-chunkin contest.

    By disdaining “trades” your brother might be missing something that he has a knack for or really enjoys. Or you two can just enjoy watching stuff blow up on TV. FOR SCIENCE!

    Or go to a class or two at a culinary school. People need to know how to feed themselves, and starting from scratch with a bunch of other people who are starting from scratch can be refreshing.

    But basically, I want to get behind Making a Thing (ANYTHING) as an experiment in whether it’s something that interests your brother. All the other advice is golden.

    • Xenophile said:

      There are also some amazing DIY sciences kits available online! DIY robotics, DIY genetics testing, digital microscopes for under $30…something hands on would be way more fun than a middle school textbook.

  29. Diatryma said:

    Letterwriter, there are many very good comments here. I’d add that it may help for *you* to learn something impossible. If Charlie is tired of failing, show him how to fail. Grab a teach-yourself-calculus book when you haven’t used algebra in years. Back off on him and start working on something you care about, whether it’s a professional certification exam or learning to code. Don’t do it because you’re Modeling for Charlie. Do it because you want to learn and maybe he’ll notice it. But only maybe.

    • This is a splendid idea. I’d add that if possible, start working on something that Charlie is good at – and that you aren’t. Maybe playing World of Warcraft and completely failing at it could be a Brother Time activity? For once, Charlie would be the one who knows how things work, and you don’t. He’d be better at it than you. That reversal could be useful for both of you.

    • Darcy Pennell said:

      I have a sibling who (while the specifics are different) has some things in common with Charlie, mainly believing that he can’t learn new things. Self-directed learning has always come easily to me and if I dive into something new my sib doesn’t react with “wow, I guess learning isn’t impossible after all, I’ll do it too!” It’s more the opposite, watching me enjoy the challenge and get better at a new skill seems to make my sib feel *less* desire to apply himself, plus bonus resentment towards me for being smarter than him. Which I am absolutely not, but he believes that I am.

      You don’t want it to come off as “I can do this, what’s wrong with you???” so think about the chances that Charlie will take it that way. Tread carefully, is all I’m saying. I like Apoidea Theorem (Bisatser)’s suggestion of trying something where Charlie has more expertise. Letting Charlie be the expert, and teacher/guide if he wants to, could help a lot with confidence.

  30. Kitts said:

    Oh man, OP, with a few changes this could have been me about eight years ago. My brother has mental health problems that complicate the picture somewhat, but he also spent much of his childhood and adolescence being kept at home and not actually homeschooled. I tried to fix the problem with my own tutoring and encouragement, and I just ended up pushing my poor brother into anxiety attacks.

    A lot of the Captain’s advice is quite good, and I want to second the person who suggested he chat one-on-one with a recruiter. I also have ano other thing to add:

    You seem really frustrated with Charlie’s “laziness” (you don’t use that word, but the Captain did.) It might be useful to remember that self-discipline and focus are learned skills, ones that are often taught in schools. Neither my brother nor I learned these skills in school– he because he didn’t go to school, me because I was smart enough to cover for my ADHD until college. Even after I got medicine, I still had to learn how to manage my time and structure my life. Try to keep in mind that Charlie’s trouble sticking with schoolwork when he’s tired from his job or just really wants to watch Netflix is the same kind of problem as his inability to do algebra. He never learned it!

    I’m not entirely sure how he can best learn these skills. If your parents can be made to pay for a tutor, having one who can also teach study skills would be a good thing to look for. Community centers and YMCAs sometimes offer classes like this, as do community colleges.

    Finally, please remember that you can get a GED at any age. My brother didn’t end up making any progress towards a high school degree until his early 20s, when he found an online GED class that worked for him. GEDs do have a stigma attached, but last I checked the military didn’t distinguish (last I checked was about 8 years ago, so I could be wrong). And a GED will get him into community college, where he can either learn a trade skill or cheaply take care of a year or two of a four-year degree. I have several friends who did the GED-community college-university route, and they’re all doing fine.

    Anyway, good luck to both of you! I’m glad Charlie has a sibling who cares so much about him!

    • boutet said:

      “I’m not entirely sure how he can best learn these skills”
      Having a job is a good start. It would be better, maybe, if it wasn’t erratic hours, but a workplace is not going to hold your hand and cheer you on. You are given tasks and you have to do them. Not doing your tasks has direct consequences (possibility of being fired, pay being docked, etc). If it’s a job that has different parts of it dependent on different people doing their task, not doing your task screws up the next person, so you get social pressure to do your work properly and on time. So you learn to do your tasks without direct supervision, you learn to focus on your task.
      It’ll take a bit to turn that into focus on educational tasks, but the skills are being built on some level at least :)

  31. Amber said:

    This advice is timely for me. My 23 year old brother just finished college and he’s all my parents talk about. “How do we motivate your brother? You were always so hard working, etc. etc.” My advice is always back off, he’s an adult, he’s smart, he’ll figure it out when he has too. And they say, “yeah but we’re totally supporting him financially…” and I’m like, “maybe, stop?”

    And this is the part of the Captain’s advice I’m surprised she didn’t address. Because it sounds like the brother is living off of his brother. He has a job that pays for car insurance, but what about gas, rent, etc. I would be NOT COOL with my brother moving in with me and living off of me, unless he had concrete goals and a timeline. Should the LW kick his brother out? Just back off and swallow his own irritation? Charge him rent?

    • Manders said:

      This jumped out at me too. Right now, as far as the parents are concerned, everything’s working out just fine: Charlie’s out of the house, he has a job, he’s not their problem financially. If the LW wants to move, have kids, or do something else that would mean there’s no spare room available in the near future, will Charlie have a place to go? Is LW delaying certain things with the expectation that Charlie will be self-sufficient in a few years? Because right now it seems like there’s no set point in the future at which Charlie’s expected to be independent, and his parents don’t have any reason to help out financially since LW is picking up the slack.

      LW, can you support your brother for three more years? Five? Ten? He will eventually need to be at least functional in reading and math, but priority #1 is making sure he can support himself when you can’t (and that may mean a few more years of education, but he doesn’t need an advanced understanding of biology to pay his own rent).

      • espritdecorps said:

        Yes! LW is understandably angry with their parents, but it might be worth it to sit down with them and come up with a plan that puts Charlie’s self-sufficiency at the forefront rather than his education.

        As many other commenters have said, the best way to make him want to further his education is for him to be engaged with something. The best way to get him engaged is to require him to be responsible for himself.

  32. Dea said:

    I agree with the Captain’s Advice, and I just want to add my personal experience with how a lack of formal learning isn’t necessarily an impediment to success.

    I had a couple of guys in my friends group through high school, college, etc, who were all very bright, and very seriously unmotivated by much of anything. One of them went to public school, and didn’t finish college. One of them went to an elite private high school, and… didn’t finish college. Both of them decided to work instead, at jobs that weren’t really their passion, but that, over the years, paid the bills enough for them to get up, move out, start families, and do what they wanted. In fact, they are earning more working in retail than I am with my fancy college, professional career, and masters degree. (No, totally not bitter about that).

    So while I think it would be great if Charlie found a passion for learning, or worked seriously towards his dreams, it doesn’t mean he won’t have a decent life, even if he just works at the cleaners forever.

    As an aside, these guys were both serious media consumers – comic book reading, netflix watching, hardcore gamers. Part of their frustration with high school and college was that it didn’t teach them how to channel their creativity into creating the things they loved to consume.

    • Teka Lynn said:

      Thank you! This is OT, I know, but I’ve been working retail for twenty years, after having gotten a BA in English and “done nothing” with my education. It’s not a job I adore, but it pays the bills, I’m not in debt, and my husband and I have had a happy stable relationship since 1989. Reading your comment actually…makes me feel I’m NOT a “failure”. I feel as though a weight’s lifted off my shoulders. Thank you so much.

    • secretrebel said:

      There’s a great book called Reality is Broken by Jane McGonnigal which is all about how school isn’t set up to reward achievement in the way games are.

  33. Polychrome said:

    Many of the practical suggestions here seem amazing to me, but I just wanted to leave a comment about the LW’s desire to make things right for his brother and the ways his parents failed his much younger brother. I am not a qualified anything, but having (much less dramatic) feels of a similar sort vis a vis a younger sibling, I just wanted to check in with you, LW, and say something about the joys of cranking down one’s own intense anxiety about retroactive fixes and taking charge because you’ve had that mashed into you as a life skill. I’m gonna guess that even if your parents did a good job on the edumacation front for you and the older siblings there were still things that you hit like a brick wall out in the worldly world for which your parents did not prepare you. Having to kind of take that on for yourself, and probably to constantly ever since you were more or less sentient do all kinds of little repairs around the edges of your parents’ unwillingness / inability / whatever to deal with the world as it is (which I am sure had an up side: being anti-establishment is for defs not all bad, like I like the lefty hippy kind best but can see that even the wild eyed conservative kind has a certain kind of critical disposition going for it) , and so forth — originally unconsciously, like, not even knowing that’s what you were doing, and then it is habitual, and then it is increasingly vital as you needed to sally forth yourself, etc. etc, the combination of both AGGGGGHHHHH you have to WATCH THE ROAD and realizing that the people driving aren’t, entirely, but then also the pride about I HAVE LEARNED TO WATCH THE ROAD AND HERE’S HOW YOU DO IT, and then just your love for your brother and your caring for him — it’s a lot of stuff. Even if you are better at all of it than were your parents (available evidence suggests oh yeah, absolutely), you still can’t control final outcomes any more than any mortal can, and it’s okay to sort of let yourself off the hook a bit. Charlie might not be okay if you don’t sit on his head and make him study, but like… you don’t have to be responsible for everything. You can’t, anyway. I say this with solidarity, not admonishment — I don’t mean “so what” about Charlie but more like hey, your own oxygen mask might slip off if you keep trying to wrassle him into his and that’s no good for anybody.

    (I just want people to know that I deleted a sailing metaphor that surged in uninvited during the composition of this comment but somehow ended up with both driving and air travel. I do my darndest but metaphors wriggle out of my fingers and on to the keyboard faster than I can, oh god help me, lasso them…)

  34. CrackerJackJS said:

    Hi Captain and LW!

    Long time reader (loooong time) first time commenter! This is not the first post that has made me desire to comment, but it is the one with the magic combination that will make me actually do it.

    Some back-story: I was a child actor, and never went to the same school two years in a row. My schooling included: public elementary school in SoCal, public elementary school in NorCal, montessori school, homeschooling for a year, a new charter school, a prestigious private school, an independent study/Montessori program, private/charter high school, and then smack into giant public high school. If I had not been a self-directed learner, and someone who instinctively “gets” how school works and how to excel, I would not have done as well as I did. (This was followed by community college, transfer to a prestigious university, a career in the arts, and some tutoring/teaching). I’m of the opinion that if you’re not a self-directed learner, or lit up by the need to learn something, it will be really difficult to learn anything at all.

    I was also one of those children who got in trouble for reading during class. Jedi Hugs of solidarity, secret readers!

    You are welcome to make his living with you conditional to his being in school or having a job. You’re all adults here!

    I have a few suggestions:
    1) Seconding the nonfiction. The ONLY reason I know any world history is because of the historical fiction I read, and the nonfiction I read to follow that up. For a History/Chemistry one-two punch, might I recommend The Poisoner’s Handbook by Deborah Blum, Unscientific America by Chris Mooney, and Surely You’re Joking, Mr. Feynman! by Richard Feynman.
    2) This suggestion is provided with a caveat of “if he wants to since he’s an adult” but gamification of schooling is a thing! If he can’t find any reading/math/science programs that interest him (one of my favorites is freerice.org) he can create a HabitRPG specifically for schoolwork! There are also puzzle games and all that, which are great for mind expanding.
    3) Volunteering! Volunteering is a great way to learn skills. He can tailor it to something he’s interested in. Maybe he could train to be a park ranger?
    4) I don’t know if this has been shared before, but the youtube series Smarter Every Day (https://www.youtube.com/user/destinws2) has amazing facts all the time, PLUS it’s an entertaining youtube video. Learning disguised as silly youtube!

    If he doesn’t want to learn, that would personally break my heart because I am a firm believer in Knowledge and the Seeking Of, but there are lots of types of knowledge. Nature, science, craftsmanship, art, words, math, culinary arts, economics, social knowledge, etc. Talk to your brother (during the backing off stage) about what he LIKES to do and what makes him feel smart!

  35. Your 6th grade teacher is the best.

    As someone who was traditionally schooled but hated all forms of homework (I was just in school for eight hours and now you want me to do MORE school? I don’t think so), I can attest to the fact that pushing Charlie too hard will just lead him to resent you. My parents tried everything they could think of to get me to do my homework, but all that did was push me away from them.

  36. Bunny said:

    I think one thing that might be making this hard for Charlie as well, is there’s no one he knows who understands his position. All his siblings, and I imagine most of his peers, completed school in some form and finished the work he’s currently struggling through many years earlier than he did. That can feel embarrassing, demotivating and isolating. If everyone else around you mastered those skills and seems to be able to do those things almost by magic, it can start to feel as though you’re just broken, somehow. I used to feel that way about social skills, and life skills like how to be Competent At Housework. And it’s a self-reinforcing recipe for isolation and avoidance. And on top of all of that, he’s replaced one set of parents for another, at an age when he’s likely to be desperately craving some independence.

