What’s Really Scary on Halloween (and every other day these days)? Homework, Academic Stress and Toxic Levels of Competition

October 27, 2010

Greetings.  I’m in two places at once today:  here writing about the terror lurking beneath education; and guest posting at one of my favorite haunts as a reader—The Kitchen Witch—where Dana hosts my tale of neurotic kitchen terror from a Christmas past.  Please visit her today (she’s a lot of fun) and then delve back here into the grim tidings of education and our individual and collective needs to adjust…

I recently attended a screening of the film Race To Nowhere by Vicky Abeles.  Vicky was there and the event attracted two back-to-back auditoriums full of parents followed by discussion focused on how and why we are putting too much pressure on our kids.  Topics raised by the film include homework and whether it is effective (both in terms of actually helping kids learn and in terms of the emotional well-being of children).

What the film reflects is our current culture—fraught with anxiety and ceaseless competition both conscious and unconscious.

While I absolutely feel that our culture is in the throes of tremendous pain, narcissistic (meaning clueless) and futile competition that is both a road to nowhere as well as a circular road to the eternal here and now, what I wish to facilitate with my post today is the furtherance of the discussion, the continuation of the consciousness that recognizes that more of what does not work (i.e. more, faster, harder, better, bigger, richer, thinner, more famous) will still not work.

We all just want to feel better.  And if we trusted, deep in our souls, that our kids would be happy, healthy and “successful” through being true to whoever they truly are, we parents might relax and get out of the way and simply allow our kids to learn, bloom and grow.

But we are mostly restless, anxious and insecure and thus we keep covertly saying, “be like us,” when no intelligent kid would want to be worked ragged and “living” (or rather ceaselessly striving) in a life that continually falls short of finding things to be good enough as they are.  Thus we do not generally possess, nor model, gratitude (which is not the same as saying, “you should be grateful because others have less”).  If we are not happy, we have little platform from which to inspire, much less teach, our kids to be happy.  So instead we compel them to achieve, inadvertently teaching a future-orientation to a degree that pretty much blocks presence to the here and now, and thus blocks the only chance for happiness.

Sadly, presence to the moment is a child’s inborn way of experiencing the world.  It is we who talk, and teach, and reward and frighten them out of it, into joining the group on a stress-test to nowhere.

Given that Vicky seems to be running all over the world now trying to help us discuss this issue, perhaps it would be an act of love, as well as enlightened Self-interest, for us to be part of this change so she might be released from the wheel to which she appears bound—even if for a good cause.

The point of view of the film, voiced by parents, children and numerous educators and experts was that kids are stressed to the point of depression, anxiety and physical illness as a result of the heavy workloads and an endlessly rising bar of expected activities and achievements… all in the service of getting into “good” or particularly “great,” colleges (and the deeply held belief that this will be the answer to every life problem ahead).

The film asserts that experimental programs employing less (and more constructive) homework, different approaches to grades and better learning environments helps kids actually master and comprehend material rather than memorize, spit it back out and then quickly forget.

Race to Nowhere depicts many kids openly acknowledging a widespread culture of cheating (out of desperation) which seems to come back to haunt when the University of California schools are admitting the top GPA and SAT kids, and only later having to “admit” that HALF of these kids require remediation in English and math.  In other words, they arrive burnt out and ill equipped.  It’s like salmon all getting to their spawning grounds too spent to actually spawn.

So, if you recognize this to be a problem, ask yourself what you personally might consider doing in order to be part of the solution.  Watch the film if it interests you, but participate in the discussion, which is happening all over our culture, as participation is key for change.

Take a look at your own expectations and beliefs about your child or children.  Do they truly want to go to the schools, or in the direction, that you want for them?  Are they being pushed into honors classes that are really grinding them down more than building them up?  Is your kid being chronically tutored?  Could this mean that he or she is actually out of his or her depth in the “high math” or the AP class?  And what is the point of all this misery?

