Today I write about my son. My blog today has nothing to do with makerspaces or libraries. Today I write about a lesson that I learned.
After a two month summer hiatus from school and Tae Kwon Do, we returned to our normal routine. I dug up our sparring bags, uniforms, and belts and began the weekly ritual of bringing our three children (Tyler 7, Riley 6, and Lexy 4) to their Tae Kwon Do lessons. I thought they would be a "little rusty" from the long break, but they didn't miss a beat.
Lexy was her usual scrappy self. At barely 3 feet tall and 25 pounds, she has kept up with her brothers. She is learning skills of self-discipline and self-defense, important for every young girl (especially for someone of her stature). Today, she earned a red star for her performance.
Tyler and Riley are both in the same class afterwards, both blue belts with stripes. My boys are similar (love Star Wars, video games, and bugging their little sister), but they are also so different (personalities, abilities, and eating habits). Today Tyler earned a star, just like his sister. All three of our children have learned that some days they will earn a star in Tae Kwon Do, and sometimes they won't. After years of participating in this sport they have accepted it. But today was different. Today Riley was forcing the tears back and clenching his teeth, trying to hold back his emotions like Dr. Banner and the Hulk (his favorite super hero).
After much prodding, we finally discovered that Riley was upset about two things. First he was upset that he didn't earn a star. This is unusual, because Riley is very accepting. The second reason made more sense to us. Riley's Tae Kwon Do instructor gave him a thin board to break, and a thicker board to his older brother. Riley felt slighted. He wanted to break the thicker board so he grabbed one from the pile. His instructor knew his abilities, and tried to ease him back into Tae Kwon Do by giving him the thinner board. I understood it from an adult's point of view, but Riley didn't.
Tyler tried to comfort him by giving him the blue star that he had earned, but Riley wouldn't have it. It wasn't the star he really wanted (although my husband and I thought that Riley deserved it more today of our two sons). He wanted the thicker board. He wanted to be like his brother, and he wanted to try it. Giving Riley his own star wouldn't have helped the situation. It would have diminished the value of the ones that his brother and sister had received.
After the lesson, we explained the situation to the instructor. Riley dried his tears and smiled when the instructor picked up a thick board and called him over. Riley tried and tried kicking and pushing. But it wouldn't break. Since thinner boards are easier to break, the instructor picked up two thin boards and showed Riley that the thickness together would equal one thick board. Riley kicked them and smiled. He didn't need the star. He needed an opportunity to feel proud of himself.
The fact of the matter is, Riley has earned more stars that Tyler over the years. Riley has more "heart" for Tae Kwon Do. Riley should have received two stars yesterday, one for his effort and one for his determination.
And, of course, we bought ice cream on the way home just as Riley wanted.
I find the recent interest in assisting our students to develop “grit” and a “growth mindset” very perplexing. Is it because of the Common Core Standards and the struggles that many students are facing that some are giving up? Have all those years of giving Johnny a gold star for effort and Jill the same gold star for excellence backfired on us? One day we are teaching that reading opens up a world of imagination and creativity, and the next we are bombarding our students with close reading, analysis, and textual evidence. One day twenty plus two didn’t involve subtracting ten from thirty, standing on your head, and explaining the meaning of the Gettysburg Address in Pig Latin.
Years ago in our agrarian society, our forefathers and subsequent pioneers learned that giving up meant the difference between food on the table and starvation. But today the sense of urgency is gone. The belief that one needs to be responsible for his or her actions, that most things are worth waiting for, and that hard work begets success has been left at the wayside. Society now to glorifies the outcome (“Check out my new iPhone!”) while ignoring the process (Steve Jobs had been tinkering with this technology years before we even knew we wanted it).
I’m so glad that my children attended nursery school and preschool. If they hadn’t, they would have missed out on visiting the local farm to plant seeds, watching chicks hatch in their classroom incubator, and reading a book for fun. Learning took time, but it was enjoyable and meaningful.
Instead of merely discussing the concepts of “grit” and a “growth mindset” to our students, we need to provide them with safe and nurturing environments where they have the opportunity to fail. And to learn from their mistakes. Learning is a process, and each step brings us closer to our goal. Sometimes we don’t even reach our original goal, but it is how we have changed and developed along the way that is the true essence of learning.
For a true testimony to children's perseverance, check out this link about some crazy ways students have to travel to pursue their education: http://buzzstopp.com/2015/07/11/20-craziest-ways-kids-risk-their-lives-to-get-to-school/. These photos bring new meaning to the old saying "back in my day."
Kristina A Holzweiss