    What got my home out of squalor wasn’t my friends staging a cleaning intervention on my home when I was out of town. It wasn’t the “helpful” list they gave me explaining how often different chores should be done. It wasn’t my grandmother refusing to enter my home or my grandfather telling me how embarrassed he was for me. And you can bet I never, not once, felt able to actually ask any of those people for advice or help.

    It was when I found an online support group for people in the same situation as me. People who I knew would react to “I filled three bags with trash and did a load of dishes today!” with “That’s so great, we’re so proud of you!”. People who knew what it was like to look at a dirty room and just have absolutely no clue where to start. People who included both those who inspired me, and those who looked to me for inspiration.

    So I would ask – is there really no way the local school near you might be an option for him, even just for the first year or even just for some classes? What about night and evening adult education classes? He might only manage to get two years of schooling out of it before he needs to go back to learning at home with you, but in that time he will hopefully have learned the skills required to study independently, and be more confident about it.

    If the school thing really isn’t an option, have you looked up online support groups, or local meetup study groups for adults in his situation, as an alternative?

    • LW here said:

      The isolation factor didn’t even occur to me. He skypes regularly with his friends, but they don’t even know the real situation. The ‘Official’ cover story is Charlie’s just repeated the last two years of high school. I’ll look for something online, I think he’d be more comfortable with a forum setting than an in-person meeting.

  37. dahllaz said:

    I did okay in school. Pretty solid A/B student. But sometimes, learning was still so damn hard. I often feel like people think I was/am smarter than am in reality; it’s not so much that I understood stuff, just lucky enough to have a good memory.

    In 5th grade I was in an advance math class. I loooooooved math, it was FUN! Long, sorta complicated multiplying and division I could do in my head.
    In 6th grade I was put in a 7th grade math class. This was the beginning of the end of fun math. My brain/learning style just did not handle alegebra and geometry well at all. High school math turned me into a crying, sobbing bundle of anxiety who at one point needed a tutor just to scrape together a C. Now I can’t remember how to do the fun math (mulitpling, division, percentages, fractions.)
    So, uh, no idea what might help with those struggles. :(

    Also loved History, though the school stuff was often boring as fuck. I had tricks to just get the assigned questions finished as quick as possible so I could spend the rest of class reading my own stuff.
    There’s been a lot of great suggestions for military stuff already.
    Some non-military stuff that I really enjoyed:
    The Big Burn: Teddy Roosevelt and the Fire That Saved America
    1910,it also covers a bit on the Teddy Roosevelt presidency, even though he wasn’t President at the time of the fire (US Forest Service was created by Roosevelt). This fire changed a LOT in how fires were fought. Some for the better, some for the worst. I also found it errie how much similar the politcal landscape with big business adn the power they wield is similar to what is happening now.
    Bums: An Oral History of the Brooklyn Dodgers.
    Early baseball, early 20th century New York, Jim Crow era and Jackie Robinson. Not “typical history” topic, but really interesting. Lot of quotes and stories by the players, coaches, fans, owners.
    The Fiery Trial: Abraham Lincoln and American Slavery.
    Even those that opposed slavery had some fucked up views about slaves/African Americans and Lincoln was one of them – but his views also changed and evolved. This was often troubling (fucked up views!) but wow I learned a lot. School history just skims over so much.
    Last Call: The Rise and Fall of Prohibition
    Kind of self explantory what it’s about. Interesting read.

    Obviously, my history reading is US centric, which isn’t the greatest. :/

    Also: I looove reading, which helps a lot. But these particular ones were audiobooks I purchased. Now, that wont be the best as far as pure reading skills go, but it might be a different way to engage a desire to take in some history. Plus, this way the ‘reading’ can be done while doing other activities!

    • I was the opposite of you: I loved algebra (and by extension chemistry), but I hated trigonometry and calculus, so it was pre-calculus that was the end of fun math for me. It was such a disappointment. I scraped by with a C in calculus and never went back.

  38. Nthing the sentiment of “back off a little here.” Some backstory: I was unschooled as a kid and more or less learned whatever I was interested in when I was interested in it. My dad tried to get me to memorize my times tables up to 12×12, to the point of offering me monetary compensation, and it absolutely did not stick until I was using the knowledge on a regular basis. Despite being fairly uninterested in STEM-related topics throughout childhood and adolescence, I discovered a blazing enthusiasm for math once I got to (community) college, I’m excelling in classes, and I’m in the engineering program. I’m highly motivated for some things and highly unmotivated for other things, and the things I’m highly unmotivated to do are mostly either boring or terrifying (to me, not universally.) Humans are never *finished*. There’s no point at which you just stop. We’re always learning SOMETHING, even if that something is reinforcing toxic patterns that don’t serve us in the long run.

    It is not your job to be the boss of Charlie’s life. Partly because individual agency is kind of a basic principle of interpersonal ethics, partly because it’s literally impossible to actually just *make* him do what you want, and partly because having someone standing at your elbow egging you to do things does the EXACT OPPOSITE of helping you develop self-discipline to reach your own goals. Sometimes having an accountability buddy is helpful, but that’s when it’s a thing that *you choose*, and when you’re actually committed to following through on whatever you’re trying to do and just having trouble motivating yourself, and it doesn’t even work for everyone.

    Offer whatever support and resources you’re comfortable with, but you are in a leading-the-horse-to-water situation. Charlie will drink when he feels thirsty and that water, I can guarantee both you and him, will taste like the actual best thing ever.

  39. Sarah said:

    I was in a similar situation once. Right out of high school my highly educated parents really wanted me to go to college. And I claimed that I did as well, but I would never do the work. I was depressed and lost and confused. So at 21 one, after dropping in and out of colleges I just stopped and I spent the next three years working retail and food service jobs that made me miserable, and now at 24 I am re-enrolled in school and highly motivated and optimistic for being able to complete the course load.

    For a long time I felt like I was wasting my life and that these were years I would look back upon with regret and would irrevocably set me behind my peers. And in many ways I am still fighting those feels. But in those 3 years I learned so much that school would never have taught me and that I needed to know to be a happy adult.

    Things I learned only after I stopped trying to learn things:
    hot to better regulate my emotions
    hot to take out loans
    how to get a job
    how to quit a job
    how to work 50 hour weeks at emotionally and physically taxing jobs
    how to drive
    how to make bread
    how to make beer
    how to budget, plan, shop for and cook healthy, tasty meals
    how to clean an apartment
    how to lease an apartment
    how to make friends out of school
    how to identify and kindly break-up with toxic friends
    how to gain a partner
    hot to identify and kindly break-up with toxic partners
    how to find and maintain a live-in ltr
    how to save and make a budget and live on very little money
    how to drive from Virginia to California and back by myself on a tight budget
    how to manage men old enough to be my father who deeply resent being told what to do by a woman young enough to be their daughter

    I could go on and on, but my point is that trying to “figure yourself out” is really hard and takes a long time and is not wasted time. If you give your brother, a fellow adult, some space he will probably learn a hell of a lot of things that you can never teach him.

    • You SO did not waste those years.

      • Erin said:

        Seconded. That’s a hell of a lot of useful knowledge.

  40. KnowThyself said:

    Has the LW or Charlie seen the Crash Course channel? Among others, they have an amazing series on world history that is entertaining, informative, brief, and relevant including starting the series with why this is all important in every day life. https://www.youtube.com/user/crashcourse

    • Yarnspider said:

      I was about to suggest that as well, along with SciShow for fun, intriguing introductions. Also, ViHart’s “Doodling in Math Class” videos are a lot of fun. https://www.youtube.com/user/Vihart/videos

  41. I was Homeschooled Nightmare Student + Should Not Have Been In College. That did not end well, but I did find the path again. I wish I could apologize to all the professors who had to put up with that. Jennifer, on behalf of my people, thank you for your patience. :)

  42. I agree with CA and the other commenters, LW: pushing your brother too hard is only going to make him resent learning. I think the key is to find something that can teach him without it feeling too much like work to him. And once you find something like that, show it to him and then leave him to his own devices.

    To expand on CA’s idea of reading military books, what about getting him to write a story about some made-up battle? That would exercise his writing skills and if it’s going to be at all realistic, he’d probably have to do some research. Maybe you could suggest a medieval setting so he would need to learn the physics of catapults, the architecture of castles, and how terrain, weather, and scare tacts can mean the difference between victory and defeat. If it was a modern setting, he could pick a far off country that he then would have to learn about their geography, culture, and current technology. And if it was taking place in space, he would learn about astronomy, physics, zero-gravity living, and how you can’t actually hear explosions in space because there’s no air to carry the sound.

    Another possible route would be through video games. As a gamer myself, I actually love games that challenge me to think, learn, and plan. While they’re no substitute for a more structured education, they certainly wouldn’t hurt and might encourage him to explore beyond them. Here’s some games that found with just a quick search (most are available on Steam):

    - Minecraft: A famous building game where basic geometry and math are very helpful. There’s also basic logic circuits for designing and building your own machines (which is challenging, I can say from personal experience).
    - Banished: A city-building strategy game that emphasizes resource management and city planning. One of my favorite games in fact.
    - Universe Sandbox: A space sandbox sim where you can affect planets, solar systems, even whole galaxies using real physics.
    - Plague Inc.: Attempt to evolve a plague that will wipe out all human life in this sim. So realistic that the CDC asked the developer to speak about his infection models.
    - Kerbal Space Program: Create your own space program which will succeed or fail based on physics.
    - Space Engineers: Another physics-based space sandbox where you can build your own spaceships and space stations.
    - The Typing of the Dead: Zombies coming at you are assigned random kill-words and you have to type them fast enough to survive.
    - World of Guns: A sim that lets you assemble and disassemble guns down to their smallest parts. This would probably be some great knowledge for entering the army.
    - Europa Universalis: Involves lots of strategizing and has an amazingly accurate historical basis.

    That’s just some to start, and there’s many more out there of course!

    My final idea would be going on trips to places of historical military significance. I don’t know where you live but perhaps there’s a old fort nearby? Maybe a castle or the site of a battlefield from a century ago? Chances are the tour guides working there would be a wealth of information and would love answering questions about what happened there. Where I live, there’s an old fortress that hires actors during the summer to dress up and play the parts of people who would have lived there in the past. It’s really cool to be immersed back in another time period.

  43. Aurora_Belle said:

    I agree with the stuff that the other commenters have said: find stuff that does interest him, help him learn that stuff and back off on the rest until he’s ready.

    One other thing you can do is look into GED requirements, and make getting him ready for that kind of program your goal for your involvement. That way, when/if he’s ready, he can pursue that (I know it is looked down on, but one of my good friends in pharmacy school is a former high school dropout. He couldn’t deal when he was a teen, so he didn’t, but at some point he decided that he needed that education and he made it happen).

    Good luck, LW :)

  44. thebewilderness said:

    I volunteered with a local literacy program. One of the most difficult aspects of learning ESL (English as a second language) is the pretense of understanding. It is a problem for literacy students as well. They spent years learning how to avoid embarrassment and mockery and now we want them to just stop, as though it really were that easy. It is essential that the feeling of being stupid if you have to have something explained be discussed, examined, and acknowledged.
    The advice to back off is good. They have to want it enough to take the risk.

  45. Anisoptera said:

    Oh LW that’s excruciating. I have a similar experience. My brother is very educated – he has a post graduate degree in microbiology – so that’s different to your case, but the catch is after uni he just kept living with my parents and never got a job. He’s now in his mid 30s, still living at home, and he’s basically never worked (he did some tutoring and RA work at uni but that’s it). My family home is not a great environment – it messed me up profoundly – so the thought of him living there totally dependent on my parents makes me want to weep. The thought of him doing nothing ever is terrifying – what will he do when they’re both retired (Dad’s already retired and Mum will soon) and have less money? What will he do when they die or need to go into a nursing home? He has limited life skills. His self esteem is potentially non existent. He’s so entrenched in that life that he won’t even travel to visit me in the distant city I live in because I think he finds the thought really intimidating. He used to visit me all the time when I lived driving distance from his house (and it’s not money, I’ve offered to pay and so have my parents).

    So I hear you. I want desperately to help him. I don’t even know what the solution would be now after all these years.

    But there is one thing I know for sure that’s related to your case. My parents have enabled him in this, for 15 years. They’ve never required him to contribute financially to the household. They’ve never pushed him to be independent. When he came home from uni, they never said he had to pay board, sign up for welfare, get a job – get him to work out how to adult. The reasons for this are messed up and insane (my mother basically wants to keep him small and in her clutches).

    Your brother has spent his whole childhood with no requirements to do stuff he doesn’t want to do. No school schedule, be it home or otherwise. Just do whatever, play WoW, have fun. He’s also, I would wager, noticed the difference between his education and yours and your other siblings and knows deep down that his parents didn’t care enough about his future to give him the same attention and effort they have you guys. That even though they couldn’t be bothered with homeschooling him properly they also decided not to find a viable alternative like sending him out to school or getting tutors or something. That has got to be messing with his self esteem big time.

    You can’t force him to study. But you can at least avoid enabling him – he’s living away from home, which is a great first step. He has some work – also great. Require him to pay board and contribute to household costs, even if it’s way below market rates at first. Teach him how far the money from a little bit of work goes, because perhaps if his cleaning work is all spending money right now it feels perfectly sustainable (while you shoulder the cost of housing and feeding him and paying for electricity). Require him to be an adult. If he’s working full time and paying his way (assuming there are jobs in your area, I know the economy is utterly borked in some places which wouldn’t be his fault) he can start making adult choices about his life. If he choses not to continue his education that’s on him, he might also choose to buckle down once he realises he wants to have a different kind of job. Study and work all feels pretty unreal until you actually have to do it and get a sense of how much you hate some things and want others.

