Rewarding Kids for the Wrong Things

The following post is republished from NPR’s Weekend Edition Saturday. We have gone to the effort to bring this piece to our blog because we think that this message deserves special attention, preservation and further dissemination. We hope you enjoy it. Let us know what you think in the comments.

Listen Here: [audio:]

“My grandson has finally graduated. I still can’t believe I have a grandson … much less a grandson who has a diploma. Eli looked handsome in his white cap and gown. He seemed more serious than usual, and in fact, he told me the day before that he was nervous about the ceremony. You probably remember your graduations — you have to walk across that big stage, one by one. The whole audience is staring at you. When they called Eli’s name, he looked a little uncertain. But he walked to the podium, he took his diploma, he shook hands … and then, he broke into that sunny smile that lights up a room.

Eli just turned 5. He graduated from preschool.

Of course, we’ll frame that adorable photo of him standing in his cap and gown. But I’ve been wondering about the ceremony. Did Eli’s preschool do him a favor? Going to preschool is a passage. And we want to give kids a sense of pride and accomplishment. But is going to preschool so remarkable that we want to shower them with pomp and circumstance? And pressure?

I called Leon Botstein the other day. He’s the president of Bard College, in New York. A lot of people say he’s one of the more thoughtful educators in America. And I asked him, What do you think about Eli’s graduation? And Botstein started railing. He said, “We’re applauding children for the wrong accomplishments — any 5-year-old can play with friends and color books. Then we pressure children to value the wrong kinds of accomplishments.”

Get this: Some preschools are teaching kids to color inside the lines of the drawings. Picasso never did that. I know parents who get stomachaches and can’t sleep, because they worry that their 5-year-old won’t get into the best elementary school.

And that’s just the beginning. Between kindergarten and senior year, there’s a blizzard of standardized tests. Advanced classes to give a jump start on college. SATs. My wife is a therapist. She’s treated teenagers who are so scared, because they’re not in the best school. They’re not getting the best grades. They’re not winning enough awards. She’s seen students who are so anxious OR depressed about all this that they’re thinking of committing suicide.

Botstein says here’s what we should be rewarding: curiosity. Creativity. Taking risks. Taking the subjects that you’re afraid you might fail. Working hard in those subjects, even if you do fail. We should reward children when they show joy in learning.

Maybe we should even applaud them when they color the cartoons outside the boundaries. If they say, I love it that way.”

Rumi on Radical Acceptance

Here is a bit of Rumi for your Monday (via my lovely wife — thanks Paula for the patience and the help).

This being human is a guest house.
Every morning a new arrival.

A joy, a depression, a meanness,
some momentary awareness comes
as an unexpected visitor.

Welcome and entertain them all
Even if they’re a crowd of sorrows,
who violently sweep your house
empty of its furniture.

Still treat each guest honorably,
He may be clearing you out
for some new delight.

The dark thought, the shame, the malice,
meet them at the door laughing,
and invite them in.

Be grateful for whoever comes,
because each has been sent
as a guide from beyond.

Pangea Day Banners

From now until May 10th, this website will be running banners for Pangea Day. Sometime soon, I will write a real post on the event and even possibly propose to host a gathering at our house. However, right now I am exhausted from working way too hard and can’t think any straighter than to encourage you to check out their site. I know that Paula and I are already way too booked for that weekend (she with the Berkeley Opera performance and all), but I will find some way to make the time as it certainly looks to be a worthy devotion of that scarce resource. More later, but in the meantime, two very different tastes….

Paula’s Upcoming Schedule

I have been meaning to write this post for quite a while. But, alas, I have not had the time. So in an effort to avoid having “best get in the way of good” I will resign myself to the fact that this post will be less than complete…far less.

TOMORROW (Friday, February 22, 2008), Paula will preform at “Video Games Live” at the San Francisco Masonic Center ( This is an offshoot of her recent work for Lucas Arts’ Gaming Unit as a background singer. Previously, sound for video games was limited to synthesizers, then came real instruments and then came real singers pretending to be instruments. The effect is fairly impressive. Well, to that end, the Friday performance will highlight this fusion with full orchestra and full choir in performance that includes laser light show and video game images (motion rather than still). While I cannot attend myself, I am told that it is expected to be quite a performance. A “trailer” for the event follows at the end of this post. You should go if you can.

Next Month (March 15, 2008, 8pm) Paula will be preforming the Durufle Requiem with the Ohlone Chamber Singers at the Gary Soren Smith Center in Fremont, CA.  If you have not heard the Chamber Singers previously, you are definitely missing out.

In May 2008:  Paula will be preforming in Berkeley Opera’s production of Ravel’s L’enfant et les sortilèges.

In June, 2008:  Paula will be preforming with a San Francisco Choir at the Grand Teton Music Festival in Jackson Hole, Wyoming.  More info on this event later.

Here is the Video Games Live Trailer.

Paula on YouTube!

Paula sings near the end of this 5 min poorly shot video (somewhere around the 4 min mark)…but still…she was posted on YouTube (and by a complete stranger no less)! That is certainly more than I can say for me.