And please, do not be so sure that you are not pushing your kid while kidding yourself that you are not.  The unconscious is like a shadow—it is behind us when we face the son (and the daughter as well).  My task today is to suggest a glance over the shoulder at your own shadow before pointing the all-too-easy finger at the gross example of the alpha dad or the monster mom (these are not my readers, never will be).  Trust me I check in at the mirror and stand guilty as charged (despite trying so hard not to be that parent).  But the past is sealed and done; what are we going to do to love and learn and enjoy TODAY?

WE, (myself included) are the problem.  But WE can also look into the mirror of each other, and into the mirror of our exhausted children and broken culture and see that this is not working.  Learning needs to be fun if we hope for kids to grow up and become life-long learners.  This doesn’t mean sugar-coating every fact they must swallow, but rather starting with ourselves and becoming open to learn anew about learning.

We are prepping our kids for the world we come from, the world we have already all but ruined.  The hope for the future is not going to look like the past, and we need to learn from our kids by listening to them.

This was the thing that most impressed me about Vicky Abeles:  when she fielded a question from the audience after the film, from a splendidly articulate girl from a turbo-charged public arts high school suffering from the on the ground reality of the film, Vicky truly listened to this kid.  I could see that becoming a filmmaker has taught her how to listen in a deeper way—and that sort of listening is a huge part of the solution to our societal problems not the least of which is broken education.

The example of authentic listening is something I hope most to follow and to inspire in other parents.  This is ironic in the context of my word-heavy blog, but I’m trying to learn, to listen to my kids, my clients, other people’s children… and hope that the process of talking and listening and learning together might conspire with all my fellow parents to catch a zeitgeist wave of enough is enough already sort of change.

As a reader of these words, deciding that you agree with me (or disagree with me) will do little to help our kids.  A shift in consciousness and attitude, however, I believe may help a little.

So ask yourself, in your private heart, “How much do I really care about other people’s children?”  “How much am I focused on my child “succeeding” and only then am I actually rooting for equal distribution of the left-overs?”

It is natural, at least for our conscious ego-selves, to favor our own kids and our own advantage.  But education is an arena where the good of the group must come before the good of the individual.  And the one place of equality across public and private schools is that of ceaseless competition and resultant misery.  We are turning our kids against each other with the ethic of scarcity.  How much might this cruelty exacerbate bullying, acting out, drug abuse to cope and even kid suicide?

There simply must be an abundance of compassion, love, teaching, attention and support for ALL our kids to thrive or else we are contributing to a dying culture.

A radical rethink is in order.  It is time to change or die as nation, for if we do not do better by, and for, our kids, what will be left of our nation?

And the irony here is that less is more:  less pressure, less competition, less manic and driven models of success that leave virtually everyone behind and leave the few “winners” miserable behind gates.

So, while I might like to think that I don’t push my kids, the fact that we have enrolled them in a demanding private college prep school makes that a bit of a hard position to defend.  Sure, we don’t push the honors classes upon them, only if they want to step up to this or that challenge… but the very fact of the school, great teachers and all, still meta-communicates that they are expected to hack it, to get good grades and go to a good college.

Thus I am part of my community, our community, and I am calling for a cease-fire, a lets-put-our weapons (overt, concealed and unconscious) down and see about empowering our kids and their teachers to actually learn and teach rather than continually get everyone ready for a future than never arrives.  I suffered through high school, not because of the workload, but still it was mostly suffering; I don’t want my kids to suffer and I just know in my bones that they would learn more and be happier if the flame was turned down on the vessel in which they co-cook with every other child in this big nervous world.

Change is the only constant.  Perhaps things will get more touchy-feely again for a while, maybe homework will decrease and everyone will feel better about that.  Maybe even scores will go up and the economy too.  But unless we realize that we are not, at least individually, “in charge” of much at all, we will keep thinking that there is a “right” course of action, a “right” amount of homework, a “right” school for our kid.  The truth is that we are anxious and foisting it over onto our kids, and then worrying about our kids rather than learning how to calm down, learning how to learn how to calm down.