    Or alternatively, require him to be seriously studying if you’re going to support him (you sound like that’s a thing you’d be willing to do for a while if he was serious about it). That is an awesome and kind gift to give to your brother.

    But basically don’t make lying on your sofa watching netflix all day an option. Because given his lack of experience with self discipline I get the feeling that’s exactly what he’ll do while his plans get vaguer and vaguer and less likely to ever eventuate.

    You might be thinking that if you get tough he’ll leave, or he’ll ignore you leaving you with no choice but to either kick him out or back down. You can’t control that. All you can do for him now is offer him consequences and accountability and hope he steps up. This is the best and kindest thing you can do even if it means eventually kicking him out. It is the most important lesson for him to learn, and the earlier he learns it the better.

    Again I’m so so sorry this has happened – it’s excruciating to watch this stuff happen to a sibling and to be helpless to change it.

    • Anisoptera said:

      Oh also some other things I just realised after I posted.

      It’s possible that deep down your brother suspects that he got the same education from your parents as the rest of you and that he’s just failed because he’s lazy and stupid. I don’t know your parents but is it possible they even blamed him for his lack of progress? It’s the kind of thing some parents do – hopefully not yours. :-(

      When has he ever successfully motivated himself to study? Ignoring his studies is how it’s been for his whole life, completely consequence free.

      I would suggest learning those self motivation skills now as an adult is way more important than the highschool diploma right now (and a precondition for getting one really). Also I suspect that motivating himself to go and do a simple unskilled job right now might be mentally easier than facing the frustration and feelings of failure that come with studying. He may find that doing a job full time for a year or two teaches him how to motivate himself more, how to knuckle under and do stuff.

      I don’t know what the school situation is where you live, but in Australia there are adult colleges that offer the last few years of highschool to people who left without completing it and want to now give it another go. It might be the case that he can circle back to study in a few years at a different place to the one that stops taking people after they’re 20. Places like that often offer night classes too, so you can keep working and study part time.

      Good luck anyway – this stuff is so so hard.

    • “Your brother has spent his whole childhood with no requirements to do stuff he doesn’t want to do. No school schedule, be it home or otherwise. Just do whatever, play WoW, have fun. He’s also, I would wager, noticed the difference between his education and yours and your other siblings and knows deep down that his parents didn’t care enough about his future to give him the same attention and effort they have you guys. That even though they couldn’t be bothered with homeschooling him properly they also decided not to find a viable alternative like sending him out to school or getting tutors or something. That has got to be messing with his self esteem big time.”

      I think this is really important. It doesn’t sound like Charlie ever had any expectations placed on him she he was growing up, never learned how to make goals and follow through to get to them, etc. he is having his first taste of this at 18, between you and having a job. That no one ever thought it was important enough to expect anything out of him growing up has to have a huge impact on him, and I think the idea of therapy to deal with that neglect is a good one.

      I think all the other suggestions are good, but dealing with the emotional results of the neglect may be really important here.

      • bokhyllen said:

        And if he did have expectations placed on him- something like ‘take care of teaching yourself’ is an expectation- it sounds like he wasn’t given the tools or knowledge he needed to fulfill those expectations, which is even worse.

        • Anisoptera said:

          Yeah exactly. It’s entirely possible he’s been set up to fail his whole life. Why even try when you’ve never succeeded before (and you’ve never succeeded because you weren’t given totally normal and appropriate amounts of help and support). Especially if he thinks his older siblings got the same support (when they got so much more) and thus compares his lack of progress to theirs.

          I am so angry at the LWs parents right now. :-(

          • LW here said:

            We could both benefit from some therapy to handle our feelings about the situation. Charlie MUCH more than me. I’m on the outside looking in, this is his life. I’ve been looking for a therapist but probably won’t be able to afford it for several more months. Getting a good therapist for Christmas would actually be an awesome present right now.

    • Clytemnestra's Sister said:

      “But basically don’t make lying on your sofa watching netflix all day an option. ”

      THIS.

      Letter writer, he’s living under your roof. You may not be able to motivate him, but you CAN change the environment so that doing the Right Thing is the easiest option…..in fact, the obvious option and the ONLY sensible, rational option.

      On Netflix/WOW/Hulu all day? New router, new router password that he doesn’t have. Strict instructions that he’s not to have it. He can log on to a home computer for school. If he is going to abuse your hospitality, then you are not obligated to keep being hospitable.

      Lying on the couch? Okay, as of XXX day, you will start paying rent. The amount can be small, but still rent: say, $100, or ten hours of labour. If you have the financial means, you can put it into a savings account or savings bonds for him, to give him back when he has learned enough adult to go live in the Real World. If you go for hours worked, it has to be something outside normal Adult housework (do your own laundry, pick up your own trash, etc). Stuff like, “go pull all the weeds in the side yard” or “caulk all the windows.” Stuff that you normally wouldn’t do and needs to get done and oh by the way, when he’s working off his rent, you get to sit on your bum and supervise. Be careful with this one….if he refuses, and you don’t follow through on whatever you do if he doesn’t have the cash, then he’s just “won” that round, and he’ll mooch/slack/manipulate in perpetuity. A time card would be helpful here…you write down start and stop times of work, and keep a log. That way he knows you’re not screwing him over, and at the same time, if he’s slacking off trying to milk off the time, you can knock that bullshit on the head so hard they’ll feel it in Toronto.

      Ignore things he doesn’t know? Make them impossible to ignore. If you have a weekly grocery budget, make him help you with it. (This will require sticking like a tick, but, change the environment.) You have $150 for three people for a week, set out a meal plan, work out how much things will cost, work out how much freezer space it will need (geometry!), and then go do it. He doesn’t help? He doesn’t eat what you’re cooking. That is the cost to him, the food-rent if you will. Civics class? Watch the news with him. Ask him what’s going on.

      Goals he has but doesn’t understand? This is where you sit down with him and teach him critical thinking. Okay, you want to be a military commander. That means you will be an officer, and that means you have to have a university education. So, how do you want to get there? Okay, pass 7th grade, and get a job with regular hours so you can afford a tutor. Then break those goals into microgoals: 2 hours of schoolwork every day. Look for scheduled work of at least 4 hours a day, 4 days a week. Open a bank account.

      If this sounds a lot like you’re going to be parenting an unparented 18-year-old, you are. You’re also going to have to do a lot of thinking for him in the early stages, so that you can get to where doing the Right Thing is the obvious option.

      If you don’t have a lot of money, there are adult high-school education programs out there for people older than 20. I found this one on a google search: http://www.akalc.com/

      • Anisoptera said:

        I really don’t like the idea of micromanaging the younger brother… It feels infantilising and weird. Like, require basic adult stuff and then *let him manage it*. So no weird shennanigans with the router, just you expect him to either be studying full time or paying board. How he wrangles his time around that is on him. You can make that a hard line without the micromanagement.

        I think treating him like a child will just crush his self esteem further and aggravate him for no reason.

        • Zooey said:

          Yes, this. It would be totally cool to say ‘You are using our internet connection and therefore we need you to pay x towards the cost’, but not to restrict the router. That kind of strategy might be appropriate for someone younger: if Charlie was 10 and couldn’t contribute financially, it would make sense to say ‘you can “earn” internet access by completing x and y tasks’, but not with an adult.

        • Clytemnestra's Sister said:

          I was in a similar situation with my brother several years ago. Not the same, but similar. We had to go through the whole “you look for jobs 2 hours a day, you work this many hours a day.” A relative literally took him out from store to store looking for jobs and sitting there while he filled out applications. Otherwise, he blew things off, and procrastinated, and found a bullshit “work when you want to” job like OP’s brother did, and sat on his ass at home playing video games. When I called him on it, he said, “I have a job!” and went back to GTA. I had another relative come in and back me up, and then that relative took him from store to store, applying for jobs, sitting with him while he applied for work. Then when the application was done, they went on to another place and filled out more applications. It took about six months of integrated brother management before he finally snapped to and started to Adult like he meant it.

          By the way, that wasn’t the first time my brother and I discussed his moving in with me. The first time, when I told him, you WILL have a job and you WILL pay rent, he waffled and grumbled and pushed at it, and when Older Sibling didn’t bend on those requirements, he decided he didn’t want to move in with Older Sibling after all.

          It is not reasonable for the OP to expect basic adult stuff out of his brother when his brother has shown beyond a shadow of a doubt that he’s not going to behave like an adult. It may be that he just doesn’t know how, or it may be he’s afraid, or any number of things, but for OP it doesn’t matter. Charlie has shown that he will not act like an adult, and he’s manipulating OP and abusing his trust.

          I agree that there’s a fine line between infantilizing and between the OP not letting himself get walked on. Here’s a script:

          “Brother, you and I made a deal that you would study XXX hours of the day. I trusted you. You haven’t been studying….I can see your progress, and I can see you watching movies when I come home. Because you’re not holding up your end of the deal, here’s what’s going to happen. (words)”

          Brother protests…..and OP says, “You did not follow the deal you agreed to. If you can do this for six months, then we can talk again.” It’s not about the brother, it’s about what the brother is DOING. That makes the right thing obvious: using the internet for his studies, and giving him an incentive to get off his ass and do it, and making it impossible to sit on the couch all day.

          • Gen. Solution said:

            “found a bullshit ‘work when you want to’ job like OP’s brother did”

            Wow. Your attitude is really fucked up, Clytemnestra’s Sister. You’re shitting all over Charlie for having only a part-time job? Did you know that more and more employers these days offer ONLY part-time work? Did you know that workers at such places may not have much say over when or how many hours they will be allowed to work each week? Your ignorant condemnation is NOT helpful.

          • Elsajeni said:

            I don’t see any indication in the letter that Charlie’s job is a “work when you want to” arrangement, rather than just a part-time job with unpredictable hours, as most retail-type jobs tend to have. It sounds to me like Charlie is actually already doing some of the stuff your brother wasn’t — holding down a job that involves actually going in and doing work, bringing home a paycheck, paying at least some of his own bills — so the approach you used to deal with your brother, which assumes that you’re dealing with someone who’s doing nothing and actively trying to get away with continuing to do nothing, doesn’t seem totally applicable.

          • Even with someone who *was* actively trying to get away with doing nothing, I disagree that that sort of micromanagement is the best approach. I think it’s totally reasonable to say something along the lines of “If you want to live here, I need you to pay X towards expenses. Let me know if you want any help with filling out applications” and then let the other person decide where to take it from there (apply for jobs zieself, ask for help applying for jobs, or go see if zie can find somebody else less willing to set boundaries on the mooching). But driving the person to jobs and standing over them while they fill out forms? Sends a good loud clear message of “We do not trust you to do this by yourself without fucking up, or even to have the capacity to make your own decisions regarding what you want from your life, and we know what is right for you better than you do” which is incredibly unhealthy as a message to give anyone, especially a young adult with pre-existing self-esteem problems.

          • Splash said:

            THIS.

          • Also, I just wanted to point out that there is absolutely no indication in the letter that the LW and Charlie *did* make a deal. It could well be that the conversation on that topic consisted of the LW telling Charlie what was going to happen and expecting Charlie to go along with it, sans any kind of meaningful discussion. That’s not exactly a ‘deal’.

          • Anisoptera said:

            What Dr Sarah said.

            I think that Charlie might need tonnes of help learning how to do stuff that other people his age already know, but you can *offer* this help, not ram it down his throat. The idea is to teach him how to be an adult, catch up his education to broaden his opportunities. Part of that involves giving him responsibility and allowing him to experience consequences, not dragging him about standing over him and treating him like a child.

            From my own experience I’ve learnt so much more and so much faster when I’ve just had to do things for my own benefit. Micromanagement crushes my self esteem and just makes me angry and reluctant. I end up just looking for ways to make the micromanager go away. I think most people are like this? But responsibility? Wow – nothing levels me up quite like responsibility. Especially when there are real world consequences to success and failure. This is really my original point about avoiding enabling bad stuff – you also can’t shield him from real world consequences or he has no reason not to drift along as he is currently – which by the way he is probably doing out of confusion and low self esteem and frustration and lack of experience with self motivation – not “laziness”.

            I feel like the ideal outcome for the LW would be for Charlie to start to see him as an ally and mentor, to trust him enough to come to him and say “This is embarrassing but how do you do X?” about stuff everyone takes for granted. You don’t get to that place by standing over him with a stick.

        • Marvel said:

          This. This sounds like MAJOR overkill, to the point of being potentially emotionally abusive when done towards a fellow adult. Please don’t do this, LW.

  46. Terrified Gardener said:

    My comment comes from a different perspective and I have no idea if it will be useful, but I want to say that it possible to be a loving sibling to an adult who doesn’t fit many ideas of what it means to be an adult.

    It’s a bit different for me, because I’m the baby (by nine years) and my siblings both did really well at school and fine at university, but then basically stopped. One attempted a postgrad degree but dropped out and hasn’t worked or studied since thanks to severe depression. The other was ill after uni, did some work experience and some temping but to my knowledge hasn’t worked in years. As far as I know neither of them are involved in volunteering or much of anything.

