On the first Saturday of summer break I went to Starbucks. As I added half and half to my coffee, I recognized the father of a Baymonte alumna (that’s a female graduate, for those not up on their Latin). I asked how it was going and he said, “Great, it’s Saturday. And you?” I replied in truly smart-aleck fashion, “I’ve got 10 weeks of Saturdays.” He chuckled but you could tell he was envious of the time off that I enjoy as a teacher. People, in fact, often ask me if I work during the summer. And the answer is… not for pay. Actually I spend a lot of time reading, thinking, and even writing about teaching and my specific subject matter of history. This installment of “Musings” will deal with the insights from the first relevant book in my summer reading. I plan to add other installments as I finish different books about education, child-rearing, etc. If the synopsis of any of these various books sounds interesting, I encourage you to pick them up and read them (after all you’ll be mentoring your own children along the path toward an enquiring mind!).
The Blessing of a B Minus: First of all the title has got to pique your interest. In a day when we demand A’s from our kids how can there possibly be a blessing in a B-? The author, Wendy Mogel, argues that modern parents are overly concerned with academic resumes and not concerned enough with developing the total child. So how does her premise work out in the real world? What are her suggestions? There are many, but let me give you just a few.
First, let children make mistakes because life can teach valuable lessons. I’ll give you an analogy that exemplifies her point. (Disclaimer: I am guilty of this and you might be, too.) Your child has an assignment. You want her to get a good grade so you micromanage the whole thing: set a timeline for when each aspect should be done, guide her in the thinking, and then “edit” the final draft (ok, help with the re-write to the point that you should be considered a co-author). A week later the assignment is returned back. Your daughter receives an A (ok, maybe you got an A as well). The problem is that the assignment is more about process than product. By assigning homework and projects teachers are attempting to teach important skills: time management, research, editing, etc. By micromanaging your child you are not allowing life to teach your child the hard lessons of failure. In this case the “failure” is not an F but the “blessing of a B-.” I am not saying to let your child sink or swim completely on her own, but as children get older they need to assume more and more responsibility for themselves, and to be honest, I want my 8th grade students to get only minor editorial help with my history assignments. I create the assignments with 8th graders in mind.
Second, she argues that chores are important for teaching responsibility. She argues that modern parents differentiate between menial work and “exalted work.” The academic work, sports and volunteer work, all of which they believe are the stuff of academic resumes, count as important (exalted) but the mundane activities (i.e. chores such as laundry) are considered below our children, so the parents do them to allow the children time for their “exalted labors.” When school and those important extra-curricular activities (sports or dance or drama) become the exclusive focus of our children, they don’t learn the skills necessary to function in the real world. By giving children jobs around the house, we develop in them skills that will make them adults who can survive without us (and isn’t this the ultimate goal?). I am completely guilty of this. Although my kids have some chores, neither knows how to do the laundry. Today I am going to show them! After all who wants to send their kids off to college with a 4.0 yet unable to clean their own clothes?!
A third bit of wisdom from the book that I plan to apply to my own parenting is encouraging my kids to work a real job, one with a boss and pay. This is her advice that re-enforces an idea I’ve already had. I have often said to my colleagues that a person growing up should either wait on people or clean toilets for a job at some point in their lives. Why? Several reasons: (1) teach empathy for those who do this for a living; (2) help the young adult to realize that this is not what they want to do forever; (3) appreciate the cost of goods by having to pay for something (a car, insurance, gas, phone or phone bill, clothes, etc.); (4) learn to deal with people and situations in the real world (unreasonable bosses or customers, children with temper tantrums, etc.) Obviously I am not advocating a waitress job for a kindergartner but parents of middle schoolers, this is just around the corner.
These are the insights that I came away with from the book, but I will give the typical disclaimer that you hear in the beginning of various movies or TV shows: the ideas expressed in this article are opinions of the author (and Wendy Mogel) and in no way are the official policies of Baymonte Christian School. Please take from here the ideas that you like and apply to your parenting in a way that works best for you and your family.