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The Blessing of Wendy Mogel

A few months ago I began a mommy-ed reading list suggested by Dr. Chris McCurry of Seattle that was designed to help educate parents about raising resilient children. My favorite books on the list were The Blessing of a Skinned Knee and The Blessing of a B Minus by Wendy Mogel, and I made my regular Teaching My Baby to Read readers a promise that I would be blogging several posts about them soon.

Flash forward almost two months later, and the original posts I had written about Wendy Mogel have mysteriously disappeared. On my desktop? On my hard drive? On a scrap of spiral notebook paper somewhere? I have no idea, although the hardcopy theory is likely. There are future “I Brake for Mom” column ideas all over our house and it’s driving my husband nuts. There are bound to be some blog ideas floating around too.

Okay, so neither book is as fresh in my head as I would have preferred. But in some ways, that will make this review even better because you’ll be able to see the essential things I have learned from Wendy Mogel that have stuck with me.

Both books are written from a Jewish perspective, primarily for a Jewish audience. As a United Methodist, I found this refreshing. Dr. Mogel also seemed to be writing for an extremely affluent audience; the type of people who can afford $30,000 a year for private school and still afford to send their teenager on a humanitarian trip to Africa. I am clearly not in that socio-economic circumstance but am familiar with those types of neighborhoods through my own personal life experience.

Even if you were not interested in learning any new parenting tips at all, it would be really interesting to read The Blessing of a B Minus just to hear Dr. Mogel describe how wealthy, educated parents try to “game the system” and coach their teenagers into elite colleges. Can anyone say “Modern Day Castrati?” Since I somehow managed to go to Stanford through my own determination, with my public university educated parents not knowing any of those tricks, it was fascinating to hear about the advantages some of my wealthier classmates might have had. I never had a tutor nor did it ever occur to my parents to start grooming my extracurriculars for future glory starting at age 6.

It’s really thought provoking to think about all of those high-achieving parents spending oodles and oodles of money on their children’s private school educations and extracurricular in the hopes of them going to elite universities, and then sending their kids off to college without knowing how to do laundry. This explains half of my freshman dorm, and I’m not even joking.

I don’t think you could “make” your kid get into Stanford anyways, unless you were an extremely famous politician. My husband and I have talked about this extensively. By around 8th or 9th grade (at the latest), a teenager has to decide for himself that he really wants it. When I was in high school I remember having enough time to watch The Nanny each week with my mom and little sister, and that was it. Those thirty minutes of recreation were my big treat to myself because the rest of the time I was studying or running various school clubs. Parents can’t “make” a kid have that type of drive.

My husband and I can’t “make” our kids get into our alma mater, and that’s okay. If they really want to go to a school like Stanford then they will have to put in the effort to get there on their own. If they don’t want to work hard enough for that, then Stanford isn’t the right place for them. I’m saying “Stanford”, but you could fill in the blank there for any competitive college of your choice.

Dr. Mogel’s book for parenting younger children, The Blessing of a Skinned Knee, spoke a lot more about her own personal recommitment to Judaism, and what drove that decision. Again, I found that really interesting. I’ve read the Christian Bible cover to cover at least half a dozen times, but I have never read the Talmud. I had a basic knowledge of how Talmudic teaching effects women and children that I had previously gleaned from reading Maggie Anton’s fictional series Rashi’s Daughters, but that was it! I was especially inspired by how Dr. Mogel talked about the dinner table as the altar of a family, and weekly Shabbat meals as a religious experience.

Okay all you Wendy Mogel readers out there… I think the comments on my blog are working again. What are your thoughts about either book? I’m dying to hear!

Talent is Overrated by Goeff Colvin

Right now I’m midway through a Mommy-Ed reading list designed to help foster resiliency in children. My most recent read is Talent Is Overrated, What Really Separates World-Class Performers from Everybody Else by Geoff Colvin. This book had a business focus instead of parenting, but it was still useful to me. Here’s a great quote to show you why:

“Many of the most successful people do seem to be highly intelligent. But what the research suggests very strongly is that the link between intelligence and high achievement isn’t nearly as powerful as we commonly suppose. Most important, the research tells us that intelligence as we usually think of it–a high IQ–is not a prerequisite to extraordinary achievement.” (p45)

In layman’s terms, you don’t have to be “gifted” to produce extraordinary achievement and high IQ is no guarantee of future success.

So what does Colvin believe engenders achievement? Deliberate practice, and lots of it. That means practicing to improve your weaknesses over and over again. I don’t recall if Colvin mentioned the so-called 10,o00 hour rule or not, but he seems to be describing the same idea.

There is an especially interesting section about violin players on pages 56-61 and how many practice hours they need to log become they become virtuosos.  I’d love to have the mom from Homeschooling, or Who’s Ever Home read that part and tell me what she thinks, because her daughter Haley is extraordinarily talented at the violin. Or is it that Hayley just practices a heck of a lot more and a heck of a lot smarter than everybody else? Here’s a You Tube clip of 9 year old Haley performing Moto Perpetuo by Paganini. It will be the perfect accompaniment to the rest of my post. 🙂

So how do talent, IQ and success all fit together? If I were to throw in my own two cents, I would venture to guess that it has something to do with intensity and education begetting education. My grandpa was a wonderful violinist too, and he eventually became a member of the San Diego Symphony. But he didn’t just wake up one day and start playing the violin. He was probably just as awful as everyone else to start with.  My grandpa was intensely focused however.  Even as a retired adult, he was obsessed with music. He loved and pursued music of all types, and learned how to play and teach every single instrument but the organ. He also had parents and a brother who also played the violin. In fact, my great-grandparents courted in their local town orchestra. There was probably a lot of musical education begetting musical education in their household.

What Talent is Overrated means is that even if your child isn’t “gifted” maybe you should consider the idea that your child could be gifted at a certain subject, if he or she really put in the hours. Also, it takes a lot of hours for anyone to become good at something, so don’t let your kid give up too early.  Make sure that your children know that with enough practice they will improve at anything.  Then, keep your fingers crossed that at some point internal motivation will kick in and you won’t have to nag your kids do something that they are now good at.

How do you eat an elephant?

A friend and teacher I know from church shared with me the following question: “How do you eat an elephant?”  The answer is: “One bite at a time.”

Bruce(7) has a book report due in a month. His teacher has challenged the kids to choose a “just right” book that will take a week to finish, and then to write about it. Bruce (entirely of his own accord) chose to read Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows. There was no talking him out of it.

Different faith backgrounds have different opinions on whether the Harry Potter series as a whole is appropriate for children. My opinion is that J.K. Rowling has made the basic tenants of Christianity approachable to children in the same way that C.S. Lewis did with Narnia. I love this article from Christianity Today by Bob Smietana, which expounds on this comparison.

Back to the issue at hand with my issue, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows is at a Guided Reading Level W, which means it is a the seventh grade reading level. The last time I assessed Bruce’s reading ability was a few months ago at Christmas and he was at a level S/5th grade. Level W is a bit of a stretch for him.

But if all Bruce ever does is read multiple Goosebumps books (level P/3.7) every afternoon, he’s not learning a lot about resilience or sticking with something big because it is worth reading. So together, we looked at the calendar and mapped out a plan. He chose to read 55 pages a day for two weeks, and then spend a week writing up his report. We wrote everything down on our family calendar, and then I helped him out by putting little post-it flags in the book. Now the rest is really up to Bruce.