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  • Writer's pictureStuart Sheldon

Are My Kids Failures?

Kai & Bodhi bathtub Mexico 2011

My kids are 4 and 2. All I want, like any parent, is their happiness … and success. But I’ll take happiness over success every time.

Some would argue that success and happiness are synonymous. I strongly disagree, because we have perverted the definition of success. In fact, success for children often precludes happiness these days. Because it is based on the college you get into, the resume you compile and the comaprative advantage you possess to get a good job. And I’m talking about 5-yr olds.

My friend’s daughter is in a public kindergarten 6 hours a day. And the kid has ONE HOUR of homework each night. She cannot read yet, so the parents have ONE HOUR of homework a night to do with her, all of it filling in little test bubbles with multiple choice answers.

This is supposed to prepare her for the barrage of standardized testing coming down the pike. I contend it robs a bright-eyed baby of her precious youth.

I want my kid climbing trees after school. Playing Marco Polo in the pool. Building forts out of blankets at their friends’ homes. Madeline Levine’s new book “Teach Your Children Well” delves deeply into this dilemma. According to a recent NYT review, Levine, a psychologist in my former habitat of Marin County, “works with teenagers who are depleted, angry and sad as they compete for admission to a handful of big-name colleges, and with parents who can’t steady or guide them, so lost are they in the pursuit of goals that have drained their lives of pleasure, contentment and connection. “Our current version of success is a failure,” she writes. It’s a damning, and altogether accurate, clinical diagnosis.”

I will not tolerate this for my children. So I have big scary questions: 1. How do I keep the happy glow in my kids’ eyes and educate them properly? 2. What does educate them properly even mean anymore? 3. Where do I turn if I don’t buy into the public system? 4. Do my kids even need to go to college to be happy and successful? 4. What alternate elementary and secondary educational experiences can I employ: work experience as a family, long-term family travel, home schooling? 5. Who has success stories to share that produced well-balanced adults?

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