“You are NOT Special,” by David McCullough Jr. is an important new book in the library.
Its author gave a commencement address to seniors and their parents at Massachusetts’ Wellesley High School. The speech went viral after it was recorded unbeknownst to him. The book ends with that address, but he speaks to moms and dads as well as their children, espousing a wisdom that dazzles even this grandmother.
He calls us out on a lot of things that we thought were our parental jobs: Hovering, encouraging, demanding, expecting, pulling rank, intruding, harping. After all, it’s better to succeed than fail, and if parents have the resources to help their kids, why not?
Sometimes, mom and dad’s self-worth is tied up in their children, often conceived a bit later in life these days. Their own jobs are demanding, and it is earn, baby, earn.
You do what you must to get material reward. Move, climb or perish.
And the children are watching.
A teenager’s net worth, then, can be the result of an almost mercenary seeking of grades and accolades in high school. Children have been showered with the best of everything. The least they can do in return is get out there and try, try, try.
And be happy. And clean their room. School is more about tomorrow than today.
The experience of the moment has little value in and of itself. Extra credit isn’t optional. Performance is key and competitive. Advanced Placement courses, next month’s report card, the grade-point average; it’s all preparation for what comes next. Parents edit papers that don’t match up with sloppy in-class writing. They sometimes demand that grades be changed, deadlines be extended, poor showings disregarded.
McCullough offers this: Kids need to understand that their responsibilities are their own. They need the freedom to make mistakes. They need confidence to succeed on their own, and the possibility of failure must be real. Failure can be instructive. There is a benefit to fending for oneself.
It is possible that the success or failure of our species goes along with the success or failure of our teachers. Even though they may grumble, most teachers love their school, their subject and their students. Each day, the future, with its sense of entitlement, is sitting right in front of them. Little do these kids know that, according to Sophocles, wisdom is the chief element in happiness.
On a related matter, we have a brand new book on kids and college, “Where You Go Is Not Who You’ll Be: An Antidote to the College Admissions Mania,” by Frank Bruni, a graduate of Indiana University. His findings show that Americans have turned college admissions into a terrifying and occasionally devastating process.
The future and worth of many young people should not be established by which schools say yes and which say no. It’s wrong and it’s cruel. His landmark book shows via surveys, statistics and stories that hugely successful people who attended public universities and tiny colleges used them as springboards. What matters in the end is a student’s efforts in and out of the classroom, not a diploma dripping with ivy.
“The Opposite of Spoiled: Raising Kids Who Are Grounded, Generous and Smart about Money,” by Ron Lieber, is another addition to our collection. He contends that we need to be talking with our children about money much more often, not just yelling at them when they ask for some. He covers all the basics: Dealing with the tooth fairy, allowances, chores, splurging and part-time jobs.
Modeling important financial behaviors can imprint what the family cares about the most. This is an enjoyable read, with a good index to boot.
“Big Little Lies,” by Liane Moriarty, is a best-selling new fiction release offering on child rearing in Australia, and it is fascinating how similarly we do things. Parents sometimes behaving badly lead to lethal results that are tragic accidents or murder, or something else. Moriarty weaves a wonderful tale we don’t want to end.
The library is here to help with the day-to-day problems and challenges you and your family face. It also stands ready to assist in your escape from them as well.
Suzanne Smith is a reference librarian at the Bartholomew County Public Library.