NPR’s recent story, “Struggle for Smarts: How Eastern and Western Cultures Tackle Learning” really got me thinking. I’ve spent 22 years teaching junior high, and 16 years parenting, so the question of how do I teach kids to tackle struggle resonates in my everyday life. The NPR story focuses on struggle and intellect – how that looks in the classroom and at home. It made me think about the bigger idea of struggle, determination, and perseverance – traits that as a mom, I find creeping up in my life every day.
As a parent, I’ve tried to show my kids the easiest path – I’ll be honest. Does anyone like to see their kid make painful mistakes, or take the twisting road rather than the straight? Watching our children collapse in defeat or cry in frustrations makes us feel helpless and wish we could change the outcome to spare them the agony of defeat, frustration, and yes, struggle.
No one mentions struggle in the parent handbook.
With babies, we think we will do it right. We’ve read the books, watched, the videos, and for me, I had seen enough rotten parenting in my first six years of teaching to know I would do it differently.
None of that prepared me for those moments of struggle. The moment when my daughter cried in exhaustion after her first weeks in kindergarten. The moment when she had to understand her math problem – in Spanish. The moment when she fell off the balance beam at a gym meet, or had to deal with ‘mean girls’ for the first time. The moment when my son struck out in a baseball game, crashed in a ski race, or tested for his black belt.
I felt utterly helpless.
But in those moments, something came to me. I suppose it was that same tingling feeling that comes to a boxer when they’re down, or a scientist on the brink of a cure. It felt that profound, that important. It was that split-second moment when struggle could tip the scales.
Parents know that moment. It feels like your heart will tear out of your chest, wanting to protect, run away, shield them. It plows through your head like a tsumani, spilling your thoughts and emotions all over and eventually, hopefully, turning you upright, to the air pocket, and in the right direction.
Don’t give up. Persevere. Fight. Push yourself. Never quit. You can do it. Come on, peanut. Stick it. Ski fast, buddy. You’ve got this. Run fast. Indomitable spirit. Study. Don’t be afraid.
Mama loves you.
In the end, struggles happen. Our world thrives on them. We look to Eastern cultures and marvel at their test scores, their focus, and their determination. We look to Western cultures and are inspired at their individuality, their creativity and problem solving. We wonder if we’re doing the right thing.
We look to our children and know that struggle will not escape them, no matter how much we wish them safe travels down the yellow brick road of life.
So parents, what are we going to teach them?
If you’d like to read more of my analysis of the NPR story from a teacher’s perspective, please click over to my Yahoo article, “Are American Students Getting Through School Too Easily?”