New York Times - Grit


“It is a central paradox of contemporary parenting, in fact: we have an acute, almost biological impulse to provide for our children, to give them everything they want and need, to protect them from dangers and discomforts both large and small. And yet we all know — on some level, at least — that what kids need more than anything is a little hardship: some challenge, some deprivation that they can overcome, even if just to prove to themselves that they can.”

Lori and I have certainly grappled with this dilemma in raising our own two children. You work hard for certain comforts and conveniences, but how do deprive them from your kids so they can go through the same odyssey to achieve them. Why would kids self-motivate to tear themselves away from their nice lives and nice stuff now in order toil so that some day many years away they can have nice lives and nice stuff? What does it say about this generations’ future ability to compete against billions of Chinese and Indian children who are ‘blessed’ with lives of hardship?

The quote above is from a recent New York Times feature, “What if the Secret to Success Is Failure?”, (thanks again Aidan) comparing a educational philosophy at two dramatically different schools in New York – Riverdale and KIPP Academy. The piece is extensive, but focuses on two key points – (1) Character (not IQ) is the key to success, and (b) Failure is a key contributor to Character growth.

I’ve excerpted some of the most pointed paragraphs about embracing failure below, but I commend the article to any parent…

“As Levin watched the progress of those KIPP alumni, he noticed something curious: the students who persisted in college were not necessarily the ones who had excelled academically at KIPP; they were the ones with exceptional character strengths, like optimism and persistence and social intelligence. They were the ones who were able to recover from a bad grade and resolve to do better next time; to bounce back from a fight with their parents.”

“For Randolph, the experience that Brunzell was describing — the struggle to pull yourself through a crisis, to come to terms on a deep level with your own shortcomings and to labor to overcome them — is exactly what is missing for so many students at academically excellent schools like Riverdale. And perhaps surprisingly, it may turn out to be an area where the students at KIPP have a real advantage over Riverdale kids.”

“Cohen and Fierst told me that they also see many Riverdale parents who, while pushing their children to excel, also inadvertently shield them from exactly the kind of experience that can lead to character growth. As Fierst put it: ‘Our kids don’t put up with a lot of suffering. They don’t have a threshold for it. They’re protected against it quite a bit. And when they do get uncomfortable, we hear from their parents. We try to talk to parents about having to sort of make it O.K. for there to be challenge, because that’s where learning happens.’”

“Randolph isn’t yet convinced that the education they currently receive at Riverdale, or the support they receive at home, will provide them with the skills to negotiate the path toward the deeper success that Seligman and Peterson hold up as the ultimate product of good character: a happy, meaningful, productive life. Randolph wants his students to succeed, of course — it’s just that he believes that in order to do so, they first need to learn how to fail.”