We need to make sure our children are not denied the right to fail. They need to experience the privilege of coming second, fourth or, sometimes even last.
Why is it a privilege?
Because it will teach them something of enormous value.
I grind my teeth when I see a younger brother or sister being given a gift when it is the other child’s birthday. “It’s just so he won’t feel left out” is the justification. Well, it’s OK to feel left out sometimes. In fact being left out sometimes may be the only way to develop empathy, to understand how it feels to have to put your own wants on hold in favor of someone else’s. Listening and responding to the world with empathy and understanding grows out of having experienced some of the world’s woes.
I worry for the children who invariably get A’s or 10/10 in tests. They are heaped with praise and the expectation in their own minds, as well as those of their parents and teachers, that they will always shine, always come top of the class. They can answer every question correctly and faster than their classmates. They are learning that they invariably know best. But these students often hit the earth with a thud in their fragile adolescent years. That is when the work begins to really challenge them and they find they have never developed resilience, persistence, flexibility and the organizational skills that are needed to deal with really hard work. They haven’t learned how to learn from others. These gifted students find themselves overtaken by the less innately able ‘battlers’ who discovered how to solve problems cooperatively, to learn from failure, to get back up again and try a different approach.
An understanding of the value of the ‘other’ is what makes us seek out the ideas and insights of other people. The child who never has to give something up for someone else, who never puts his needs second, will continue to see himself as the centre of all things. Thinking interdependently, and listening and responding with empathy and understanding require a degree of selflessness and the capacity to accept that someone else’s ideas and experiences might actually be more valuable than our own.