    I’ve had some false starts but have generally had something on the go. I more or less leave them to their own devices but make an effort to keep in touch and see them a few times a year. I don’t have a financial relationship with them though, and that really helps. I know enough about their situation to trust that they have enough to get by, and I can imagine things would be really different if this was an issue. There have been difficult times though, especially because my mum likes to interfere and tries to fix them, but I try to stay out of that and focus on the things we have in common, and the fact that I love them. It’s meant that I’ve really had to interrogate my feelings about work and it’s helped me really learn about respecting boundaries and individual agency (credit for this also goes to this blog!).

    So yeah, tl:dr – having a sibling who doesn’t meet mainstream expectations about jobs and income is possible, and it will be much easier with a healthy respect for boundaries and maintaining relationship about positive things which you can share together.

  47. Marvel said:

    This has probably already been said, but LW, I would really encourage you to stop looking at your little brother holding down a job and wanting to join the military as not being real achievement.

    I grew up in a very academically-oriented family (kind of strangely so, in retrospect, considering that neither of my parents graduated from college). I get that it can be really hard to break out of the mindset that anything less than, say, a college degree or an “acceptable” career = WASTE OF POTENTIAL, but it’s not. And this attitude is probably not helping him positively approach all those things he “should have” learned years ago. When you feel like your life is all about making up for things you “should have” done in the past, it’s a lot easier to just say “eh, fuck it” and play video games/watch netflix all day. You can’t live your life based on should-haves, and trying can be very, very depressing.

    Does his job at the cleaners make him happy? If not, what does? I hear a lot in this letter about what Charlie hasn’t done and what you want him do, but I’m hearing nothing about what he’s DOING and what HE wants to do. When you do mention it, you use some really dismissive language–”he claims to want,” “assorted bullshit,” etc. If you don’t stop focusing on the potential-Charlie-of-yore, you’re going to miss out on having a relationship with the one who’s sitting right in front of you. Possibly forever.

    So, yeah, I’m with the Captain on this: back off. Stop looking at everything your brother “should have” been and start looking at who he is now. If he expresses the desire to do something, help him however you can/want to. Otherwise, let him take the reins for a while. See what he makes of himself without you pushing him towards a specific path.

    • neverjaunty said:

      I just depleted the National Strategic High Five Reserve for this comment.

    • Courtney said:

      Exactly! I’ve been mulling over a similar comment for a few days. I keep getting stuck on LW’s statement that being a cleaner is not a “successful life choice.” He’s 18, with very little formal education, holding down a job in an economy (assuming he’s in the US) in which the unemployment rate for people in his age group has been over 20% for several years. That sounds pretty successful to me. Also, does anyone on here know ANY ONE who is still doing the thing they were doing at 18 when they were 30?

      Charlie is fresh out of what is clearly a toxic household that did major damage to his self esteem. I agree with the Cap that LW needs to back off, but I think that he needs to go a step further and re-evaluate his ideas about success. It is possible that Charlie may spend the rest of his life doing work that is beneath his “potential.” And that needs to be ok, or he is going to lose his relationship with his brother. It also feels like LW is transferring some of his (rightful) anger at their parents on to Charlie. This needs to stop, because it is never going to to do any good and will eventually do a lot of harm.

    • embertine said:

      I grew up in a very academically-oriented family (kind of strangely so, in retrospect, considering that neither of my parents graduated from college). Wow, this was a very weird lightbulb moment for me, as I had the same background.

  48. mehting said:

    Didn’t read the rest of the comments, so sorry if this is a repeat, but if the videos don’t require visuals (might work better for english or history than science or math) maybe encouraging functional multi-tasking would make it less boring? I like to sew or crochet when listening to info. Is there something he’d like to do with his hands while listening that could help reduce the horrible boredom?

  49. I just wanted to suggest the podcast, “Stuff You Missed In History Class.”(http://www.missedinhistory.com/) It’s free to download, and covers all sorts of history from all over the world – a sizable part is military history, but not just Western military. It also has fun episodes like “The History of Cheeses,” and one on ice cream (I don’t recommend listening to those when you are hungry). The podcasts also are around 20-30 minutes long, and are pretty upbeat.

  50. Liz said:

    I agree with the idea of finding things, or letting him find things that are interesting to him.

    I was struck by some of the comments about middle school because on the whole, I think I enjoyed middle school. I think one of the most exciting thing (academically) about middle was that we got to start taking electives and actually got to choose things we wanted to learn about. That and the chance to start expressing options about things and debating rather than just memorizing and repeating stuff. If this is part of it, maybe a more interactive environment could be helpful as well.

    • JenniferP said:

      #NotAllMiddleSchools

      I had some great teachers and read some great books, but there were also days and days of “do this worksheet” and “complete this word search.” That’s right, a word search. No.

  51. Vicki said:

    Another approach might be for LW and Charlie to learn something together, whether that’s conversational Japanese or how to bake bread from scratch. It should be something that (a) LW doesn’t already know how to do–this isn’t tutoring Charlie in a language LW already speaks, or “let me show you how to make your own bread,” and that Charlie is at least somewhat interested in. Large or small, and it could mean taking an adult ed class together, or YouTube videos, or even getting a friend to teach them both how to bake. I realize time is finite, but a one-off cooking lesson or working with Conversational Whatever recordings might take less time than LW is currently spending on trying to get Charlie to study, and be more fun.

    If that works, when it’s done both LW and Charlie will know a bit more, and Charlie might get a bit more confidence in his ability to learn. Also, if Charlie does have an idea that the difference between him and his older siblings is that they are innately better at learning, studying a new-to-both-of-them subject might shake that.

  52. minuteye said:

    LW, it seems pretty clear to me from your letter that you think Charlie is a really smart kid. Maybe that’s part of your frustration, knowing that he could do well if he wanted to.

    So my question is: Does Charlie know that you think that about him? Do you ever tell him? When/if you tell him, is it framed as “You’re so smart, if only you applied yourself!”?

    The only way he’s going to start being self-motivated about learning, is if learning makes him feel good about himself. From his own declaration that doing school work makes him feel stupid, he’s not getting that right now. The comments on this thread seem to have some really great ideas on how to give him that, but maybe just make sure that you’re reinforcing that in how you talk to him.

    There’s always been some tension between my younger brother and I, and in the last few years I’ve started to understand why. He believes that I think he’s stupid. I don’t think that at all, and there are things that he understands intuitively which I’ve struggled to grasp for years. But the way that I interacted with him had given him this belief. Quite possibly I’m projecting all over you here, but it was something that I had a really hard time seeing about our relationship on my own.

    • MamaCheshire said:

      When/if you tell him, is it framed as “You’re so smart, if only you applied yourself!”?

      For the love of all that is holy…please do not do that. NEVER DO THAT. Not just LW but EVERYONE.

      • hrovitnir said:

        Oh yes. My entire childhood was full of this, and while it was one thing I was proud of, I also developed the typical “nothing I do is good enough because I SHOULD be getting 90% and even if I do that’s just acceptable”. *sigh*

      • Courtney said:

        Yes, yes, yes! OMFG, I am so sick of hearing about my “potential.” I am highly intelligent and did well in school and have a BA. My career has been one form of support work after another, and my current job title is administrative assistant. I hear all the time that I should be doing something “better.” I probably could, even at 40, start one of these “better” careers. But you know what? I’m really good at what I do, and it suits my personality and current skill set. (Introverted caretaker with a wide variety of skills, who is really good at creative problem solving and picking up on aspects of the situation that others miss.) I’m at a point in my career where I am compensated at a level that would be difficult to give up to go back to school, and I would have a hard time going back to an entry-level position (in terms of pay and autonomy.)

        • MsM said:

          I will never understand people who look down on administrative assistants. Knowledge is power. Don’t they know who knows everything that goes on in the company?

          • Courtney said:

            Evidently not. And even the people who do recognize that they would fall apart without us don’t really see being an admin as a career. My (very large) company recently redid the “career mapping” for all job descriptions…and the admins are mapped into a cul-de-sac. There is not a single other career path at my company where you need to *change professions* in order to advance. I’ve seen this kind of thing at other companies too. Admin work is seen as a stepping stone to “something better.” It’s frustrating for a couple of reasons. First, this emphasis on something better adds to the lack of respect that admins get, which is reflected in our compensation. Even though I’m at a salary level that is hard to give up, I have never, ever, met an admin who was paid commensurate with their actual importance to their company. Admins frequently do the job of 1.5 to 2 people–whether it’s through working overtime, taking on unrelated tasks, or streamlining our original workload so that we can do more. If our efforts allow our companies to get 1.5-2.0 FTE worth of work done for 1.0 FTE, we should see the financial benefit. Second, for those who do want to use admin work as a stepping stone, it can be really difficult to advance out of jobs with an admin title if you start with an admin title. I worked at one company for 7 years and ended up with a franken-title, since my job morphed to take on barely related tasks. I started with a “support work” title and ended with a “support work” title. When I left, they broke up my job and redistributed the duties (because they really weren’t related.) The two people they hired to replace me both had “Manager” in their titles. The entire time I was there, I saw ONE admin get promoted out of admin work. One. My current company is HUGE and international. When I talk about future options with my supervisor, I get 3-4 examples of people who made it from admin work to something else, and 2 of them were championed by someone who worked in a different office and is no longer with the company. Unless you work at a really large company and have a champion who takes an interest in helping you advance, admin work can be like Hotel California.

      • Linden said:

        Has the formula, “You’re so X, if only you’d Y” ever worked for anything, with anyone? I think not.

  53. Thom said:

    “Open enrollment arts college”– that’s one way of putting it.

    • JenniferP said:

      ???

      It is an arts college. For a long time it had a policy of open enrollment.

      So…???

  54. Splash said:

    If I may, some AMAZING textbooks for self-studying math are Mathematics: A Human Endeavor (which is something like pre-algebra level, if I remember right) and its sequels (one for algebra 1-type stuff and one for geometry) by Harold R. Jacobs. They have clear explanations, a fair amount of humor and examples of mostly-real-world uses, and the author is just really good at making math interesting. His textbooks converted 11-year-old homeschooled me to liking math. Their only drawback is that they may seem a little dated. (Maybe skip most of the chapter on logarithms… we have calculators for that now.) You can get teacher guides for checking answers; I think they also have quizzes in them, but I never used those.

    I also think a GED might be a logical approach if the baseline is just to allow Charlie to do something he wants to do, like joining the military. He doesn’t HAVE to go over every single thing in the 7th-12th grade curriculum, perhaps. That said, I very much agree with what the Captain has said here about backing off. The “if you don’t do this your life will be RUINED FOREVER” approach is one I have some firsthand experience receiving, and it really, really does not work. I’d even go so far as to say let HIM do most of the research. Sure, charge rent or something to keep him accountable, he’s an adult now, but let him figure stuff out for himself. If he ASKS you to help with something, that’s another story.

  55. Zooey said:

    Lots of great advice here. The one thing I would add is that there has been less of a focus on actually asking what Charlie wants. I think all the stuff above is great, but I would suggest you have a conversation with Charlei in which you both check in about what what he wants, and set your expectations in terms of what you actively need. Figure out the latter beforehand – is there a time beyond which you don’t want him to live with you? An amount of money / help he needs to contribute to the house? A set of specific conditions he needs to meet? As other commenters have said, I think the answer to all these things should be ‘yes’ but I would suggest framing them around things that directly affect you. For example, Charlie knuckling down with his work is desirable to you, but his business as an adult, so I think it would be unhelpful to set conditions around that, whereas Charlie contributing x% of the household income is something which directly affects you and is your business as an adult.

    Start the conversation with something positive – ‘Charlie, I’m really happy to have you living with us and pleased you’ve been able to find a job here.’ Then ask about what he wants: ‘It’s been great for you to get out of Mom and Dad’s house and start making your own life. In a perfect world, how do you see things playing out in the next x time’. Let Charlie speak, and ask him questions about what he thinks needs to happen for him to meet his goals (don’t provide the answers). Then let the conversation go forward based on that. If Charlie has supplied a goal, you can start with ‘Charlie, that’s great and you know I am am willing to support you while you meet that goal.’ If he doesn’t supply a goal (less likely, since he has already expressed an interest in the military, but he might be inclined to prevaricate’ go to something general: ‘Charlie, you know that I would really love to see you fulfil your potential and find something that makes you happy and fulfilled, and I would be happy to support you in that’. Then either way, set out the things that you need: ‘I need for you to contribute x to the house income / to plan to move out within x time / to help with x things’. Make these about you, not about what you want for Charlie (maybe it will be the case that to contribute to the house income Charlie needs to up his working hours or find a better job, but that’s for Charlie to figure out), but make them things that Charlie can realistically achieve. For example, if you want him to move out, think about how long he would need to save money if he stayed in his current job and didn’t cquire the qualifications / skills to access other job options. Then if you want to you can build in some slack at this stage: ‘If your situation changes and we need to revisit this, I’m happy to talk about that. I would really like to see you get to a place you’re happy with’. That way if Charlie decides to go to the local community college and get his GED, you could choose to waive some of your requirements, but you’d be setting it up for him to ask for that. So, down the line he might say ‘I want to get my GED at the local community college but I don’t see how I can do that and also move out’ and you can offer to extend his living with you to allow for that. That would be a different dynamic, in my mind, to up-front setting a condition: ‘Get your GED or move out’.

    Good luck, LW! It sounds like a challenging situation and I think you are awesome for caring and putting the work in to help.

