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Monday, December 5, 2011

Never Satisfied: When We Push Our Kids Too Much

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One of my most vivid high school memories is of returning home, a smile on my face, to show my father how well I had done on a trigonometry test.  I bounded into the house, test in hand, and promptly shoved it into my father’s face.  “Wow!” he said, “A 98%, well done, but why did you miss the other 2%?”  I was raised with the mentality that good wasn’t ever good enough and no matter how well you might think you have done, there was always someone that had done better than you somewhere.  As a result of this upbringing I graduated third out of about four hundred students in my high school class, earning one single A minus the entire four years, the rest were As.  As a result of this upbringing I have continually been motivated to seek more and to do better, which is what enabled me, at the age of 29, to graduate from Vanderbilt University, ranked the #1 school of education in the nation 3 years running.  I wonder, however, is this the same mentality and attitude that I want the children of the H.E.R.O. house to grow up with?  I just don’t know.

Let me delve a little deeper into this dilemma.  I believe that every child, regardless of life circumstances, can achieve great things.  It is no doubt much easier to achieve academically, socially, and emotionally when one has a stable family environment, food on the table, great schools, and the opportunity to pursue anything and everything from sports to instruments and everything in-between (that was my life).  Can one expect the same result from a child that was orphaned, lived in poverty, may or may not have attended school, and surely didn’t have food on the table every day?  The question is, how can we not?  We have to expect that the children we serve are capable of attending the best universities, achieving well-paying careers, if they so choose.  The reality is, however, that you can’t achieve those goals without putting in the due effort!  You can’t wish your way to Harvard or to become an electrical engineer, you have to have the motivation, capacity, and effort to do so!  What then, is the balance between letting a child be a child, and expecting as much or more from an orphan escaping from an at-risk environment? 

The children at the H.E.R.O. house attend school from 7:00 AM to 12:00 PM.  They then attend at-home tutoring from 1:00 PM – 5:00 PM.  Additionally they have a one hour English class every Sunday.  Just recently, however, I was thinking of adding additional French classes for Franky and Valencia.  Franky is 14 in the 2nd grade, and Valencia is 13 in the 3rd grade.  At what point is it too much, and at what point isn’t it enough?  I don’t want to have any regrets four years from now, that I didn’t provide Franky with additional opportunities to increase his academic abilities.  At the same time, I don’t want the children to burnout academically, to be turned off by school.  And keep this in mind, when they go to school for five hours every morning, they aren’t receiving the best possible instruction in a school filled with resources, leveled books, and computers.  They are receiving the standard Haitian education that has a high school graduation rate of less than 5%.  We try as much as possible to provide our children with educational experiences that will help them to develop into intelligent, understanding, and capable individuals.  In the country of Haiti, this is no easy task.

I write this blog as a question to you.  At what point is pushing our children to be the very best too much, and when is it not enough?  I look forward to your comments, ideas, and suggestions.


Steven M. Kirby, Ed.D

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