Yikes, it’s been a while. It’s July, and we’re looking at Christmas pictures here. It’s the blog equivalent of having a guest sit down on the dirty laundry you’ve stuffed under the couch. How did that happen?
I’ve been meaning to write this particular post for about six months, but life, writing, raising kids — the usual — got in the way. And I might have been feeling a tiny bit of blog burnout, too. But I’m back! (Although not on a regular schedule. It is July, after all. At least for a few more days.)
So, anyhow. One of the things I try and do when I’m not writing is read. And six months ago I read Teach Your Children Well: Why Values and Coping Skills Matter More Than Grades, Trophies, or Fat Envelopes, by Madeline Levine. I have not been able to stop thinking about it. If you are a parent, grandparent, teacher, or just someone who likes kids, I can’t recommend it enough.
Levine, a practicing psychologist, writes about the pressures we put on our teenagers to succeed and how harmful that can be, which shouldn’t be news to anyone. But she also talks about the definition of success — the best grades, acceptance to the most elite colleges, landing the most exclusive, highest-paying jobs — and how that may not be right for anyone.
The whole success conversation is such a complex, crazy one. My children go to two different schools — a charter in an inner city, and a private school — and the differences — not in teacher devotion or skill, but in parental expectations — is mind-blowing. The reasons are complex and include financial situations and cultural expectations — and are of course not true across the board — lots of parents at the charter school have very high expectations for their kids, and lots of parents at the private school are very good about letting their children find their own paths, but navigating between the two institutions sometimes leaves me with whiplash. I’ve heard about complaints from parents that the elite high school their child was accepted to wasn’t good enough, and I’ve listened to a grade schooler say that she wanted to be a doctor, but her parents think the education would cost too much money, so she’ll be a nurse instead.
I am as guilty of riding the success train as anyone. I have asked my children (one child in particular) why they have not done better on a test score. I have suggested that a child may not have put their best work into a project. I’ve been annoyed when a child has gotten a lower grade than I expected.
And yes, I get that kids need to learn to do their best work, to live up to their potential. But does everything have to be the best, all the time?
Levine’s book has an exercise that helps you bore down to what your core values are as a parent — what do you want your child to walk away with when they are grown? I almost never do these things, but the book was compelling. So I came up with three qualities I want my children to have as adults, that I want them to start cultivating now. I wrote them on a sticky note and put it on the front door, so they could read them every day before school. I figure if on any single day they have two of them, it’s a step in the right direction.
And of course, they had a response. (Well, one of them, anyhow.) You’ll be happy to know I resisted the urge to correct the spelling or comment on the penmanship. At least one of us is learning something.
PS. If you’ve missed me, I’m also over at Writer Unboxed today. Please stop by!