Sarah J Hurley

Let My Child Fail

Isn’t it amazing how two kids from the same gene pool can be so completely different from one another in almost every way? For instance, my stepdaughter is organized, studious, inquisitive, and works well independently. My stepson is funny, polite, thoughtful, and likes being in front of a crowd. He does not, however, work well independently. In fact, homework has been an ongoing challenge.

His last years in elementary school were, at times, very frustrating when attempting to help him with homework. He would lay his head down for an hour, sigh loudly, and outright complain. By the end of fifth grade, I was tired of it. I felt like I was doing all the work, which wasn’t helpful. He had a big project that was to account for a significant portion of his grade. The assignment consisted of writing a story about someone of his choosing; he chose his father. The assignment had multiple parts to it and lasted over the course of several months. I knew Language Arts may very well be his least favorite subject, but the content was his choice and the research consisted of simply asking his dad and other relatives questions and gathering some pictures.

One day after battling it out with him for over an hour, I told him I was done. I told him his mom and dad and I would not be there when he’s grown to stand over the top of him and force him to do what was expected of him. I told him we all have choices to make and there are consequences to those choices; some are good and some are bad. I told him I was going to allow him to choose whether or not he wanted to complete the assignment and I would push, help, nag, and cajole no more. I gave him a day to make a decision. The next day (after filling in dad and bio mom), I asked him what his choice was and he stated that he was not going to complete the assignment. I said okay.

I reached out to his teacher to give him a head’s up and let him know what conversations were had at home. I was certain the teacher would understand and appreciate the need for children at that age to reap the natural consequences of their decisions and learn valuable life lessons about decision-making and responsibility. After all, not one person has ever been denied college entrance due to a failing fifth grade Language Arts assignment, and I felt this lesson was better learned in fifth grade than in high school.

Was my stepson pleased as punch about not having to work on his story every day for the next month? Yes. Was he okay with receiving a failing grade in that class? I think it wasn’t ideal, but he would suffer that part of the consequence since it meant he was home-work free for quite a while. But do you know what he didn’t think about? He didn’t think about the day when all the kids get dressed up and present to a classroom full of their peers and all their parents where he would be sitting there by himself – the only one not dressed up, the only one to not present (which he loves), and the only one whose parents were not in attendance. And he would have been utterly embarrassed. What kid likes that? He would also have to deal with his teacher’s disappointment in him (who was well-respected), and the looks from his classmates.

Imagine my surprise, then, when his teacher refused to accept my stepson’s choice. The teacher stated that it wasn’t fair to the other kids who put in the hard work to complete the assignment, especially during the allotted times at school they were given to work on it. He talked about my stepson having a sense of accomplishment at the end. He said he would have a teacher’s aid help my stepson and allow him to turn in the assignment late. Not helpful.

The next day, my stepson came home with interview questions clearly written by an adult.

I don’t question this teacher’s passion or his heart and I think he is a good man. I actually don’t think he handled it differently than many teachers today would have, and I know teachers are under uber-pressure. But I have to ask the question: when did we stop allowing our children to fail? When did we all start bailing out our kids at every turn, attempting to stave off bad feelings and unintended consequences? And I have another question: how is that working out for them?

Do you let your children fail? Have you ever been thwarted by a well-meaning individual in doing so?

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