  56. solecism said:

    People got in trouble for reading in school o.o. By high school, I was reading a novel a day. It never occurred to me that teachers might find that a problem. Guess I lucked out. History is my hobby, but it’s not because of anything I experienced in school. I am terrible with names and dates and key facts. My actual learning about history has proceeded almost entirely from reading, often historical fiction, starting from childhood, and ecompassing the occasional documentary.

    Lots of great suggestions for materials and various tactics. My only contribution would be to emphasize helping him discover and explore his interests. That process will naturally result in him learning new skills and provide a motivation to continue moving in that direction. But no matter how interested and motivated someone is, some sort of external structure and accountability can be helpful. This is where joining groups, finding project buddies, and similar means can really help. In the process of meeting deadlines for others, he may learn to start setting them for himself, or at least finding a scenario that imposes deadlines on himself to move along. It is often easier to do things for other people, to meet others’ expectations, than to do something for oneself. So where can he find a group of like-minded peers to offer those opportunities? And where can he find mentors that aren’t family to inspire him to achieve more without all of the fraught family expectations?

    Also, what are you doing to model and support from a position of equality rather than a position of power? What learning projects are you engaged in? You could be his study buddy in some small way and show your own struggles to learn new things, create structures for yourself, follow through on tasks, etc. Tandem goals with tandem rewards for both of you achieving them. The whole showing, not telling approach.

  57. MamaCheshire said:

    OK…I’m going to speak a little to the homeschooling-subculture pieces of this, because it sounds like LW and family got the worst parts of the two “opposite poles” of the subculture.

    LW got the “EW MAINSTREAM SOCIETY IS TEH EVULZ!” part, and Charlie got the “well, he’ll learn when he’s READY” with no understanding that readiness sometimes does need nudging along part. And I see the effects of both of those things all over this letter. Because, his background aside, Charlie sounds like a reasonably typical 18 year old boy doing reasonably typical 18 year old boy things – working an entry-level retail job, playing lots of video games, etc. – and it sounds like LW is looking down on that in a way that reminds me of the “we don’t DO teenagers!” part of Fundamentalist-style homeschooling, and Charlie is pushing back in the “not ready yet!” way of hard-core unschooling. (Also also? The Netflix overuse sounds a lot like someone who didn’t get a lot of exposure to popular culture Because Reasons who is trying desperately to catch up. Spouse and I have both been there and done similar for different reasons. I went from homeschooling to a brief disastrous experience with public school, directly to college, and then after limping my way through undergrad I in some ways went through a “second teenage-hood/just want to be a normal kid!” experience in my early 20s. I’d be…unsurprised that something similar might be happening for Charlie.)

    I was homeschooled somewhere-in-between those poles, because I was several years above grade level and I was “bright and bored” and starting to make stupid mistakes and also my mother (while not a Fundamentalist) doesn’t have a whole lot of love or respect for mainstream childhood society. Unfortunately, this made it even easier to miss the ADHD that I was finally diagnosed with in my early 30s. My parents were really and truly trying to do right by me by presenting with more challenging material and then “don’t be lazy!”-shaming me into doing it but…yeah, they totally missed the ADHD and the fact that I would’ve been better off with more challenge, yes, but also more structure.

    I really think the “ACTUAL ACCREDITED online middle school” is the WRONG route here. Because it’s giving Charlie the message that he’s Really Twelve Years Old, or at least only as “smart” as a twelve-year-old, and…no, just no. I’d be running screaming from that myself, and would have so much more so as an 18 year old. Maybe on the math specifically, stuff pitched towards adults with math anxiety might be a better bet? Or in general, stuff that is directed towards adults or towards young adults/older teenagers? I think that’s probably important here.

    If he’s willing and able to be out and about and doing things that others his age are doing, then going through Job Corps or to a local “workforce development center” (whatever they’re called in your area; I’m thinking of places like this: http://www.columbiagreeneworks.org/youth.html ) might be helpful, and “youth” in this case generally extends to at least 21 and sometimes up to 24, so it doesn’t have to happen quite so fast. If he’s uncomfortable with that due to his background or whatever other reasons, then online self-study stuff targeted to adults or “young adults” is a better idea.

    But really? He has a job, and if you create a basic expectation that he helps around the house (financially and otherwise) according to his means, he’s not that worse off than a lot of 18 year olds out there. (I’m a social worker in state government and transition-age adolescents are kind of my specialty area. I’ve seen SO MUCH WORSE than this that I’m kind of feeling the “hey, he’s got a job, he’s not in trouble with the law, yeah he probably should do the GED thing at some point but that will come in time” feelings. But as someone who was homeschooled, I am also empathizing with that aspect of it and the subcultures surrounding it, especially the “we don’t do teenagers” parts.)

    • Lucy said:

      I think this is a great comment all around. I actually am a workforce development professional, and I highly, highly endorse all of the suggestions regarding Adult Basic Education and GED prep rather than starting from scratch with middle school. There are a lot, a lot, a lot of highly intelligent adults who never finished their education, or had sub-par education, or have worked jobs that don’t make sense, and you help someone start to make sense of their future by meeting them where they are. (We don’t know a lot of other context about the LW’s family, but particularly in communities entrenched in poverty, or where no one has gone to college or worked a higher-level job before, there are extenuating salient reasons why people would not have the motivation or the interest to follow through on things that seem “standard.”)

      I also wanted to comment on the “actual accredited online middle school.” I’m against them. For the reason MamaCheshire outlined, but also because I find them highly exploitative. Many of my clients cannot afford to pay the $40 or $50 a month to “attend” Penn Foster. They would ultimately be better served just getting their GEDs for free. And particularly for someone who has never gone to a traditional school and apparently didn’t get much out of the homeschooling they had, being in a setting where everyone is seeking that structure regardless of their age can take away a lot of the shame of not having done it at the “right” time. My clients who resist coming to workshops or going to ESL classes at first are always so happy they went in the end, because it’s fucking difficult to walk around feeling like you’re the only one who has screwed up their life.

    • Mary said:

      >>But really? He has a job, and if you create a basic expectation that he helps around the house (financially and otherwise) according to his means, he’s not that worse off than a lot of 18 year olds out there

      Yeah, I think the LW may be really undervaluing the skills that are involved in holding down a job, even a low-paid, manual one. For people who’ve grown up with a reasonable degree of structure and safety it seems like basic stuff, but if you haven’t had that, then the discipline involved in getting up, getting yourself to the right place at the right time and dealing with people and navigating a lot of rules and systems and general annoyingness for what seems like comparatively little reason is a pretty big deal, and may actually be taking up a lot of learning energy that you’re not seeing. And what he’s learning there (and also, perhaps, learning that he hasn’t learned) will help him a lot when he is ready to engage more with formal learning in whatever sense.

    • The Aphid said:

      Seconding that this is a great comment all around! And as someone else who was homeschooled somewhere between the poles, I think the comments on homeschooling subcultures are insightful and wise. And yes to the “catching up on popular culture” thing! There were a couple years when I kept spending all my free time reading TVTropes and Wikipedia pages on popular media and watching YouTube and stuff. I thought I was wasting time then, but in hindsight, it was not wasted.

  58. Tiaropsis said:

    It sounds like your brother really needs a chance to feel good at something. This is where an art class can be really helpful, provided it’s a class he wants to take. (Taking art classes against your will can contribute to feelings of guilt and laziness.) My suggestion is to take a look at the continuing education and adult education opportunities in your area, and encourage him to do so as well. Not because it’s “good for him” but because it can be fun and exciting and hey, he might even learn marketable skill, and also:

    -Adult education classes let you interact in a peer-ish way with adults who have careers. This was incredibly helpful to me in figuring out my own life choices, and is one reason why I began taking adult education classes as early as I could (16 years old, because I lied about my age).

    -If he takes some classes for fun, he might find himself in a better position to teach himself math afterward. Whenever you learn a new skill, unexpected benefits can arise. Playing the piano taught me to schedule my own practice sessions. Life drawing taught me to check and re-check my work. These good habits helped enormously in my studies of math.

    Is your brother into computers? Because computer programming played a huge role in my math education. Programming in BASIC on my grandfather’s ancient IBM, I learned how to use variables and functions, giving myself strong conceptual grounds for learning algebra. I liked computer programming because it made me feel in control. Also, every time I made a mistake I would know something was wrong because my program wouldn’t work–so much more satisfying than waiting for a teacher to return your homework!

    From algebra, I learned to simplify equations and divide polynomials, and from there I learned to add, subtract, multiply, and divide without a calculator. This may sound backward, but it worked out perfectly for me as a homeschooled self-directed learner. It may work terribly for someone else. But that’s the great thing about learning outside of school: you get to choose your own educational adventure.

    I mention this not because I want to debate the merits of homeschooling, but because I think it can be helpful to step away from the idea of third-grade math and fourth-grade math. What school does with grades is take an incredibly complex web of interrelated subjects and reduce it to a linear progression.* It’s a system that may work wonderfully for some students, but I don’t think it would have worked for me, and it may not be working for Charlie. I can imagine he’d find mathematics much more amenable if he could be the one in charge, choosing when and how he learns, whether it be through online classes, video libraries like Khan Academy, or simply math books from the library.

    I hope I’ve been able to help by sharing some lessons I learned in my own non-traditional learning path. Good luck, Letter Writer! Here’s hoping your brother finds his passion!

    *I even drew a cartoon about it http://tiaropsis.deviantart.com/art/The-Problem-With-School-470387984

    • Tiaropsis: *Awesome* cartoon (applause).

  59. bokhyllen said:

    I sympathize a lot with Charlie. My siblings and I were all homeschooled, but by the time my little brother and I hit high school our mom (the primary teacher) went back to work and we were left to work mostly on our own with very little oversight. Though we had covered more stuff than Charlie has by then (we were and are both very strong and active readers), we both struggled and sank. Motivating yourself to do the work is HARD and it doesn’t get easier when your authority figures just don’t understand why you can’t just do it. If someone had told me in the years between my vague drifting out of high school and my years in university that somewhere didn’t want me because of my lack of education, it would feel like a personal failure.

    I agree very strongly with the Captain. Looming over Charlie to get him to do everything isn’t going to help. It’s really hard to look at the world around you and know that you don’t measure up, and to have that in front of your face every time you talk to someone. I think encouraging Charlie to learn about his interests and discover the joy of learning that way rather than forcing him to do the work that he obviously isn’t enjoying is going to work a lot better.

  60. Xenophile said:

    (sorry for the re-post…I’m not sure if my earlier comment was eaten by the filter or whatnot)

    There are some really great stories and advice on this list! What inspiring people we have in the Awkward Army! This situation sounds so frustrating, and my heart really goes out to Charlie; it sounds like his whole life he has received messages like, you’re not important enough for our time and attention, you’re stupid, you’re lazy, you’re ignorant, you’re just plain not good enough. No wonder he gives up when he’s frustrated.

    As several people have mentioned, maybe it’s okay if he doesn’t get a GED right now (or ever). There are a lot of other things implied in the word ‘education.’ LW, it might be a good idea to separate your goals from Charlie’s, and then see where they might intersect. What is the most important thing you two want from this situation? Off the top of my head, these are just some of the things you/Charlie might want:
    - replicating formal education (e.g. through a GED program) to increase employment options
    - getting Charlie to take on adult responsibility and/or set goals
    - boosting his self-esteem, especially when it comes to learning new things or feeling competent
    - instilling intellectual curiosity, exposure to different subjects/styles of learning
    - positive bonding time together
    - making your parents take responsibility for their mistakes (I’m very sorry to say, I think this is the least likely to happen.)
    - meeting new people and making friends (I noticed the LW didn’t mention Charlie’s friends…does he have any? Did he have a chance to develop his social skills IRL?)
    - creative expression

    Other commenters have touched on ways to get him into courses or talk to him about contributing financially or doing more work around the house. If he doesn’t want formal education, could you encourage his curiosity/creativity/problem-solving skills/whatever his natural strengths might be? Some things that come to mind:
    - encourage new hobbies, volunteering, or meetups that might help him meet people or find a topic he wants to learn more about
    - documentaries! especially science and nature
    - Citizen science games like eterna, phylo, galaxy zoo, zooniverse, whale song, ancient lives, etc.
    - riddles, puzzles, etc
    - foreign languages: languages can be intimidating, but there are so many free and accessible resources online if he’s interested. This TED talk (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0x2_kWRB8-A) discusses overcoming the most common obstacles to language learning. Duolingo gamifies several languages and many other programs are free, depending on the language. (Eg, FSI, Babbel, the Goethe Institute, Deutsche Welle, etc) I, uh, would obviously never ever encourage piracy, but there are all kinds of torrents and youtube channels with complete Pimsleur and Assimil audio courses for free. Language exchanges, online or in person, are free and could help him make friends.
    - free coding resources like Code Academy; lifehacker has a great list of these
    - trivia shows like QI, which discusses the stories behind trivia facts
    - creative endeavors: does he draw, write, paint, craft, etc? Can he do that with a class or writing circle?
    - graphic novels are awesome for people who aren’t confident about reading
    - book club/movie club with discussions

    Best of luck to you both!

