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Your Child Is Not Special

We have two choices of when our children can fail: now or later. Now, they are still in a safe environment with people willing to help them succeed. Later, it will be in the context of the workplace or with their own families when the stakes are much higher.
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Unhappy Male Student Working At Desk In Chinese School Classroom
Unhappy Male Student Working At Desk In Chinese School Classroom

"You don't understand. My kid always makes straight As."

That might be the most damaging statement to a child's education. Like many teachers, I receive a version of that story multiple times in e-mails, phone conversations, and parent-teacher conferences regularly. The parent is always well-intentioned when they say it, but this mentality is becoming an epidemic threatening to paralyze educators nationwide.

I wish more parents understood that their child is not special. That they would listen to teachers like David McCullough Jr. when he told the 2012 graduating class of his school that there were 37,000 valedictorians in this country that year. That they would give their kids a more realistic expectation of life. It worries me when 41 percent of my male students claim they will have a future career path that involves a professional sport. Yet, statistically, not one of them will fulfill that dream.

Look, I'm not saying I hate students. Why else would I enter a field grossly underfunded where I am overworked for laughable compensation? I love students. What I do hate is any law, attitude, or person that gets in my way of teaching them.

Still, parents don't think I get it.

The thing is that I do get it. I was that kid with a perfect GPA. I avoided enrolling in classes that could jeopardize my rank, no matter how interesting I found the subject or how much it could benefit me beyond college acceptance. I still remember the first time I received a report card with a grade other than an A. I stared at that 70 in disbelief.

The required keyboarding course, which taught basic typing and computer skills, proved difficult for me. While most of my peers had a home computer, my parents were late to embrace technology. As a result, my initial grade suffered. Despite this similarity to my students who are struggling, my response differed.

On Monday, I asked the teacher if I could come outside of the regularly scheduled class time for help. She said before or after school would work. I did both. Every day for six weeks. In that time, I went from being the slowest typist in the class to the fastest. My grade skyrocketed to a 100.

Today, blame for grades is shifting from the student to the teacher. Work ethic is no longer a part of the conversation. Instead, we are swapping initiative for apathy, ambition for contentment, and responsibility for excuses. Parents think their child should not have to work for success because they deserve it. At the heart of the matter, parents equate hard work with the admission that their child is not gifted.

A 2014 parenting article, aptly titled "Your child is not a genius. Get over it," explains that parents assign their child to one of two categories. First, parents gloat about their child's above-average intelligence, calling them special or gifted. But when their child falls short of unattainable expectations, parents deem them as special needs. We have stigmatized the category between the two that fits most of our population: average. This means parents would rather their child have a learning disability than be identified as average. Essentially, if their child cannot be the best, they must have an excuse as to why they are not.

Consider my classes. I require freshmen to study Immanuel Kant's Categorical Imperative and to be fluent in Greek philosophy. For the first time in their lives, some struggle in my classroom. Encountering a new feeling of inadequacy, they panic. Then, panic turns to blame. There is no introspection or attempt to change behaviors that led to failure. Parents take up the fight. In doing so, we are conditioning our nation's children to believe they are the center of the universe. We have raised a generation on false hope and fairytales. Today, teachers are paying the price. Tomorrow, the world will.

We have two choices of when our children can fail: now or later. Now, they are still in a safe environment with people willing to help them succeed. Later, it will be in the context of the workplace or with their own families when the stakes are much higher.

Instead of allowing them to fail, we will have failed them. There's nothing special about that.