As soon as a child enters kindergarten, many parents are concerned with one thing: success. How can they ensure that their child is on educational path that will guarantee the best grades, scholarships, college, career, salary, and ultimately, life? The lengths some parents will go through to make sure their kids have a college diploma in one hand and internship letter in the other has no limits.
No greater example is needed than the notorious college admissions scandal that rocked our pre-covid nation. Dozens of wealthy parents and celebrities were outed for spending hundreds of thousands of dollars to fake their children’s merits and get them into ivy league schools.
If the world’s most successful businesspeople, designers, and actors would do something like this, is it difficult to imagine the desperation your typical American family feels? Most parents may not be forking over a hundred grand to fake their child’s SAT score, but they’re doing something that I, as an educator, find concerning and harmful: eliminating as much struggle for their children as possible. And they may not realize that they’re doing it for the same reason some parents pay for their kids’ fake scholarships.
Rethinking the Purpose of School
Interestingly enough, the purpose of education according to our founding fathers was never academic or financial success. It was to create good citizens. But somewhere down the road, we began hearing this message: “You can’t get a good paying job without a college degree.” So, education became almost a transactional experience – invest x number of hours and get y amount of money later in life. The idea that education is meant to help children appreciate history, literature, and the arts, or study critical thinking, politics, and debate, or even just learn to become contributing members of our society feels long forgotten.
If the educational journey is meant to be a roadmap for kids to become successful adults, it’s no wonder parents want to remove the roadblocks. I’ve been in education for over forty years, and I’ve observed a trend. When children struggle in school, parents do one of the following:
- Recognize the area of that struggle and encourage their kids to persevere, helping when possible.
- Eliminate the obstacle causing that struggle and blame the school.
- Try to convince the school that they’re wrong and their child is doing just fine.
What’s troubling is that more and more parents are choosing option two and three. This isn’t meant to be a criticism of parents. It’s natural to want to save your child from anything you think is harming their self-esteem. But in my experience, the students who face adversity and learn to delay gratification are more likely to succeed, not in the sense that they’ll all have higher salaries one day, but in that they’ll know how overcome barriers. This is a critical lesson children can’t afford to miss before they reach adulthood. This is why the parents who choose option one end up with the hardest working and most successful kids.
The Consequence of Bypassing Obstacles
Teaching our kids that financial success matters above all else and barriers can be removed to ensure that success sends them a confusing message – success must be obtained, but it doesn’t have to be earned. In “Doing School,” author Denise Clark Pope followed five high-achieving high school students for a year. These students had the best grades, were involved in their communities, and were accepted into ivy league universities. They also lied and cheated every step of the way. They were willing to do whatever it took to get into the best colleges, enter the highest-paying careers, make the most money, and thus, achieve ultimate happiness. Cheating to get six-figure jobs someday trumped actually learning. The point of school for these students was completely distorted.
While all can agree that lying and cheating is morally wrong, many can’t seem to understand why removing obstacles in the way of success has similar impacts. A parent may see their child struggling in an English class and conclude that he needs to be moved to remedial English. And while that may be the solution for some kids, it’s not the only answer. Often, the student just needs a tutor. But the question inevitably comes up: “Would I rather put my child in a remedial class where he can easily get an A, or watch him have to work twice as hard as the other kids to barely make an A?” It’s a difficult question. No parent enjoys watching their child struggle and their self-confidence diminish. But I want to implore parents to see the value in struggling, no matter how painful. These students typically gain a stronger sense of confidence than most.
The Lessons Learned from Struggling
I’m not advocating for not providing students with the assistance they need for physical and mental impairments or keeping students out of remedial classes that could be much more beneficial for their learning level. But what I’ve noticed in my years of education is that the most successful students are the ones who weren’t victimized and worked harder. I once had a first grader who struggled a lot, but with perseverance and grit, she graduated as high school valedictorian and went on to become a research professor. I had a fifth grader with such severe dyslexia, he could barely read. Instead of feeling sorry for him, his parents provided him audio books he could listen to while he read. They encouraged him to work harder than the other students and he eventually joined his high school’s National Honor Society.
I’ve seen parents remove every barrier in their child’s path to ensure their “success,” and I’ve seen their adult children drop out of college because they didn’t know how to work hard. I’m watching more kids completely misunderstand the purpose of education and cheat their way to a degree in the hopes of getting into a high-paying career someday. Sadly, I don’t think those students will last long in their future careers (if they even get to start them). But I also see people like my daughter who had to work much harder than a lot of the students in math class. It didn’t slow her down; she’s a nurse in the miliary now. If children can’t figure out how to solve problems for themselves while they’re in school and the stakes are low, they’ll be lost when they’re older. I know it’s hard but let your child struggle. Help them, encourage them, but don’t let them give up. They’ll be the ones who succeed in the long run.
Dawna Underwood is the Director of Early Education and Elementary Principal at Northwest Christian School located in Phoenix, AZ. NCS is one of the largest private Christian schools in the state of Arizona and the only ACSI Exemplary Accredited school in the state.
This Blog is sponsored by Frameworks: A Biblical Worldview Initiative. Frameworks courses are online Bible classes that public school students can take for elective credit on their high school transcript! Learn more at http://frameworks.ncsaz.org.
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