After greeting the parents of the students in my Vietnam elective on Back-to-School Night each year I begin my presentation by saying, “One of my primary goals this semester is to confuse your children.”
Inevitably, I get a series of quizzical looks conveying, “But aren’t Nobles teachers supposed to make important topics and concepts clear to kids in an interesting way?”
My response is that both history and life are complex. In both, it is possible and common for conflicting truths to exist in the same time and space – and that I want my students to learn how to wrestle with those conundrums.
As I re-read The Blessings of a B Minus this summer, I was struck by how parents struggle with two simultaneous and conflicting truths. The first truth is: we all know that young people need to build resilience and character and that those things are often best learned when young people make mistakes, are held accountable, and have to respond positively.
These opportunities can happen anywhere in a teenager’s life – at school, on a team, in a summer job, doing a service project, or on a Saturday night. We understand these missteps create important learning and growth in the long run. But, in the moment, it can be disheartening and discouraging.
On the other hand, we also know that the college process for high-achieving young people has become brutally competitive. Colleges and universities flaunt their single digit admit rates yet seem to be on a never-ending quest for more and better applicants and higher rankings.
As parents we want the best for our children. As we develop understanding of the college admissions game, we become increasingly anxious. Full disclosure – among my most anxious parenting moments revolved around that process for my own two children. Emotionally, we fear that “failure” along the way may have unmerciful repercussions. Yet, intellectually, we know that disappointment can lead to vital growth and increase maturity over time.
So are we being hypocritical by asking Nobles parents and faculty to read The Blessing of a B Minus while we simultaneously have our students working hard to achieve strong results in all aspects of their lives? I think not. These conflicting truths can live healthily juxtaposed if we play our cards right.
At Nobles, we challenge our students to do their best. Through hard work and substantive achievement in a challenging environment, we are giving them what they need to succeed academically and personally in college and beyond. Yet, we are also clear that sometimes disappointment and failure is necessary. When students experience those things in a supportive environment, it can allow them to pick themselves up, dust themselves off, learn a lesson or two and keep moving forward.
Early in her book Mogel writes, “…the most reliable predictors of adult success are not grades in high school or collegiate pedigree.They are the qualities that psychologist Daniel Goleman calls emotional intelligence: empathy, optimism, flexibility, a good sense of humor, the capacity to function as a team member, and a positive reaction to setbacks."
So while Nobles aspires to prepare young people for college, we also need to prepare them for life. By creating a wide range of experiences that allow them to be stretched in many ways, and to stumble occasionally, our students will develop both their intellect and their character.
It may be that our greatest and most agonizing parenting challenges revolve around becoming comfortable with these competing truths. As we go through this school year, I hope we can acknowledge these conundrums and use that recognition to gain some perspective and insight into what our children face and what they need.