Are Your Kids Failing Enough to Succeed?

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What if private schools letting kids down by not exposing them to one of the most valuable teaching tools out there — failure? It’s an argument that seems to be cropping up more and more these days, most recently in this week’s Sunday Times Magazine

The article discusses a swanky New York private school (pre-K tuition:  $38,500) and a Harlem charter school, both of which are trying to figure out how to teach kids not just facts and study skills, but also how to be happy, functioning people. The charter school has started handing out “character report cards,” evaluating kids on seven key traits (zest, grit, self-control, social intelligence, gratitude, optimism, and curiosity) that will serve them well later in life. That wouldn’t fly at the private school, though:  “With my school’s specific population,” says Riverdale’s principal, “as soon as you set up something like a report card, you’re going to have a bunch of people doing test prep for it. I don’t want to come up with a metric around character that could then be gamed.”

Yes, this is the world we’ve come to — and perhaps to the disadvantage to those private school kids. If character (perseverance, dedication, the ability to overcome obstacles) matters more for lasting success than IQ (as several studies cited in the article claim), then insulating kids from failure doesn’t allow them to build up that crucial skillset. Riverdale’s principal, again:  “The idea of building grit and building self-control is that you get that through failure. And in most highly academic environments in the United States, no one fails anything.” But not failing is not the same as being successful or happy; these days, children of affluent parents exhibit “unexpectedly high rates of emotional problems beginning in junior high school.” In other words, high pressure + low tolerance for mistakes + overbearing parents = stressed out kids who never learn to cope with real world challenges.

Do your kids fail at anything, ever? How do they handle it?



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