Count the Cost is a blog series designed for prospective parents. In our fourth installment, we asked Miss Katherine Bradford about how a classical school’s high standards inevitably mean that students will deal with failure. (Spoiler Alert: We think that is a good thing.) Katie was a founding teacher at Oakdale Academy in Waterford Township in 2011, and is now Head of the Upper School and House Governor. She was also one of the first advisors we sought out when we began to train our own staff in 2019.
While I am not a parent myself, I have spent 13 years in the classroom watching over little (and not-so-little) ones, guiding them, and nurturing them. It is a responsibility I do not take lightly, for it is in my hands that parents are placing their most precious gifts. They are trusting me to guide their children and nurture their souls during those hours spent at school each day. With every passing year, it becomes more and more apparent that one thing that our children need to experience more often is failure. On the surface, this may sound harsh, and as parents and teachers, we are inclined to say that we do not want our children or students to fail. In some ways, we may feel that their failure is a failure on our part as well. However, if we allow ourselves to look at this with eyes and hearts in tune with God’s will for our lives and our children’s lives, we will see that rather than avoiding failure, we ought to be giving children opportunities to experience failure, especially when the cost of doing so is so very low.
“More than that, we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured in our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us.” Romans 5:3-5
Part of a classical Christian education is the tuning of our students’ hearts and souls to the proper order of things and to seek out the Good, the True, and the Beautiful. Along with that, we seek to build in our students strong character. We want to do these things to ensure that they are prepared for a life of service when they leave our walls as young adults. Failure is one way to help build character and tune our students’ hearts and souls. It is not simply the act of failing that helps build character in children, rather, it is what comes next. How do children respond to failure? What response do they see from us, their parents and teachers, when they fail? Do we use this an opportunity to model the love and grace given to us from our Heavenly Father, or do we model for them a response that tells them that failure is unacceptable and something that should be avoided at all costs? Do we help them to see that failure is an opportunity for growth as a human, or do we suggest that it is a character flaw to be fixed?
“For the righteous falls seven times and rises again, but the wicked stumble in times of calamity.”
Contrary to what society tells us today, we ought not swoop in and solve every problem, prevent every chance of hurt feelings, mitigate any instance of struggle. If we seek to prevent these difficulties in children’s lives, we are taking away their opportunities to experience the true joy that comes from doing hard things. We are taking away their opportunity to see that God did not make us to avoid failure, rather, he gives us grace and tells us we can and must get up when we fall. If we want our children to fall seven times and rise again, we must give them opportunities to fall and get up!
Allow your child to experience the natural consequences of their decisions.
Let me say again, let children learn how to fail when the cost is low. One day down the road, no one will know or care if your child got a “D” in geography in 6th grade or failed a book report in 4th grade. However, the lessons that children learn in these difficult moments, the character that will be built, will last a lifetime.
Today parents have easier access to their child’s teacher than ever before. It is easy to send off an email to a teacher asking for information or clarification on a homework assignment. I’m asking you to consider pausing before you send that email next time. I will let you in on a teacher secret: teachers work very hard to create natural consequences in their classrooms. Whether it is a handwriting assignment that was not written down, a handout they forgot to bring home, or a book report they procrastinated on, I assure you, there will be natural consequences for those actions when they get to school the next day. Those include late penalties, staying in at recess to finish the assignment, or a lower grade for poor quality. In the moment, those things may feel big for your child, or maybe even for you, but I encourage you to see these moments as larger opportunities for growing their character. Most importantly, help your child to also see them as opportunities. Experiencing those natural consequences and realizing that mistakes are part of growing as a person helps children build stamina and character and encourages them to avoid situations where they may make the same mistakes. Do not hear me wrong: I am not saying that you should never reach out to your child’s teacher, but rather, I encourage you to be discerning in your communication and avoid “bailing your child out” when difficulties arise. The partnership between home and school, parent and teacher, is essential to our efforts to tune students’ hearts to the proper order of things. As a parent, it is important that you are involved in your child’s education, but it is equally important that you find the proper balance between support and advocacy for your child and allowing for proper opportunities to fail and grow.
Looking beyond the classroom, it is vital that parents look for opportunities for their children to experience natural consequences in their home and daily lives. Again, give them opportunities to fail so that they can have the joy of picking themselves back up.
“Train up a child in the way he should go; even when he is old he will not depart from it.”
If we want our children to demonstrate high character, if we want them to be able to stand up again when they fall, it is our responsibility to train them how to do that. If we don’t show them how, how can we ever expect them to know how to pick themselves up when they encounter failure? Let us teach children lessons such as this that will transform their hearts and souls and prepare them for a life of service to a world that desperately needs them!