  61. Caitlin said:

    I’m a little tired of seeing janitor/cleaner held up as “this is the bad job you don’t want to have to do”.
    My uncle was a cleaner at our local hospital. I’d say that is a pretty important job in that environment. If he didn’t do his job properly, people could have longer recovery times or even die.
    So I understand where people are coming from when their position is that the wages offered to cleaning personnel aren’t conducive to a sustainable life, but I bristle when people tell kids to do x or they’ll have to be a janitor.
    I’m appreciative of anyone who keeps my work, the hotels I go to, the mall, the restaurants, etc clean and I hope they don’t feel like failures for helping keep society healthy.

    • JenniferP said:

      AGREED.

      • LW here said:

        I don’t mean to be bagging on his job at the cleaner, (disclosure: I was a janitor for two years…and never told my parents, actually.) It’s not very many hours and only pays for his car and insurance, not any extra…anything, really. He could never pay rent or buy food with this job, that’s my objection to this particular employeer. I don’t mean to be snotty about the entire profession.

    • Xenophile said:

      +1,000,000.

    • adie said:

      Yeah, any job is a good job as long as it is sustainable and the employee is happy with it.

    • Going off on a short tangent: When I was growing up (in the UK) the job that my mother always held up to me as Example Of Terrible Fate You Might End Up With If You Do Not Work was ‘behind the counter in Woolworth’s’. I don’t know where she got this from, but it does actually seem to have been A Thing in the UK culture, since I once read a YA novel in which the protagonist’s mother did exactly the same thing.

      Now I’m wondering what the official Terrible Fate Warning job is in parenting cultures in other countries!

  62. argent said:

    LW, I know other people have commented on this, but I’m concerned about the lack of respect for Charlie’s agency that seems to be coming across in this letter. A lot of what you’re saying seems to be “how can I make Charlie do what I want Charlie to do so that Charlie’s life turns out the way I want it to?” Everyone’s going to have a different way of coping with and recovering from an abusive/neglectful childhood, and Charlie is an adult. It’s up to him when and how he wants to get his education back on track. What he needs from you is support, not control.

    • Phospher said:

      Charlie literally *just* became an adult, and has been given deplorably little preparation and training for adulthood. LW has been trying — since before the adulthood happened! — to provide the parenting and education their actual parents didn’t bother with. It should never have been his job and he’s stepped up pretty heroically out of love for the kid and Charlie’s clearly been happy with most of it, or he wouldn’t have co-operated with the maths tutoring or moved in with LW. And the only life goals LW expresses for Charlie are the ones Charlie expresses for himself — get into the military and become a commander. It is legitimately frustrating when *anyone* close to you, adult or otherwise, says they want to do something, but does nothing to make it happen while time runs out. So LW’s taken it a shade too far and will probably see better results from backing off, it seems pretty understandable given what the siblings have been through. I think talk of “lack of respect” and “control” is unfair.

      • Gen. Solution said:

        “I think talk of ‘lack of respect’ and ‘control’ is unfair.”

        Yes, that is not entirely fair to LW, but it accurately describes some of the advice offered by several commenters here.

      • Mary said:

        I think it’s reasonable to say that the behaviour described by the LW is quite likely to be experienced by Charlie as “control” and “lack of respect”. I don’t think that makes the LW a terrible person: they are completely natural responses from an older sibling who is trying to help a younger sibling, especially as he’s right on that minor/adult border age, but they’re unlikely to be very productive at motivating him. It’s not a super mean criticism of the LW to say that, I don’t think.

  63. Anyanka said:

    LW, I feel you. I worry all the time about my little siblings and little cousins and even little random children that I know and how are they doing and what if but they’re not doing as well as they could have done and what if they aren’t doing well enough–

    Breathe! LW, breathe, seriously. You are worrying to the point of forgetting some important things:

    1) Your brother has enough skills to get a job. He has a job. This means he at least is starting to become as self-sufficient as people get.
    2) Your brother is an adult. He is not a child. You cannot treat him like a child.
    3) Your brother can learn. He is capable of learning things. He will, one day, acquire the motivation to learn the things you want him to learn.

    Honestly, this situation sounds incredibly infuriating and frustrating. What the fuck, parents of LW? But you can’t take out your frustration and anger on Charlie by constantly creating an atmosphere where he not only feels unmotivated to do so, he feels actively prohibited from learning because you’re making it a test he can’t help but fail (in his eyes). If he really feels like he can’t learn things, then you constantly pushing him to do better, learn more, get more academic will just make him more and more resentful and panicky and angry at you, which will help nothing whatsoever.

  64. Xenophile said:

    Yeah, seriously, WTF Charlie’s parents? It sounds like he also had a very lonely childhood. Youngest child with a big age gap from his siblings, no classmates, no chance to make friends with other homeschooled kids…

    • Xenophile said:

      Oops, that was meant to be a reply to Anyanka above.

  65. dontneedaclassroom said:

    Sorry if this is a repost, I waited a while and my comment doesn’t seem to have appeared.

    Hi LW,

    Despite the tagline “how do I motivate an adult?” your letter talks about Charlie like he’s years younger than he is, maybe 14 or 15 years old, and just needs to catch up to his grade level to rejoin his cohort. Look, hard talk time: he’s missed that boat. He needs to look at the future, not the past.

    What are the things that motivate an adult?
    - shame, knowing that he’s less educated than his family/age cohort
    - comfort, keeping with the status quo, maintaining his comfortable lifestyle and current hobbies
    - personal interest/curiosity, like books and documentaries that he might like
    - social/peer bonds, like from a classroom, sports team, or hobby group
    - social responsibility/helping others, like volunteerism
    - self-sufficiency, like having his own car or moving out on his own
    - survival, like staying out of jail or keeping a job to avoid being homeless

    You’re the one who knows your brother, but based on your letter it sounds like right now:
    - his shame is motivating him away from schoolwork because “it makes him feel dumb”
    - his desire for social bonding is motivating him towards schoolwork *with you* (probably why he only touches the stuff when you’re around, especially if that’s how you reconnected over skype)
    - his desire for comfort is motivating him to tell you the words you want to hear so you let him continue in his groove of internet and movies
    - his desire for self-sufficiency is motivating him towards work so he can have a car

    You can absolutely take steps to help Charlie change his pattern of motivations; the comments here are full of great suggestions. But he’s a grownup (and so are you); you can’t *make* him do anything.

    My two cents … I wholeheartedly agree with the Captain: “I suggest that you back the hell off for a while and focus on your own life.” You are not responsible for correcting your parents’ mistakes, and you are not responsible for “fixing” your brother.

    Your letter skipped over whatever negotiations happened when Charlie moved in with you. If you haven’t already, take the time now to talk to your wife, *without* Charlie, and make some decisions together about how much help you can offer your adult brother, and for how long. If that is “unlimited help forever, no one else is using our spare bedroom anyway” that’s your call, but I would bet that’s not what you want. Then talk to Charlie and find out what kind of help he actually wants from you. Maybe he wants less/different help than you’ve been giving him. (Why on earth are you waking him up at 7am?)

    Do you want to be surrogate parents, handing out consequences for each rule broken while he lives under your roof? Will you set milestones, and if he hits them he can continue to stay with you? Or maybe you’ll just be friends and roommates, and at the end of a set term he’s on his own regardless of what progress he’s made? Family is hard, but one benefit of being separated so long is that you have an opportunity to define what you’ll be to each other. Don’t necessarily default to “schoolmaster” just because that’s how you reconnected.

    (As an aside, it sounds like Charlie is good at telling you what you want to hear and then weaseling out later. So consider writing out an agreement for what you expect from him AND what he expects from the two of you. Firm expectations in black and white may make everyone’s lives easier.)

    Good luck to you, LW, and also to Charlie!

    • LW here said:

      I’m waking him up at 7 because he asks me too! He’ll say he’s going to get in a couple hours of school before work and then gets in a couple hours of Walking Dead or Zelda instead. But every night, ‘Wake me up when you leave, I need to do (insert subject here).’ We had set a time limit, two years, because my wife’s job is moving out of the country and Charlie has to be able to deal on his own. For various reasons, we’re 90% sure he won’t be able to move with us. I’m doing like the Captain said and laying off. I know he can pass a GED test in that time frame.

      We are going to do a written agreement, with dates. I think if we break it down by weekly goals or something easy he can manage around his work schedule, we might get somewhere.

      • Oh, Gawd, buy him an alarm clock and be done with that. Sorry, I have way too much baggage about my ex-husband asking me to wake him up, then saying he wanted to sleep a little more and to wake him up again in 15 minutes, etc. and we’d do that all day and then he’d complain that I hadn’t been more insistent!

  66. A. Y. Mouse. said:

    So, here’s A Thing that might be an unpopular opinion around here: Some people don’t like learning. Some people don’t like applying themselves to difficult tasks until they Defeat The Task and Master The Skill. (Or, if they do find a difficult thing that they like applying themselves toward, it’s something that doesn’t carry a lot of respect in educated circles.)

    IMO this is neutral, not bad.

    The current things you’re doing aren’t working, so maybe it’s time the LW let them go and talked to his brother about what he wants and what he can realistically achieve at this point in time — IMO, getting a GED is probably the most logical choice.

    I dropped out of college three classes from my degree, because the classes I had to take (foreign language, if anyone’s wondering) were triggering every mental health issue and trauma I had, including feeling stupid because the material. just. would. not. stick.

    And the thing is, when the material won’t stick? When you feel stupid even though your forebrain knows you’re not? That *sucks* and it’s traumatic on a really visceral level .

    The people I work with (tech company – we make video, websites, apps, desktop programs) run the gamut education-wise: I have bosses who dropped out of high school. I have bosses with PhDs. I have at least two bosses who used to work in auto sales and repair, and a couple with just a high school education. Hell, I’m head of two departments and I got my start at this company wiping sinks and refilling toilet roll.

    The one thing I’ve found is that the longer you’ve been working the less important having a degree becomes, and that it is absolutely possible to find a sacred white collar job with limited education.

    TL;DR – maybeencourage your brother toward a GED and start treating him like an adult, rather than the wayward middleschooler he isn’t?

    (Also IA with the captain on telling the parents all of the ways they failed their son and being really stern about them paying for any additional education he receives.)

    • Mary said:

      I’m honestly confused why you’d think that might be an unpopular opinion? It seems like most of the comments here recognise that people can have very different approaches to and experiences of learning, and that there’s no One True Path that everyone must follow?

  67. Here’s a book recommendation I just thought of: Andy McNab’s ‘Today Everything Changes’. (From the look of it, his fiction stuff would be worth checking out as well, but I haven’t read any of them so can’t directly recommend them.)

    ‘Today Everything Changes’ is McNab’s brief autobiography, deliberately written to be an easy and enjoyable read (since it’s aimed at children with poor literary skills). He grew up in a rough area, dropped out of school early and turned to juvenile crime. Then, at the age of 16, he was recruited by the army – which suited him as he liked the idea of being a helicopter pilot. Except, of course, that he was so far behind in maths and reading that there was no way he was ever going to be a helicopter pilot. So that was a fairly abrupt life lesson for him. But then the Army sent him for remedial lessons with an amazing teacher who made him think it was worth reading (the book’s title was this man’s motto, and McNab learned to tell himself “I’m not thick, I just haven’t been educated yet. Today everything changes” which is such a great motto for someone in Charlie’s situation). Having learned to enjoy learning, he progressed in the army and ended up getting into the SAS and learning a lot more stuff which was now of practical value for him.

    I wouldn’t make a big thing of it, but I’d pass it on to Charlie with some general comment about how it’s the experience of someone who joined the Army despite not having much education and you think he might find it interesting/useful.

    (And, having remembered that book, I think I might now buy it for my own Kindle, since it’s totally cool!)

    • On that note, there’s some good-ish TV on similar subjects. There’s an old documentary series from 2005 called “Escape to the legion”. With Bear Grylls! It’s worth a watch. Also there’s currently a show on in the UK on called “Royal Marines Commando School”.

  68. UnderTheOakTrees said:

    I wonder if it is embarrassing to Charlie to be taking middle school classes at 18. Maybe a junior college program with other adult learners would be a better environment.

  69. Dear LW,

    I agree that you should back off a bit. I agree that if you can you should encourage his interests.

    I totally to the nth degree subscribe to the idea that you should do something with him that he’s fantastic at and you’re not so good at. So he can teach you.

    That (I believe) will be good for both of you.

  70. Anyanka said:

    I’m also somewhat uncomfortable with the atmosphere of ‘it’s not okay to allow or expect family members to live with you unless they’re your children’. It’s not abnormal for families to live together and support one another in times of difficulty, and it’s not abnormal for people just into adulthood to not pay rent (which might be too expensive for them, anyway). Like, I get that your family may work differently, but the attitude here seems to be ‘he’s living with family and not totally on his own? GROSS.’

    • rory said:

      Yeah, I agree 300% with this. I lived with my parents rent free in grad school, a year of unexployment, and then 3.5 years of working, all rentfree. it was the only way to save enough to move out. And now that I’m moved out, those savings from then are the only thing keeping me from being paycheck to paycheck. (I have a decent enough job, but I live in extremely-expensive Boston. )

    • The Aphid said:

      Yeah. I’m not picking up on a ton of that judgement from the LW or most of the comments myself, but agree that an undercurrent is there. It can be a pretty deep societal undercurrent. My own family has a long history of family-living-with-family, and my own parents were certainly in no hurry to have their kids leave the nest – and weird judgments can still pop up in surprising places with us (including in my own head). I bet Charlie’s having some shame around societal expectations/his living situation – I know I did when I was eighteen and trying to figure out how to Adult. In some ways it didn’t help me that my family was theoretically cool with family-living-with-family indefinitely, since I kept feeling like I was making something up to angst over. In hindsight, my family WAS basically cool with things, but I was also soooo not making it up.

