The Writing Mamas Daily Blog

Each day on the Writing Mamas Daily Blog, a different member will write about mothering.

If you're a mom then you've said these words, you've made these observations and you've lived these situations - 24/7.

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Thursday, May 14, 2009


High Expectation May Be Too High

Last Thursday I went to hear Madeline Levine talk about her new book called The Price of Privilege. She writes about an epidemic of depression, anxiety and substance abuse in children in middle to upper class areas, such as Marin.

Since my daughter is only two, I do not have experience raising an adolescent in Marin, but I do have a great deal of experience teaching adolescents.

Looking back on my high school teaching career, a major cause of this burgeoning epidemic is clear: the emphasis on performance rests at the heart of the problem.

With this emphasis on performance, let’s skip right to graduation and forget the process it took everyone, students and teachers alike, to get there.

First of all, the school where I taught in Marin publishes for all to see the colleges and universities the graduating students will attend. While it may be interesting to see all of the different places the students will go, I think this publication sends the wrong message: where you go to college is more important than anything you did to get there, and is the most important aspect of who you are.

Nothing else is published about the students, not a special quote cherished by the student, not the community service the student performed, not any aspect of the student’s personality.

That Timmy is going to Stanford is all we get about him. Teachers are also victims of a performance-based culture at graduation. Students pick a few teachers to walk with them. The rest don’t even have a seat at graduation, let alone a part in the ceremony.

I remember my first graduation experience in Marin, leaning against a tree near the back, barely able to hear what was being said. Even as a confident adult who knew deep down that I was a good teacher and that I should be proud that I put my heart and soul into my job, I felt this overwhelming sense of failure because I was not chosen to walk with them.

This is in stark contrast to a school where I taught in Colorado where even though four-thousand students attended, every single faculty member walked proudly in robes with the students, and we were even reserved front row seating, so that we could see and hear the students we worked so hard to get to this point.

Now if I was feeling this crushed, I can only imagine how insecure adolescents who are struggling to find themselves must feel in a performance heavy culture.

This is not to say that we should protect our kids from all disappointments. They need failures to grow and learn from, but they also need to know that their worth and identity are not dependant on grade point average, college acceptances, and varsity sports teams.

Now I sit here, not as a teacher but as a mother who knows how easy it is to get caught in the tangles of a cultural phenomenon that has the potential to squander creativity, individuality and self worth.

How can I impart to my daughter that achievement is good if coupled with intrinsic motivation? How can I show her that working to our full potential gives us a sense of pride, but that our foibles and eccentricities are what make us human, and therefore able to love and be loved? I do not yet know the answers to my questions and that frightens me a bit. For now, hugs and kisses seem to solve most problems in my two- year old’s life.

By Rebecca Elegant

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We expect so much from our teachers yet give them such little value in our society - for decades now that's been lamented. I see how hard the teachers work in my son's preschool and my daughter's elementary school. How hard they work to bring out the best in our kids. And yet I see how much teachers are criticized by parents for not getting their kids to behave or for not letting them "be themeselves" when they're disrupting the class.The kids never truly learn empathy for other classmates, for teachers, for society. And that's a shame in Marin, and everywhere.
So true! We need to praise the efforts and the whole process of learning. Not just the end result. It is sad that so much emphasis is on grades and scores and not about the real achievement of hard work.
I agree Rebecca!!! I'm reminded of the words of Coach John Wooden (after all, I'm the "sports writer" of the family). Roughly paraphrased, Coach Wooden -- who led his team to nine NCAA championships -- said: "If you want to be a great coach, then ignore the scoreboard."

Sounds like Marin needs more mothers and teachers like Rebecca, and more coaches and fathers like John Wooden!
It is not the destination, but the journey that makes us who we are. I couldn't agree more with you, Rebecca. As a teacher I have experienced similiar attitudes among my students. The question students ask the most is "how much is this assignment worth." If I am teaching something I find interesting they always ask "is this going to be on the test." If they aren't graded, they don't seem to think learning is valuable. I sometimes want to shout out "who cares about the grade - just enjoy the learning process!" How do we impart the desire to learn for the sake of learning?
How interesting and full of information this was. Thanks for sharing it. Made me think twice about how I approach my 12-year-old and what seems like a constant demand for excellence. Laura-Lynne
As the father of five, four of whom attended prestigious colleges, I can say that I was guilty of too often being one of those parents focused on the destination and not the journey. Looking back it was a mistake. The older you get the more you learn to appreciate that we are given this life one precious day a time. We need to savor the journey!
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