Don’t handicap your children by making their lives easy. -Robert A. Heinlein
I have always believed that children will live up to our expectations. If we expect them to work hard and succeed, then they will – or at least they will try to. If we don’t expect them to try, then they won’t. I have applied this standard to my own children, of course, but also to every child whom I have coached in youth baseball and in what used to be called Boy Scouting. I’d like to think that it’s working, and actually have objective data to that effect both in the success of my own children and also from feedback I have received from many parents of the children whom I have mentored over the years.
I make my living in a technical field by being the guy who does presentations (among other things), so I know the value of being able to speak in front of an audience. I was struck recently by an article in The Atlantic about a growing movement among some high schoolers as discriminatory and demanding alternative assignments. I’m sure that many will think me insensitive, but my reaction is that these kids should just “suck it up” and do the assignment and they will eventually come to appreciate the value in having done so.
The article focuses initially on children who legitimately have anxiety disorders, and I think that Mary Chastain over at LegalInsurrection does a wonderful job of representing that side of the argument, but even as an anxiety sufferer herself, she concludes that anxiety shouldn’t be an excuse for kids not having to do presentations. Instead, she suggests that the teacher should work with the student and “start off small.” She points out in Shapiro-esque fashion that “the real world doesn’t care about your feelings.”
It is of course important to understand children’s feelings, but only in the context of being able to help the child overcome those feelings to do what is in his or her best interest, which a child is, by definition, not capable of knowing. That’s what parents and teachers are for. A teacher like Kathleen Carver, quoted in the article, who thinks that she needs to cater to her students’ feelings or they won’t like her, is actually handicapping her students as Heinlein says in the quote above.
I once had a player on one of my youth baseball teams. We were in the playoffs and, due to eligibility rules, he was our last remaining pitcher. He had a bad inning where he walked a few batters and gave up a few runs and he came off the mound at the end of the inning in tears. Our team scored, so we were definitely not out of the game, but when it was our turn to take the field again, this boy refused. I listened to him express his feelings about why he didn’t want to pitch and then proceeded to tell him that he didn’t really have a choice. He was our only pitcher and the rest of the team was depending on him to go back out there. He reluctantly agreed, still in tears, and proceeded to walk the first batter he faced. I thought he might break down at that point, but he struck out the next batter and the inning ended with him getting a double play by catching a line drive back to him and doubling the runner off first base. I will never forget the smile on his face as he came off the field and high-fived me.
Does Ms. Carver really think that I should have “responded” to his feelings by letting him sit out?
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