When I was in 3rd grade, I had to memorize my multiplication tables. But I had little confidence and decided that I would need to cheat in order to pass the quiz. I don’t know what got into me, but I had the answers written out and put the ‘cheat sheet’ in a ‘hidden place’ so that I could look if I needed help. Unfortunately, my teacher found it and I was caught. My teacher and my parents talked to me and convinced me that I could, indeed, learn those time tables. And you know what? I did. I worked hard, memorized them and received a 100% on the next quiz. That was my first ‘gentle’ push.
A second push occurred when I was in 5th or 6th grade. I had a wonderful teacher who gave spelling tests every week. We could sign a contract to learn 15, 20 or 25 words. I was happy with myself for choosing the 15 word contract and shared that contract with my parents. My dad looked at me and said that that was unacceptable. He expected nothing less than 25. And for the next year, I received 100% on all my 25-word spelling tests. I did get one word wrong at some point that year…I spelled Pennsylvania wrong. My dad’s expectation was my second gentle push.
That third push came from a family friend when I was in 9th grade. He was helping me with Algebra and challenged me to be the Valedictorian of my class. I never forgot that conversation and did go on to share the honor with two of my classmates after I had earned a 4.0 in high school.
I am just a normal, average person. I do not have genius status, was born into a family of hard workers (but not college educated), I did not go to an Ivy League school, I never played on Jeopardy, and when teams are formed for trivia games, I am not the first person chosen. I was also very quiet and shy as a child. Myers Brigg Personality Test clearly (and correctly) pegged me as the introvert in the room. In middle school, I had the huge, ugly glasses, braces and earned B’s and C’s. But the pushes in 3rd grade, 5th grade and 9th grade made a HUGE difference in my life. These people who pushed NEVER lowered their expectations for me. They kept the bar high and gave me the tools to succeed. More importantly, they believed in me and were my biggest cheerleaders.
Unfortunately, in today’s educational culture, instead of having a high bar and encouraging our students to reach for it, we have created a bunch of standards and a bunch of bars. Why? Because we are SO afraid of pushing our children. Somewhere along the way, we went from training, raising and challenging children, to walking around children like they are fragile, breakable pieces of glass. Most children are terribly resilient and want to please the adults in their lives. There is nothing that hurts me more than to see parents greatly lower their expectations for their children because they think their children are fragile to the point of breaking.
In my ponderings above, I left a few things out. I was extremely sickly as a child. I was sick ALL the time and hospitalized several times by the age of 6. I was also not terribly popular through elementary and middle school and dealt with bullying at school and on the bus. I preferred to be home, getting lost in books. My parents could have sheltered me through all this, but they did not…they pushed. Again and again and again. Their pushing sent me to college where I had another blow. Right before my junior year, I was diagnosed with Type 1 Diabetes. Talk about fragile…I had lost a weight, was dealing with blood glucose levels of over 400, could barely stay awake and was to leave for college in a week. My parents NEVER entertained the idea of allowing me stay home. As I wept at this devastating diagnosis, and went into immediate around the clock treatment in the hospital, my parents planned for how I would take care of myself in college. While I am sure they were terrified, they dropped me off a week later, fully armed to face this disease and my junior year of classes and activities. And you know what? I did it. With the help of my heavenly Father, tremendous support from family and friends, and another big push, I graduated 2 years later with honors.
So why do I share all this? I share it because I think we are doing our children an injustice when we don’t push. We all want our children to do well academically, to be able to further their education and to secure good jobs and be successful, contributing adults. But if we don’t push now, we handicap our children. Pushing now, in our safe, homeschool environments allows our children to begin to spread their wings. Don’t be afraid to gently push them out of the nest. Let them fly! You might be surprised at all the places they’ll go!