01 December 2012

Learning to struggle

There's a growing body of writing focusing on the importance of finding learning difficult in the overall development of children. And there is a plethora of examples comparing the difference between Eastern and Western classrooms and parenting.

A post by Alix Spiegel discusses the differences eloquently.

Over the years I've been an educator I've seen an interesting phenomena develop. We (parents and teachers) don't like to see our children find things hard. We don't like them to have to struggle for too long. We don't like them becoming distressed if they can't do something, and over time we have rescued and rescued and now we have many many children who simply don't make the link between hard work, struggling with a problem, perseverance and achievement. The net result is that children give up too quickly, and perhaps, are not learning to live with a feeling of 'uncomfortableness' for any amount of time.

I recently witnessed my own daughter struggling with studying for an end of year exam in anatomy. The procrastination, the complaints about the teacher, the whining about not being smart enough and 'everyone else is so clever; I'm not' and the claims that 'we haven't even been taught this' were extraordinarily creative. It really took me by surprise. And it took her more by surprise when I said, 'Yes, anatomy is hard, and no, it's not good enough to be able to give a detailed description of the digestive system when the exam requires one about the eye! Clearly you haven't studied enough and you're going to have to work at it harder now'. And I couldn't resist adding 'I hope you've learned your lesson'. (I probably could have done without that last comment!)

I often hear teachers comment that the children in their classes that find learning more difficult (eg. have to try harder to get the same result another has achieved effortlessly) are the ones who seem to be able to work away at a problem and who have developed a tolerance to having to struggle a bit - as opposed to the ones who have been rescued, and have learned they can just give up.

The problems of our future require people who can struggle away at something very hard and not find that uncomfortable feeling so distressing they don't want to continue. As parents we need to let our children struggle and encourage them to view the struggle positively. We need to let them find things hard and not rush in to rescue them, worrying that their 'distress' is going to cause some unimaginable harm.  In the end the harm it may cause is a generation of children not willing to persist and not willing to struggle to achieve something great.

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