All us parents love our kids, but are we truly serving them?  (And by “serve” I do not mean waiting upon them hand and foot, nor do I mean doing their homework for them).  Beyond actually listening to our kids, and considering the ways our unconscious fears and desires impact them, the challenge at hand is to truly open our hearts and want the other kids to do as well as we want our own kids to do.  You might say that this goes against Darwin.  Well I hope so, and I hope it also goes against Isaac Newton and all the “rational” and “objective” thinking that has lead to the state of things as we have it.

I accept the world as it is, but I’m also in favor of being open for whatever might happen now.  Thousands of parents are currently having this very discussion about how to re-think education.  This is not something that has to happen (as in some day), it is something that absolutely IS happening right now.

So on this Halloween week I wish all my readers a treat rather than a trick:  the treat of an open heart.

Namaste, Bruce

p.s. for more on Race to Nowhere, perhaps to get involved in facilitating a screening and discussion at your school click on http://www.racetonowhere.com/

{ 34 comments… read them below or add one }

Molly @ Postcards From a Peaceful Divorce October 27, 2010 at 6:43 am


My son is in third grade and his teacher, who is young and just a couple of years into teaching, has decided not to assign homework, except for a 20 minute a night reading log.

I couldn’t be more thrilled.

Meanwhile, my first grade daughter has begged her teacher for homework and loves every second of it.

On the whole, busy work seems pointless. I teach at the college level and my colleagues insist on it (I teach multi-section courses so we have to assign the same homework). I tell my students that the drills will help them practice, but I’m not sure they do.

Thanks for the thought-provoking post.


privilegeofparenting October 27, 2010 at 11:01 pm

I’m not sure either, but I appreciate your perspective across the educational perspective and the willingness to discuss, consider and be open to revising what we’re doing at parents and educators.

Here’s to happy kids actually learning.


Jenn M October 27, 2010 at 7:01 am

My children are still very young, and thus I get to be mostly blisslfully unaware of this issue. But I know it’s coming, and I am pretty frightened by it. I already know that I’ll be expecting a lot of my children, because I expected a lot of myself as a student (an attitude which was not reciprocated by my parents: my mom used to tell me to get an F once in a while just to make it interesting). However, if I can continue my current parenting “style,” I think I can curb my desire for them to be the “smartest,” and just let them be themselves.

I had a good friend in high school who was extremely intelligent. He read things on his own and educated himself about topics that interested him. But he bowed out of honors classes that I’m sure he could have handled. At the time, I didn’t understand why. Now I do. He used that “extra” time to pursue things that truly interested him. To this day, he has a passion for music and amazing skill as well. These things might not have been cultivated if he’d been clogging up his time with honors classes, sports, and clubs.

We should let kids be kids as long as possible. You never know what natural skills–what hidden passions, might crop up.

I guess this was a very long comment to simply say I agree with you. It isn’t easy, but it’s essential. Life is too short to spend it infinitely trying to impress the world. And slowing down life would be a great gift to give our children.


privilegeofparenting October 27, 2010 at 11:03 pm

And I agree right back with you. So, here’s to slowing down and being present to our own lives, and our kids’ lives, as they stand right now (as opposed to endless preparing that kills the joy of things).


Kristen @ Motherese October 27, 2010 at 11:02 am

Bruce, this is a vital and powerful call to (put down) arms. As a former prep school teacher who was implicated in the creation of a culture of hyper-competition and, now, a parent of two little boys, I shudder to think what our schools will be like if parents don’t – if I don’t – attend to messages like yours and Vicky Abeles’s.


privilegeofparenting October 27, 2010 at 11:06 pm

I guess if we put down our fears and hyper-competition we face a bold experiment… maybe we’ll be left behind, but perhaps happily and together with those who dare to take it all down a notch.


bluecottonmemory October 27, 2010 at 8:45 pm

I have 5 sons, from ages 24-10. I remember telling my oldest son that he would not have shined like he did in 1st and 2nd grade if he was in school now (when the 3rd was in 1st and second) because the expectations were so high. Educators say that our country is behind – yet my husband and I, and our parents are the product of educational systems that did not pressurize but taught – everyone – and we were world leaders. Competition in its place is amazing – however, competition for the highest test scores in the educational community kind of misses the beauty of teaching. Now math is taught to the test (alg 1 and 2 are not taught step by step anymore, but question by question). My boys have struggled in a math system that does not build math skills. It is a very frustrating environment!


privilegeofparenting October 27, 2010 at 11:09 pm

Exactly, we have begun to miss the point of education—it’s like painting houses that need foundation work. Learning HOW to learn is central to true education, and this can take time, and can vary with learning styles. Perhaps if there is a better understanding about education amongst parents, there will be more latitude for teachers to actually teach rather than “perform.”


