Is there a Benjie in your home or classroom? A message for parents and teachers in a town of academic high-achievers

A friend pointed me to this poignant essay by David Marcus in last week’s NY Times: A Father’s Acceptance: His Son Won’t Be Following His Ivy Footsteps.

david_marcusAt the time, I was a fellow at Harvard. Soon after, I did a brief teaching stint at Dartmouth’s Tuck School and there are a growing number of foster care agencies in Hampshire. I secretly hoped my son would go to one of those Ivy campuses. Maybe I saw that as the seal of approval for my parenting – my boy in Cambridge, or Hanover, or Providence.

Benjie demonstrated, by his nature, that he had other plans.


  1. Thanks for this, Griff. My daughter chose a top liberal arts school Amherst (even over her father’s alma mater, Carleton!)but this was quite an essay with a perspective not often written about.

    October 25, 2010
  2. john george said:

    Great post, Griff. Having launched 5 kids, I can identify with David Marcus. Fortunately, I married Karen, a very wise woman. I remember her looking at our newborn children and asking, “God, what do you have wrapped up in this package?” One of our daughters told Karen that she had a launching ministry. She has exercised it on our own children and some others’ children we have had the privelege of having in our home. Our whole approach has been based on Ps. 139:16, “… All the days ordained for me
    were written in your book
    before one of them came to be.”
    We found this to be true for our children, also, and all we needed to do was find out what God had written down for them. Prov. 22: says basically the same thing. There is “a way” in which we interract with our world which God makes in each of us. When we understand that way in which our children are made, it is easy to bring them up in that way rather than imposing our own ideals or expectations upon them. It makes a person really dependent upon God, because He doesn’t show us everything up front.

    October 29, 2010
  3. john george said:

    Oops! That reference in Proverbs is 22:6.

    October 29, 2010
  4. I remember a local teacher expressing sadness that one of his talented students in a non-academic class (shop of some kind, I think) seemed insulted when the teacher suggested he consider pursuing a career in that area. Even setting aside top-name-school dreams, there is a sad bifurcation between the college-bound and more vocationally oriented students, here as at most places. I would love to see more value placed on the talents of those who make things, repair things, understand mechanical systems, love working with animals, and so on. Those are all talents that can bring great satisfaction, are helpful to others, and in many cases can’t easily be outsourced.

    November 1, 2010
  5. Curt Benson said:

    Penny, a Northfield mom told me about how ashamed her daughter felt being a Northfielder a couple of years ago. The daughter had taken a bus tour with a bunch of Northfield High School students who were looking at various post high school options–visiting a private college, a state school and a technical college, etc.

    During the tour of the technical college, the Northfielders openly ridiculed the vo tech students, to their faces.

    If I were a better person, I’d let this go. But since I’m not, I hope the ridiculers are will soon be among the throngs of unemployable college grads, chocking on their college loans.

    November 1, 2010
  6. Curt Benson said:

    I recalled this thread when seeing all the internet buzz about a book released this week by Yale Professor Amy Chua. The book is “Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother”. Chua wrote this column in the WSJ:

    After reading this column, I wondered what the viewpoint would be of children subjected to Chua’s hardcore parenting techniques. A blogger from Pasadena City College attempts to answer that question here:

    January 12, 2011
  7. Griff Wigley said:

    It’s tricky to teach (inculcate?) the value of rigor with one’s kids without being attached to the results for your own ego, or communicating that their worth depends on the results. Chua’s approach makes no sense to me but her point about rigor is a good one.

    January 13, 2011
  8. Violin and piano do not an orchestra make. Literally or metaphorically.

    January 13, 2011
  9. Curt Benson said:

    Maureen Corrigan reviewed Chua’s book on yesterday’s NPR program “Fresh Air”.

    Corrigan says “Chua recounts her adventures in Chinese parenting, and — nuts though she may be — she’s also mesmerizing. Chua’s voice is that of a jovial, erudite serial killer — think Hannibal Lecter — who’s explaining how he’s going to fillet his next victim, as though it’s the most self-evidently normal behavior.”

    Audio and transcript here:

    January 13, 2011
  10. Jane Moline said:

    I read both the Benji article and the Chua-Chinese-mom article. Yes we should celebrate the great individuality of our kids, but that does not mean we should not expect them to achieve in school and do what we can to help them be academically successful.

    Our problem is that we expect them to achieve without our pitching in and doing the hard work to help them–which includes discipline and challenging them to succeed. Of course, we are busy with our own lives and jobs.

    Having children is basically selfish–yet we let them free-spirit themselves to–no job, no career, no life.

    I have nothing against manual labor or techncial schools. And just because our really smart kids get into college doesn’t mean anything–those are the easy kids. Lets see what we can do to make college or tech-school a valid option for all the other kids who end up with MAYBE a high-school diploma but mostly no direction in life.

    January 18, 2011

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