I am in the throes of pulling anything I can find about engagement as Donalyn Miller (The Book Whisperer, Reading in the Wild) and I are working on a book whose working title is THE ENGAGEMENT MANIFESTO. The title will evolve, but it says exactly what we are thinking about engagement and its importance. So when I saw the proposed focus of the webinar, I clicked on a link to find out more. Turns out the webinar is not about engagement as much as it is about other elements of classroom management and instruction. But one word jumped out: RESILIENCE. And that brought me back to Bruni's editorial.
Bruni uses the phrase "modern cult of self-esteem." He is talking about Arne Duncan's white suburban mom comments on CCSS. Bruni finds the comments of Duncan "impolitic," but wonders whether "tougher instruction not be rejected simply because it makes children feel inadequate, and that the impulse to coddle kids not eclipse the imperative to challenge them." From there, Bruni jumps into a morass of objections to those who would challenge CCSS. Most of his argument is simply straw man thinking. But the real damage here is the idea that somehow we can treat kids with too much care. That, instead of taking care with kids, we should teach them to be more resilient. Coddling means treating something with overindulgence or overprotection. Is that possible when it comes to kids? "Come on, slackers, pick yourselves up and get back to the struggle." I can almost see the scene from Monty Python's Holy Grail movie when the Black Knight insists it is just a flesh wound when his arms are cut off. Okay, I know that is hyperbolic, but are we really suggesting that kids need less care and more resilience?
I suggest instead that we share books with kids that show them characters who struggle against odds and obstacles and monsters, but who succeed, at least in part. Let kids test themselves within the safe confines of a book instead of smacking them down by giving them a test they are not expected to do well on as the new CCSS assessments are doing. Instead of destroying self-esteem or sneering at the cult of self-esteem as Bruni does, let us go about respecting kids (esteem is respect and admiration). Let us see them as incredible, as gifts, as wonders who wonder.