Alana October 27, 2010 at 10:06 pm

I have been thinking about this since before my daughter was born. She’s only three now and I struggle mightily with the question of doing what I feel is best for her (unschooling/private progressive school founded by Krishnamurti) versus what is best for the general good (put her in public school and work my tail off to change the system). I’m so glad change is afoot – the system is so clearly broken. If we listen to the children, maybe they’ll steer us back in a healthier direction.


privilegeofparenting October 27, 2010 at 11:11 pm

I love that idea: listen to the children. Namaste


Katrina Kenison October 28, 2010 at 5:34 am

Bruce, This has been my theme for years — and like you, I’ve found it easier to write it, to say it, than to live it. My older, piano-playing son went to a small, decidedly NON college prep high school, never took an honors class, skipped SATS altogether, and found his “inner academic” as a college student, falling in love with learning for its own sake when he was ready. But I have to admit to some sleepless nights as he went through the application process. At 21, he is most definitely a success, ie, he is a happy, fully engaged, hard working college junior who has created his own major and loves his life. Looking back, the best thing we did as his parents was trust him to find his way. But that can be so hard to do when the cultural message is all about grabbing the brass ring.


privilegeofparenting October 28, 2010 at 6:35 am

Hi Katrina, When enough of us are singing the same song change may turn out to be upon us.

Perhaps some sort of camaraderie in the process is what we find ourselves cultivating through discussion, blogging, imploring. After all, the more deeply we trust that we personally have no intention to leave other people’s children behind or to exclude them from the true success of happiness wih the lives we actually have, the less the more trusting we may grow to believe that “society” (which is nothing really much more than “other people”) might also care about our own children and not intend to leave them behind, even if they don’t “achieve excellence” in 2nd grade.

And for any readers who haven’t read Katrina, you will find much authentic and caring camaraderie in these issues in her blog and books which help us recognize the abundant gifts in every ordinary day and the advance to be found in slowing things down.



TheKitchenWitch October 28, 2010 at 7:19 am

The gifted and talented program in my daughter’s school starts in the 3rd grade. Third grade?! Really? We’re slapping kids into categories at age 8/9?

The crazy thing, my neighbor is outraged that they don’t begin it sooner! What on Earth!


privilegeofparenting October 28, 2010 at 8:40 pm

RIght, and so the rest of the kids are “not gifted?” They are all gifted at something, they just need a little space and time to discover it—and more importantly how their gifts and their joy can help the group, help them all to be happy in being true to themselves.


Kate October 28, 2010 at 11:15 am

Two thoughts, probably in opposition to each other.
First, gifted/talented programs are now part of federally mandated special education programs. Children who are truly GT learn differently and are more likely to drop out if they are not taught in ways to accommodate to them. It’s not a bad thing, it encourages teachers to teach to different learning styles and teach deeper. (At my daughter’s school, they identify GT in kindergarten and put roughly 40% of the age cohort into GT classrooms. True GT is estimated around 5% of the population.)

Second, I worry about my daughter, who is just starting school. When did kindergarten force reading and math (word problems!)? Even more then the academics, I worry about the rule based classroom, with many too many meaningless rules. I worry that she will be damaged by the pressure to succeed, the stress to keep in line, the clarity that she doesn’t read as well as X or understand math as well as Y. I want to pull her away from that environment, but she is a social being who loves a classroom full of friends most of all. Maybe the pressures aren’t as strong as I fear? But the work of helping our children grow into who they are goes beyond all this. And of course, it is bigger then just helping my girl be herself. But how do I help the school do right by so many children?


privilegeofparenting October 28, 2010 at 9:17 pm

HI Kate, Again, I think merely having the discussion, and keeping it going amongst parents, schools and kids is a step in the right direction. One problem in the “gifted/talented” way of thinking is the implication that the other kids are NOT gifted or talented. This sort of thinking is a narrow range of intelligence; in contrast we might consider Howard Gardner’s work suggesting eight different realms of intelligence, but perhaps there are many different realms beyond even those.