  71. Jenn said:

    Delurking to suggest a book that might help motivation – Cmdr Chris Hadfield’s “An Astronaut’s guide to Life on Earth”. Very accessible, and a true story of deciding what you want and going out and getting it. Hadfield talks about his decision making processes, the things he did to make his dream a bit closer – and man, you add that into his achievements and the fact that he is so real and normal and you just want the HUG the guy. Anyway, I loved it and my (non-reader) husband loved it and it just might let Charlie know that HE is the only one who can make things happen in his own life.
    In the meantime, be a big brother and enjoy having him living with you, without taking responsibility for your parents’ shortcomings. Good luck.

    • LW here said:

      Charlie is 1000% not a reader, but I think I might be able to get him to read that. He’s interested in the space program.

      • MamaCheshire said:

        That just set off a mini-lightbulb for me, and this is 100% a serious and non-snarky question:

        Has Charlie had his eyes checked recently?

        I ask this because Spouse ran into trouble with some online coursework that required heavy textbook reading a few years back and insisted that he couldn’t focus and I got all grumpy at him about not doing his work. Unbeknownst to me, he was saying his eyes literally couldn’t focus – and it turned out he needed bifocals. When he was 25. And quite possibly had needed them for a while. And schoolwork-ish tasks became much more do-able when he could, well, SEE what he was working on. (He also uses e-books because he finds them easier to deal with than print in terms of non-headache-inducing reading.)

        No idea if this or anything like it is actually an issue for Charlie, but if your folks were all “evil government messing with how we raise our kids!” about things, Charlie might be missing bits of medical care, and some of those bits could be of critical importance.

        • LW here said:

          I…have no idea. I asked my mom and she said he’d had an exam a year ago and everything was fine, but when I just asked Charlie, he doesn’t think he’s been to the eye doctor since he was little…

          So I think we’re going to the eye doctor next week.

        • Siobhan said:

          Oh, *good* catch. On that note, my sister got tons of flack about being lazy and unmotivated when she was in school. Years later she figured out that she had undiagnosed dyslexia.

  72. syrens said:

    Hi, LW.

    So here’s a story: I spent something like 8 years in and around university classrooms. I know pretty much zero first-year-university-aged dudes who *didn’t* play a tonne of videogames and/or watch a lot of stupid-TV/movies in their off-hours.
    And, yeah, I realize that he’s playing videogames *instead* of Studying.
    But so what?
    No, really: So what?

    Your brother has a job. Yes, it’s part-time and, yes, like most part-time work, it’s got unpredictable hours and (I’m guessing) pays something hovering around minimum wage.
    An awful lot of people get through their 20s (and 30s and 40s… come on, man) working part-time jobs for crappy wages.
    What you do to make your rent is not actually what defines your existence or your value as a human being.
    Right now, your brother – who is not even out of his teens – wants to play video games and watch movies.
    Which is frustrating as fuck, to be sure, and probably really scary, too.
    But your letter reads a little bit like… “Ack, my 18-year-old, deeply un-educated brother is failing to behave like a responsible adult!” and, honestly… no kidding.
    Me and my heavily structured, academics-focused childhood + two years of university? I still didn’t know how to even *act* like a responsible adult until I was something like 24 and had *bought a house*. And even then, I was *bad* at it. It took me another ~5 years + a divorce to get the hang of it.

    Here’s another story (in this long and disjointed comment – sorry): My wife spent years and years with horrible (frankly incompetant) teachers who tried to shame her into not having dyslexia (I know, right? You can imagine how well that worked out) and HATED school. Justifiably. But, years and years later, knows that she LOVES learning.

    I wonder if your brother isn’t in a similar situation. Years and years of incompetant “teachers” (your parents may have done right by you, but they surely did not do so by him) and now a situation that sounds like it’s fairly high-stress in terms of feeling like maybe he’s being/been set up for perpetual failure. Charlie’s heavy video-gaming and movie-watching makes me think of how I act when I’m feeling overwhelmed. When the mountain of what-ever high-stakes situation is threatening to collapse on me, I tend to run away and avoid it, and fear of failure is a huge factor in where that behavour (in my case) comes from.
    Having you heaping (explicitely or implicitely) a big dose of “Do this NOW or FAIL at LIFE… FOREVER!!!” on him… That can’t be helping. Basically: What everyone else has been saying about backing off about the school-related pressure.

    Your brother doesn’t need to finish high-school (or even middle school) before he turns 20.
    He may not need to finish high school at all.
    GEDs and continuing ed and night-school and mature-student classes, and so-on… those will always be there, even if the local alt-HS won’t be. If he truly wants to join the military (meaning: this isn’t just a thing he tosses out because it’s a way to get people off his back about what he’s doing with his life), then talking to those recruiters to find out what he does need to do in order to get there, that’s a good idea.

    If he’s not actually sure what he wants to do, career-wise (like, say, most 18-year-olds) and has a limitted number of options coming to mind based on what he was exposed to growing up (E.G.: I had no idea I could make a living as a figure-model when I was 18. I thought that “real job” meant “full time and white collar” and that anything else was what you did because you’d failed at “real job” or else because you’d married someone who had a “real job” and could therefore do something part-time in order to bring in a little extra income for Nice To Haves… Maybe Charlie latched onto the military as a way to get out of his parents’ house and get the kind of at-his-elbow structure that he needs, regardless of whether or not that’s what he’d actually get if he joined up)… it’s not actually the end of the world if he spends 5 years (or 20 years) cleaning office buildings part-time to make the rent and just… figuring out what non-career-focussed things he actually wants to spend his time on.

    The suggestions about getting to know, and connect with, your brother – not as a “mistake” that you have to Fix, but as a fellow human being freshly set out upon the journey of (towards) adulthood – by taking an interest in what he does like, suggesting a Brother Book Club or weekly movie-night or similar, and maybe negotiating (if you haven’t already done so) some ground rules about contributing to the rent and making dinner once or twice a week (room-mate type skills that will serve him well). Those are good places to put your energy. Trying to guilt him into completing course work that treats him like he’s twelve, thought… that’s not helping either of you.

    • MamaCheshire said:

      A thousand times yes about the schoolwork that treats him like he’s 12.

      Unfortunately, one of the things that Homeschooling Subculture on the whole deeply fucks up is the entire idea of having a period like this in one’s life. On the strict/fundie side (which it sounds like the LW got, given the commentary about the evils of rock music), there is an actual catchphrase of “we don’t DO teenagers in this house.” Basically, in this model, everyone is treated like a child until they prove they can, by some fairly arbitrary metrics, Adult – and then that person is treated mostly like an adult and expected to take on adult roles and responsibilities. On the child-led/unschooling side (which it sounds like Charlie sort of got a weird hybrid of, but LW didn’t get at all most likely and which is closer to, though not exactly, the style of homeschooling I grew up in) there is this idea that the point of childhood is to have Lots! Of! Experiences! and that those experiences will in turn direct the acquiring of knowledge on a need-to-know practical basis and eventually the new adult will live a lifestyle of quirky entrepreneurial bliss forever after.

      And matching educational knowledge to developmental stage is its own hot mess of a thing – the infantilization of adults who have or are seen as having cognitive disabilities, or primarily speak another language, etc. is NOT GOOD. But I could write my own blog or probably my own book about that.

      • MamaCheshire: Do, do, do write your own blog! I move in the kind of blogging circles that mean I come across a lot of ‘this is why we are taking/keeping our child out of The Awful Public School System’ posts, and I would find it really interesting to read something about possible difficulties/drawbacks/cautions.

        • MamaCheshire said:

          For that sort of thing, I’d recommend Homeschoolers Anonymous. They seem to tilt more towards the Quiverfull/Dominionist survivor stories but from time to time there are others that don’t quite fit that narrative.

          I went through a whole funny thing, myself. I thought I would want to homeschool my kids when I had them, but circumstances at the time FirstKid was ready for preschool made me decide against that. And then things went horribly wrong for FirstKid in public school and the kids are actually in Catholic school now, which is a decision I never would have expected to make but they are amazingly happy and doing well there. I think there is a lot of “do what your kid NEEDS, not what you think they should have” that people should do and don’t. In my own situation, homeschooling was better than the Catholic school I was in (or the awful private Montessori I went to before that) and better than the public school I went to later, but if my parents had been willing to move there was a nearby public school that had a strong gifted and talented program that probably would’ve been a good match for me (and my mother knew the principal of that school, and he expressed a lot of regret that I couldn’t come and even tried to pitch it to the school board!) – so it’s always more complicated.

          I also spent a school year in an MSW field placement doing educational advocacy for kids and young adults with disabilities, which is more what my last paragraph was about.

  73. MJRawr said:

    So, I have one note about the “or somehow “earn” the pleasures of “difficult,” interesting books or creative arts” angle: I adored reading anything and everything, but largely nonfiction when I was in elementary and middle school. I don’t remember at what age I first snuck up to the upstairs of the public library behind my parent’s back*, but it was under the age of 10. I found this huge astronomy book. It was at least an inch thick, and was probably a foot and a half by a foot. Maybe bigger, I undersized it a bit to compensate for my age when I found it. I was FASCINATED by this book. It had gorgeous pictures of everything you could think. And it was at least college level physics astronomy. I checked this book out every chance I could get. Did I understand even a tenth of what this book discussed? HELL NO. But I was so enchanted, so enthralled, I just wanted to understand even the smallest part of it. That one book drove so much of my love of science. The astronomy fascination lasted until I realized I didn’t actually enjoy math that much, even if I was pretty good at it. But that’s ok! I still learned so much, and that book that I had no business reading was a huge force behind it. My parents were a bit mystified by it, but they did all they could to support me. Just… just be there to support him! Help him find stuff that does interest him, and support him in exploring ways to learn more about it. You mentioned military; there are scores of great books out there, fictional, based on true story, true story, etc. Movies are great as well. I’d also suggest some board games that have a military theme.

    *they didn’t want me in the adult section due to concerns about violence and sex, but they relaxed a bit after they saw me make a beeline for the astronomy, meteorology, and marine biology books a few times :D

  74. MJRawr said:

    So, I have one note about the “or somehow “earn” the pleasures of “difficult,” interesting books or creative arts” angle: I adored reading anything and everything, but largely nonfiction when I was in elementary and middle school. I don’t remember at what age I first snuck up to the upstairs of the public library behind my parent’s back*, but it was under the age of 10. I found this huge astronomy book. It was at least an inch thick, and was probably a foot and a half by a foot. Maybe bigger, I undersized it a bit to compensate for my age when I found it. I was FASCINATED by this book. It had gorgeous pictures of everything you could think. And it was at least college level physics astronomy. I checked this book out every chance I could get. Did I understand even a tenth of what this book discussed? HELL NO. But I was so enchanted, so enthralled, I just wanted to understand even the smallest part of it. That one book drove so much of my love of science. The astronomy fascination lasted until I realized I didn’t actually enjoy math that much, even if I was pretty good at it. But that’s ok! I still learned so much, and that book that I had no business reading was a huge force behind it. My parents were a bit mystified by it, but they did all they could to support me. Just… just be there to support him! Help him find stuff that does interest him, and support him in exploring ways to learn more about it. You mentioned military; there are scores of great books out there, fictional, based on true story, true story, etc. Movies are great as well. I’d also suggest some board games that have a military theme.

    *they didn’t want me in the adult section due to concerns about violence and sex, but they relaxed a bit after they saw me make a beeline for the astronomy, meteorology, and marine biology books a few times :D

  75. Squirrels said:

    I’ve no idea if this has been said or not as I tried to read all the comments but might have missed quite a bit. But I would suggest maybe watching weekly educational videos together ? I mean, if you feel up to it, things like Crash Course on youtube, for example, or signing up together to one of the online classes some of the best universities offer ? These classes can be about pretty basic stuff, or something you’re both interested in. It feels way less condescending and “You don’t even know the basics !”-like because loads of people are watching and taking those classes and loads of them will be the same age as Charlie. Of course, you have a job and everything, but taking a class together or doing something together will make it feel like a hobby more than an obligation and you’ll be able to talk about the fun things you read and the interesting thing you learnt as equals and get rid of this “teacher-student” relationship that, maybe, your brother don’t really want to have with you ?
    Plus, it makes learning feels fun again. I know that my dad never studied further than elementary school (because, you know, the 50′s and being the son of an immigrant and whatnot) and he always hated school. Through reading and watching movies and traveling, he’s learnt a lot and is always kicking everyone’s ass at Trivial Pursuit (which is not a sign of anything but, trust me, you would find it impressive general-knowledge-wise) and people always assume he has a university degree. He has a fine job that he likes mostly because he works with people he likes and it is very important. He never had a “career” in the American sense of the word, he has a job, it pays the bill, we never lacked Nutella. He chose to learn a lot because it became fun when he could finally do it in his own time, when he wanted it and how he wanted it. Sometimes, forcing an education on someone is not helping.
    Hence the whole, make it a hobby approach. Maybe try to learn what he wants to learn, try to see how he wants to live and try to find common interests and things you can learn more of together ! Be a big brother and a friend !

  76. The Aphid said:

    I’ve been thinking about this letter a lot lately, and keep writing epic comments and then deleting them. I feel like I should have more to offer the LW than I do.

