Presenting the Right Expectations

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Presenting the Right Expectations

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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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?

Please remember to hit DaTipJar, or better yet, subscribe!