Also, there is general confusion between teaching tailored to learning differences and simply making everything come faster. Still, the idea of differences need not imply a better than/less than paradigm.

Maybe if we called some kids “math inclined” or “music inclined” etc. it would shift the anxiety and competition on the part of parents trying to paint every kid as “gifted” (and why shouldn’t they? they truly are ALL gifted).

Finally, it’s the sense of community and group and contribution to the greater good that seems lost in all the premature labeling and discriminating that leaves some kids feeling pressured and others feeling like they are losers before they’ve even begun to learn.


Saska October 28, 2010 at 6:41 pm

Bruce, It is a delight to dive into the depths and complexities of the issues you are presenting here!
Your wisdom shines a light on many shadowy corners and inspires even more questions.

In Dharamsala, India there is a slogan written across a school/orphanage that HH Dalai Lama founded for 5000 children. It says:” Others before self”, also:
“Come to learn, go to serve”

If we all take care of opening our own heart, as you suggested, maybe one day we’ll meet at the wide open space, where race to nowhere will look ridiculous. Perhaps than we’ll realize that this space we all met at is the space of our own heart, and there is just enough for all, if we let go. It seems to me that the ultimate travel we need to make is turning inwards.

Thank you again for this post!


privilegeofparenting October 28, 2010 at 9:21 pm

Hi Saska, Yes, exactly “Others before self” (this serves the soul-Self, happiness and the greater good). And yes again, if our intention is service, our learning will be elevated and touched by loving kindness (again good for the soul-Self and for happiness of individuals and the group).

Rumi speaks of how out beyond right and wrong there is a field and he offers to meet us there; this is your “wide open space”—a field beyond gifted and not gifted.

Here’s to all meeting there, which is here and now. Namaste


BigLittleWolf October 30, 2010 at 7:28 am

Funny that Kitch mentions the gifted program starting in 3rd grade. Where we are, it started in first, and they took my teeny tiny kindergarten kiddo (the younger) and gently slid him into some of their classes.

And I will say “gently” because it was genuinely about challenging them more, and not the label. But by the time both my kids hit 6th and 7th grade, the workload felt onerous to me. And none of that was even a whisper next to what they hit in high school.

We’re now slugging through a dreadful blur of tests, projects, papers, recommendations, resumes, and college apps… and it is what it is. I still insist my kid be a “kid” one day a week, but frankly, I’m the task master the rest. Or rather, the backup to his own self-managing task master.

And no, it isn’t about ivy league or fancy schools – it’s the nature of competition in almost anything now, it seems to me. To get into any “good” school with a prayer of scholarship money. The economy is in my opinion intertwined with our cultural propensity for working too damn hard and letting that flow onto our (stressed out) kids.


privilegeofparenting October 30, 2010 at 7:40 am

Hi Wolf, Yes, and it seems to me the debacle that is our so-called “economy” is the natural result of lying, cheating, greed and mistrust—not just amongst greedy bankers (although they have often benefited from the fracas) but rather the ceaseless and misguided competition amongst ourselves.

As to how we tap the breaks on all this, perhaps discussion and greater Self-consciousness will help a smidge.

Either way I know that I send wishes for happiness and success to you and to your boys and I feel the same in kind from you.

Here’s to hoping there is a place and a good life for all of us and all our children. Namaste


rebecca @ altared spaces October 30, 2010 at 10:13 am

Yesterday I asked my daughter to describe 15 kinds of “smart”. She came up with things like music-smart, mechanic-smart, ranch-smart, fashion-smart, animal-smart, food-smart…the list was pretty good. Then we went through her classmates and named the categories in which they had smarts. Each kid had at least 2 and many had 4 categories of “smarts”. I am hopeful that this exercise helped her to own her intelligence and see where she fit in the grand scheme of things.