    My siblings and I were also homeschooled, and I, too, have seen my parents fail younger siblings. On the education front, I think this was partially down to my parents assuming that what had worked so well for me would surely work for my (completely different!) siblings, and partially having run out of energy by then. I myself am deeply grateful that my parents saw that my experience in public school was snowballing into a disaster when I was just a wee elementary school tyke, and have been very happy with the education I got at home. But I also think at least one and probably two of my three siblings would have thrived in public school, and never were offered the chance. And man, I’m angry at my parents for not seeing that! For not admitting it when they needed to get outside help. I love them and there are a lot of things they did right, but they also did stuff that was wrong and that I haven’t forgiven and maybe never will. I’ve felt guilty that I didn’t/couldn’t do more myself, and guilty for ways that I contributed to shaming my young siblings for not being Favorite-Child competent-oldest me. I know the pain of wondering whether calling the cops on my own parents would have changed things for the better. So yeah, LW, I hear you on that. There are a lot of big and difficult feelings to be felt here.

    But at the same time – I dunno. I’m a pretty committed big sibling, I think. I’ve put a fair bit of effort finding resources for the sibs over the years. Started out by reading books aloud that I thought they’d enjoy but they weren’t able to read themselves yet, when I still lived at home. I’ve got some really good memories of read-aloud time, and as far as I know, so do they. Then for a while, as I was in the process of moving out, I tried too hard to give them All of the Books and Explain All of the Things, and it was no fun for any of us (and was also too much like when I was the Responsible Eldest Who Represents the Parents and Their Rules Even When the Parents Aren’t There and the Rules Are Stupid Anyway). The best thing I ever did for my family relationships was to step back. After I was moved out, I did find some ways to stay engaged that seem to have been good experiences for everybody. Helped one sib figure out buying his first plane ticket online. Saved up some money and took another sib to a city for a weekend and showed her some good theatre and famous buildings and how to use a subway and hail a cab and stuff. And I bought ‘em books about taking the GED and applying to college, and set up the one sibling who was really interested in college in conversations about How College Works with friends of mine who had enjoyed college and done well there. Quietly pointed out that Scarleteen and Planned Parenthood exist. Have invited Youngest Sib (just turned 18) to come live with me for a while in the near future, if that will be useful to Youngest Sib’s goals. And I let them know that I think they’re awesome and ask questions about their lives and what they’re excited about and what they’re proud of, and when there is an Event, I do my best to turn up and applaud their successes. Once that meant taking a bus across several states to enjoy and then literally applaud a performance. Another time that meant temporarily suspending my vegetarianism when someone learned to hunt, so I could partake of some of the meat. Etc. Figuring out this Being a Big Sibling Thing continues to be a work in progress.

    I cannot imagine being as invested in the outcome as you seem to be, LW, or waking a teenage sib up at 7 every morning, or caring this much about what they are doing with their time. I can’t even imagine considering the sacrifice of all my own precious free time to help them study. I am in awe that you’ve been able to do as much as you already have with Charlie’s education. Clearly you’re a super-committed big sibling. Clearly you’re doing something right, or Charlie wouldn’t be going along with it – my siblings would never have let me do Skype tutoring! But where I’m standing, I really don’t see what more there is to do except step back and let Charlie figure out how to be an adult.

    I get the feeling you may not think some of my own life choices are particularly “successful”. I’ve never felt any need to get a GED myself, etc. But I definitely have a decent life. I have a good, satisfying, sustainable, socially-responsible, amazing life! And it is a life I chose. There are a million ways to have a shot at a decent life, LW. You’ve chosen one life, I’ve chosen another, Charlie gets to choose his own. My siblings are figuring theirs out. Sometimes it’s painful to watch them freeze up or stumble, but my sibs are awesome, resilient people. They’ll be OK. Or else maybe they won’t, but there’s nothing I can do about that.

    As many comments above me have said, it is not our job to be parents or teachers for our siblings. All we can do is be the best big siblings we can. And I may be projecting here, but I’ll say it anyway just in case: it isn’t our siblings job to help us feel better about not having called the cops. That’s over. They don’t owe it to us to “catch up” or to turn out “successful” by any definition of the word. Our feelings about all that are real and complicated and ongoing, but my siblings and Charlie have plenty to deal with right now without taking on our feelings about their situations. They have to figure out what they want (which is overwhelming all by itself), and how to chase that (overwhelming again), and then whether they want it enough for chasing it to be worthwhile to them. They own their own lives and futures and stories, just as you and I have to own ours. Even the parts we wish we could rewrite.

  77. AutumnFire said:

    Normally I won’t comment without having read the other comments to make sure I’m not repeating a suggestion, but I’m running short on time tonight. If Charlie is more comfortable with computers, or decides he finally wants to start working on his education, may I recommend https://www.khanacademy.org/ . Done by an awesome, awesome man. Always free.

  78. M-C said:

    Good comments there Captain. I’d like to encourage the LW to back off too. Some of the smartest, most truly educated people I’ve ever met have had pathetic degrees of formal education (like barely out of middle school, if that, due to war or economics or awful family situations). I mean people who read constantly in many domains and think about it deeply, and use their brain in running their life, and you really can’t get any better than that. So things are not desperate with Little Brother, and indeed having some sort of informal family book/movie club that addresses his interests in an adult way seems to me to be the best possible path at this time (can your wife participate too, so as to raise the adult level of conversation? how about your local public library’s book club? my local one is kick-ass).

    However my own little sister never made it out of the hole that she dug herself in early adulthood, with my parents’
    full complicity (not homeschooling!). Part of it was that she was allowed to hang out at home, working part time to pay for the car insurance and her clothes, without ever being made to actually support herself. Six years into an AA with a GPA of 2.01 she finally graduated to not even a major, and hasn’t been in the least motivated to do anything else since. I do think some tough love on the financial level would have been beneficial. It’s not so painful to be a cleaner or other unpleasant shit if you live comfortably in a nice house, mostly do what you feel like, only spend a few token hours on work, and know that you’ll be bailed out if your car falls apart or you need your broken arm fixed up.

    I think I’d recommend something like a revision of the current agreement. “LB, you know I love you and wish you all the best. But I see that you’re only doing the minimum to get by here, and I don’t want to continue the pattern which I think has been so harmful to you in the long term. So how about we agree that you pay rent/share in the life expenses, as all other grownups do? You’re welcome to earn the money for this in cash by either continuing with your job or any other you can get, or virtually by pursuing your education with concrete results. Full-time units completed=full-time support from me, otherwise you work.” And then you can let him pick whatever means he wants to pursue better education, whether online or at the alternative program or whatever, you can help him figure out alternatives if what he’s got now doesn’t suit, figure out why and how it can be better etc. But you don’t let him get away with doing nothing..

    And please, by all means, pressure your parents so that they fork over whatever money is necessary to pay for his education at this point. They owe him, big time. Just be sure to express your anger at this sad state of affair at the perpetrators rather than at the victim, so you preserve your relationship with him. You’re in the best position to help him, as you know yourself. I also have another sister and feel guilty for not being around when she was little and needed me, so let me send you big jedi hugs for even trying to fix things up now..

  79. LW here said:

    Wow! Thank you for all the advice! I took a big step back this week and it’s working. Charlie would rather rip out his eyelids with pliers than read anything, but he does like movies. I haven’t finished the book the Captain recommended yet, but we’ve started a regular movie night. I think that’s how Charlie’s going to get most of his world culture stuff. He loved John Green’s History of the World on Khan Academy.

    This particular middle school isn’t cartoony or childish (it was a struggle finding one that didn’t look like it was organized by Sesame Street) and the work’s challenging. I know there’s a lot of boring-as-hell stuff out there and we hunted until we found something that appealed to him. He’s moving through it fast, when he does it. He’s halfway through the seventh grade material and he only started it about six weeks ago.

    I respect all the ‘pay rent’ suggestions above, but his job really only makes him enough money to pay for his vehicle and insurance. He couldn’t even afford to buy food for himself after that’s taken care of. We talked before he moved in and the deal was he’d do school and complete his education and we’d let him live here and figure out How To Adult.

    So I guess the Big Step Back was what I really needed to hear.

    We’re on about a two year time limit before my wife’s job takes us to another country, so I don’t really want to let Charlie drift until he decides to do otherwise, if only because he says he wants to learn stuff and do stuff, not keep on the way he’s been going. He’s the one saying, ‘I don’t want to drift,’ but he’s still working how not to drift. It’s just so easy. Habits of a lifetime and all that. He says he doesn’t mind the cleaner now, but he doesn’t want to be there in a couple of years, he wants to move on to Bigger and Better things. In two years, he has to be ready. He’s said (and I believe him) that he’d rather be homeless and live in his car rather than move back in with my parents.

    At the rate he’s going, I know he can pass a GED test in a year or so, and we’re looking into classes at the community college. He made noises about learning how to work on his battered old car so he wouldn’t have to fork over so much money to the mechanic, and I almost jumped for joy! Auto repair classes, here we come.

    I used the phrases the Captain recommended when I talked to my parents and they’re going to pay for all of Charlie’s school, as far as he wants to go. They’ve already paid for the one he’s enrolled in now. They still 100% say Charlie should’ve taught himself and since he’s eighteen, he should just enroll in college. It’s like they don’t understand that growing older doesn’t magically teach you study skills and how to retain knowledge? I don’t know. They’re paying for his school and he doesn’t have to live with them anymore.

    Again, thank you all for all the advice, I had no idea my situation would touch so many people. I would appreciate more movie and TV show suggestions. I’ve already ordered ‘I Buried my Heart at Wounded Knee’ from the library. I might be able to get him into The Tudors. The King’s Speech is on my list of stuff to watch. Movies about a specific Thing That Happened or do a really good job accurately portraying a Place Somewhere In The World would be ideal. We’ve watched most of the streaming history documentaries on Netflix already, and a lot of Nova videos about science and physics. Charlie was fascinated by String Theory! He wants to learn things, he’s just never had to sit down and…do it? Does that make sense?

    Anyway. Thanks :D

    • Thank you so much for posting the update! I wish you all the best of luck!

    • Terrified Gardener said:

      I really loved “Rome” and basically anything to do with Philippa Gregory (she writes historical fiction, a lot of which has been turned into TV). One thing, which may have been said already, is that historical fiction is great but is rarely 100% accurate (actually the Tudors is really inaccurate unfortunately, but a lot of fun). I love going on Wikipedia after watching something and reading up on where the history was different to the fiction. In books authors often include a Historical Note at the end to give these kinds of details but you don’t get it with films and TV, sadly.

      If you fancy doing Shakespeare I recommend Kenneth Branagh’s Henry V and I totally adore the Baz Lurhman Romeo + Juliet. For both of these I found the visuals so engaging that I wasn’t put off by the language, but YMMV.

      • LW here said:

        I’m hoping that something will spark an interest in a period/place/person and he’ll want to learn more about it. Branagh’s version of Much Ado is one of my top five all-time favorite movies!

    • CrackerJackJS said:

      Thanks for the update!

      If you can get Cosmos, I highly suggest it. And I can’t recommend Smart Every Day enough! They’re not just educational, they’re bite-sized. https://www.youtube.com/user/destinws2

      • LW here said:

        Thank you! That video is FANTASTIC! That’s the kind of stuff Charlie will watch for hours on end. I love it.

    • eblue said:

      Thank you for updating us! I’m glad to hear that everyone’s awesome suggestions have been helping. Your sidenote about getting Charlie to learn How to Adult reminded me about the How to Adult Youtube series that is produced by John Green and his brother. (You probably are aware of it, but just in case, I thought I’d mention it.) They discuss all sorts of different basic life skills there, like how to do laundry, write a resume, and do taxes, all in an easily understandable format and with a lot of excellent humour. Best of luck to you.

      • LW here said:

        I WAS NOT AWARE but Charlie loved his History of the World up on Khan Academy, I’ll track them down. THANK YOU!

    • Gen. Solution said:

      “History Detectives” on PBS is a great history program. The show follows a team of historians/researchers as they investigate past mysteries. In particular, it does a good job of actually showing their research process, which includes combing through publicly available records, visiting public libraries and archives, and going to museums and historical sites. I like the program because it’s educational on two fronts: it sheds light on historical events and it shows you that you can do a lot of research yourself.

      “History Detectives” is currently in its 11th season. My favorite episode so far is the one about the sinking of the steamship Sultana in 1865.
      Link to season 11: http://www.pbs.org/opb/historydetectives/investigations/

  80. This may have been covered earlier-has Charlie ever been tested for dyslexia,ADD, et c? Sometimes these things aren’t very noticeable. If it’s practical, and Charlie is ok with it, getting tested may be helpful. Even if it turns out that he doesn’t have any issues like that, it may be useful to know for sure.

    • LW here said:

      Charlie has never been tested for anything because it was very much BIG PHARMA CONSPIRACY sort of house. I don’t know how to go about getting that testing for an adult, but I’ll look into it.

      • MamaCheshire said:

        I *think* that because Charlie is still under 21 and not in possession of a high school diploma this may still be a matter of “free appropriate public education” under IDEA and thus could be a thing that the local school district should be doing. Possibly.

        Another resource that could be helpful but will probably actually cost money (though less money than elsewhere) is a nearby university with a PhD-level psychology program, so the students can practice their psychological testing under supervision.

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