Alex is doing a presentation (“spreekbeurt”) at school today, about dragons.
I’ve done plenty of presentations, academically, profesionally and recrationally. I’m the kind of person who sweats bullets over homework, stays up whole nights studying for exams, and freaks out at the idea of being unprepared. Abi’s the same.
So it’s hard for me when Alex shows a stubborn lack of interest in his own school work. When I offer to help, he gets grumpy and insists he can do it himself. When I ask him to turn off his game and actually do the work, he gets angry. I get annoyed at his attitude. Everyone is miserable.
I so want to help! I want him to do get good grades! I want him to impress his classmates with his mad PowerPoint skills, and encyclopedic knowledge of all things draconic! What can’t he just do what I’d do?
“I want?” This isn’t about me. Every parent wants their child to work hard, to do their best, to excel. But what if they don’t? Disappointment? Scorn?
“Look” I said. “If you don’t spend more time on this presentation, you’re might fail. Is that what you want?”
“Well, live and learn!” Alex said defiantly.
He has the truth of it. This isn’t a doctoral thesis defense, or a speech at TED. It’s a five-to-ten minute classroom presentation at primary school. If he fumbles, all that will happen is that he’ll get a poor grade for this one thing. It won’t stop him from moving up to the next class after the summer. It won’t stop him from getting a job when he graduates. It won’t stop me loving him.
What is the lesson I want Alex to learn from this non-critical event, in the safe, nurturing environment of his primary school? Is it that he should live in constant fear of failure or poor performance, and that the only way to avoid it is to spend all his time trying to stop the hammer from falling? Or that failure (or even just imperfection) is part of life; that it is something he can deal with; that afterwards he can pick himself up and carry on?
Wouldn’t it be nice not to have to be the best to be recognized?
Not everyone can be the best in their chosen field. Not every child is above average. I don’t want to glorify failure or advocate laziness, but in the pursuit of excellence we should not vilify the ordinary.