It seems in the school system we celebrate a narrow path of “smarts”.


privilegeofparenting October 30, 2010 at 11:31 pm

I love this exercise—maybe asking good and sincere questions is another sort of smart as well: parenting-smart, teaching-smart, caring-smart. I’ll have to run this by my kids too, as I’m curious what they will come up with. Namaste, BD


themother November 1, 2010 at 6:24 am

Studies show that homework turns kids off, but schools still load it up. Even the expensive private ‘prep’ schools seem to think that their job is to hand out more homework than anyone else.

In my experience, kids either get it or they don’t. If they don’t, then they need help, not busy work. If they get it, homework just bores them.

Part of our job as parents is to assess how our kids are doing in a particular environment, and make whatever changes the child needs.


privilegeofparenting November 1, 2010 at 2:30 pm

Yes I agree—and another part of our job is to come together as parents and create a better culture for learning rather than stressing, for cooperation rather than competition—for caring about each other’s kids (which, as a society, our allocation of resources clearly suggests we do not yet truly do).

Here’s to hoping we parents might all calm down a bit together. Namaste


Aging Mommy November 1, 2010 at 7:39 am

Interesting post. I was reading a post at the weekend written by a Mom disappointed with the fact that none of her children were going to college. While college can be an amazing experience, not just academically but also in so many other ways as an experience, and education is a wonderful jumping board into so many things, college is not for everyone.

My daughter is only three yet I already see the pressures to conform, to hit certain milestones by a certain age. The pressure at this age comes not from her school but from fellow parents, it is like some giant competition to see whose kid is the smartest. I am already over that – what I see clearly with my daughter is that she knows when the time is right and when not for things.

As for school and homework, in England children do not get homework until secondary school at age 11 and even then not the amount children here get. However, the school year is longer. I think less homework and a shorter summer break, akin to the 6 weeks in England, would be more appropriate and I agree learning by rote is boring and does not develop skills.


privilegeofparenting November 1, 2010 at 2:40 pm

“it is like some giant competition to see whose kid is the smartest. I am already over that” I’m delighted that you are over that—here’s to hoping a more relaxed vibe will resonate and bring some sense of reason (and effective education) to the whole mess we are in.

Just as teaching needs to be held in higher, and better paid, esteem by any culture that hopes to have an actual and relevant future, working with one’s hands also needs to be respected and valued so that college is no longer a signifier of worth or status so much as an appropriate step for some of us, not better or worse.

What’s wrong is when some of the economically advantaged get a chance at college that they don’t truly even want (or feel pressured into) while school-smarts-gifted kids with less means cannot afford the education their smarts call for.

Either way, when kids at age three are impacted by an ethic of competition and pressure something rather clearly is a little off.

Here’s to a kinder and more inclusive ethic in moving forward—no parent left behind, no teacher left behind, no child seen as not-gifted in some way.


Mrs.Mayhem November 1, 2010 at 1:35 pm

Thanks for this post!

I recently wrote about my horror at my 5 year old daughter’s kindergarten teacher saying that she was “academically struggling.”

Some people thought that I was writing about disappointment at my daughter’s intelligence, but I was writing about the disappointing state of a school system where a brand new kindergarten can be labeled in such a way.

And the kicker was, my daughter’s test scores were quite a bit above the benchmark… yet she is receiving help from the reading specialists.

This child is the youngest of four (ages 5, 8, 11, 13). School has changed drastically for the worse since the other three kids started kindergarten.

The worst part is that my 5 year old told me that she is “bad at writing words.”

The current state of education is pitiful. You’re right to call for a change.


privilegeofparenting November 1, 2010 at 2:47 pm

I feel so sad to hear you little five-year-old internalizing a negative self-concept. Shame on us, on our culture, for projecting our feelings of insecurity and inadequacy onto children… most of all shame on us for being so unconscious that even our well-meaning teachers fall into this absurd group-think.

