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By Jessica T

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About this blog: I'm a late thirties mother of a ten-year-old and infant twins. My family moved to Menlo Park 6 years ago from Virginia - where I grew up, went to college, got married, had my first born, and got an MBA (in that order). I'm a manag...  (More)

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Let your children fail

Uploaded: Jan 24, 2014
My husband and I spent a recent date night at the local middle school where there's a speaker series for parents in the community. We heard Dr. Leonard Sax speak about Why Gender Matters. What Dr. Sax actually talked about was how parents in white, affluent communities are failing to raise resilient children by not letting them fail.

There are a lot of things about my husband's and my parenting style that we will surely live to regret...But on this night, a night where we felt like we were barely keeping our heads above water, we felt vindicated.

You see, we've been dismayed for years at the ways that the parents in our community question teachers' and administrators' decisions. A common refrain has been that the gifted children in my daughter's class (a surprisingly high number) haven't received the attention they deserve. Another example was when my daughter's second-grade teacher didn't "fit in" because she played the piano in class and was forced to retire from teaching the following year.

I'm not saying parents shouldn't speak up when their kids are suffering due to a subpar educational experience. But I never quite grasped how parents whose professions fell well outside of teaching thought themselves experts in the field of education… My own respect for teachers, no doubt, originated with my mom's very specialized training. And I witnessed her gifts when I volunteered in her classroom in college. Dr. Sax, too, talked about the way parents compromise teachers' authority when their children witness them calling into question and complaining about their teachers.

When I was in fourth grade, my best friend tested into an area magnet school for gifted and talented students. I begged my parents to pay a private practitioner to have me tested so that I might follow her. I will never forget the day my mom picked me up from after school care and revealed that I didn't get in. My test score wasn't high enough. I wasn't smart enough. A memory like that stays with you. My best friend went to the gifted school, and I stayed in the regular school. That day, I learned that I would have to work harder than everyone else if I wanted to get ahead.

Fast forward 28 years to several months ago, when my child, along with the rest of her class, was tested to skip her grade's math class and advance to the next level. She came home devastated when she didn't test into the advanced math class.

Did I fail my child? Was she falling behind? I confided in a few friends who encouraged me to seek out her teacher and the school's administrators to appeal the decision--something they were sure was possible. "That's not our parenting philosophy," I replied, although I couldn't quite remember why.

Dr. Sax reminded us. He assured his audience that letting our children fail would prepare them for disappointments that would surely come at some juncture. That day I scooped up my daughter and took her to ice cream (and didn't call the school).

Suddenly I wondered if some of my biggest parenting mistakes - sending my daughter off to school in India with an amoeba or sending her to a bare bones sleep-away camp where she wasn't fed enough, got a cold, and wasn't allowed to call her parents - should actually be my proudest moments. Now my husband and I know that our daughter can handle disappointment. She is resilient. She'll bounce back. As Katy Perry sings, she'll roar…

Dr. Leonard Sax speaks at the Crowne Plaza in Palo Alto on Sunday, February 9, 2014 from 12:00 PM to 2:00 PM.

Comments

Posted by Max Greenberg, a resident of Midtown,
on Jan 26, 2014 at 4:14 pm

Max Greenberg is a registered user.

Jessica, this is one of the most important entries by a blogger that has run on paloaltoonline.com (or anywhere else for that matter.) I heard someone say on a TED Talk that the TED audience she was speaking to was made up of a bunch of failures. People who are afraid to fail will never take the risk to do something great. Learning how to fail so we can develop resiliency when it does happen on the way to success is one of the best things we can teach our children, and for those of us who never learned that lesson, we can learn it now. You have done your kids a great service, and your readers as well. All the best - MAX


Posted by PA native, a resident of Downtown North,
on Jan 27, 2014 at 7:51 pm

PA native is a registered user.

Awesome post. Please keep this dialogue alive. It is very helpful.


Posted by mn_test347, a resident of Old Mountain View,
on Jan 29, 2014 at 11:13 am

mn_test347 is a registered user.

Your examples of failures are - not getting into a school for the gifted; and not getting into an advance math class. I'm not sure those qualify as failures.


Posted by lessons learned, a resident of Menlo Park: Felton Gables,
on Jan 29, 2014 at 3:43 pm

lessons learned is a registered user.

I agree with mn_test. If those are examples of failure, your bar is way too high.

I have observed that parents seem particularly reluctant to put their daughters in situations where they might not excel. I asked a math teacher about the fact that so few girls take advanced math in middle school.He told me it was endlessly frustrating because teachers tried to persuade parents to allow their talented daughters to enroll in the more demanding classes. But parents would refuse because of their fears of their daughters failing. Parents of sons don't seem to have those same worries.


Posted by Jessica T, a Almanac Online blogger,
on Jan 29, 2014 at 7:58 pm

Jessica T is a registered user.

Hello readers,

I highly recommend going to hear Dr. Sax in February. He has some very interesting things to say about gender differences (and how we parent) in particular.


Posted by Nora Charles, a resident of Stanford,
on Jan 30, 2014 at 11:30 pm

Nora Charles is a registered user.

I have a dear friend who teaches at a private school in another affluent, city of high achievers in California Her tales of parents and their views on teaching, their kids, and so more much more are riveting, and more than a bit cringeworthy.

Excellent post--brava! Your blog gives me hope for future generations. But next date night, please consider no school-related activities!


Posted by Jessica T, a Almanac Online blogger,
on Feb 1, 2014 at 10:04 am

Jessica T is a registered user.

Nora Charles - you are on!


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