We are not each other’s enemies—but finding compassion when we are inundated with such alarming messages is a tall order indeed.

To the yoga matt with all of us, or the nature trail, or the meditation on something really smart, like a plant, and we might find our center again and begin to learn together rather than thrash about like we are desperately drowning on some titanic of a sinking culture (or are we?).

Let’s try to be nice to each other either way—that is how our kids can come out kind in the end, for kindness matters more than smarts in every era if our goal is true happiness. Namaste


Velva November 1, 2010 at 6:11 pm

Wow. What an interesting read-gives a lot of food for thought.

I try to parent from the realm that I don’t let perfect get in the way of good. Education is a life journey, academics is part of that journey. Unfortunately, the stress that comes along with it, is real. I do expect my children do well in school. No doubt, I pass along my own fears and drive home that having an education is uber important. However, with that said, I also do my best to provide experiences that opens up my child’s world to learn when he does even know he is learning. Teaching tolerance, compassion and building solid social skills so that he can survive in this doggy eat doggy world. Nice is important. Social intelligence can get you even further.

This was a great post. Thanks for sharing.


privilegeofparenting November 1, 2010 at 8:05 pm

And maybe true social intelligence, combined with compassion net out in kind, calm confidence (and a better world for us and our kids all around). I think all parents are for good education, it’s the continual need to evaluate just what “good education” is that keeps the process fresh and vital (and perhaps will trend toward something a little kinder as well).

If we all want this, it’s the realization that we all want this that becomes a groundswell for change. And since kids can’t vote or fully participate in political process, parents need to cross the aisle so to speak and come together in compassion for all our children (acknowledging different perspectives but at least talking and not just relentlessly competing—that endless and fear-driven competition is the nowhere we’ve all been racing toward).

Here’s to a bright future for your kids and all our kids. Namaste


Amber November 2, 2010 at 12:56 pm

I am late, as always, but wanted to thank you for this wonderful post and the discussion afterward. I also wanted to mention that I expect my children to put forth their best effort. Whether or not they do honors/AP courses doesn’t bother me. I didn’t and I was very successful in college, with a GPA that was often higher than my peers who had taken more advanced courses. And that was after being pregnant, having a baby, and being pregnant again. Really, what motivates success? Is it the people pushing the kid, or the kid? Sure, they do need a supportive and rich environment to thrive in, but if the kid internalizes knowledge and the importance of education, they will be more likely to attend college and actually enjoy it.

As for the best colleges? Isn’t education really the same no matter where we go? I mean, some institutions might have better teachers and connections, but if money isn’t a person’s main motivation, won’t they be successful if they already have that attitude and desire no matter what institution they attend? My kids could attend a community/state college for all I care as long as they go to school. I will encourage them to evaluate their professional and life long goals and help them look at their options, but, frankly, I don’t see the need to push them toward the best schools. What I want is for them to pursue something that they love doing. And, hopefully, something that is community minded. Even if that does mean forfeiting millions a year. Because, as we all know, money does not lead to happiness.


privilegeofparenting November 2, 2010 at 8:44 pm

Hi Amber, Although the here and now is the time we all strive for, “late” is the time most dear to my heart in lived experience (late blooming, late for many things) so it’s great to run into you here right now.

I agree with your perspective and think your kids fortunate to grow up marinating in your loving energy. As for schools, I think it’s not about which is “best” but more about finding the best match for our learning styles, interests, needs and the like.

So, here’s to supporting all kids toward their own personal version of excellence, rather than pitting them against each other. Namaste


Rachel November 2, 2010 at 9:31 pm

Thank you for so beautifully explaining a system and mode that are outdated and are hurting, not helping children develop into healthy, fully-functional adults. I hope your consciousness-raising will help me be a better parent. At least, I hope I’m better than the other parents around me — darn, there goes that competitive streak again (kidding!)


privilegeofparenting November 2, 2010 at 9:38 pm

Hi Rachel, As Billy Wilder said, “Life is terrible, but it’s not that serious.” So, I thank you for kind words and join you in laughing at myself as well—and then placing it in loving service of our own AND each other’s children. Namaste


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