My Son’s Not Special

A friend who teaches at another school was in a bit of a hurry when I bumped into him on Sunday.

“You administrative types, you forget what it’s like. I’m correcting papers, and grading exams, and writing comments for every student, and for all of my advisees and for half the tennis team. I don’t know about you, but I spent my Fathers Day searching for euphemisms.

You see, the problem is that you can’t say what you want to say because you don’t want to go to court. (But) If they injected us all with truth serum, oh these comments would just about write themselves. The words would fly off the keyboard!”

Talking to parents about their kids can require a certain degree of sensitivity. Michael Thompson believes that teachers need to always “claim the child,” and while I like the idea of “teacher as advocate,” I also applaud those with the ability to be both blue velvet and blue steel, depending on the boy and his particular situation. Sometimes we are called to comfort the afflicted and at other times to afflict the comfortable.

A couple of years ago, one of my sons, a boy who will never play the first violin in anyone’s orchestra, was desperate to go on the band trip to Chicago. He practiced frequently and with great volume. I often encouraged him by saying, “Can you make that racket somewhere else?”

When he didn’t see his name of the list of those invited to Chicago, he approached his music teacher and asked if he might reconsider this decision. The veteran instructor gave him a blank look and simply asked, “Are we really having this conversation?”

My son laughed over this at dinner that night. While he was disappointed to miss out on the trip to the Windy City, the teacher’s “tell it like it is” response was refreshingly honest. “I think I got a taste of reality today.”

On a related point, you might enjoy David McCullough’s “You’re Not Special” graduation speech at Wellesley High School.

One gem from McCullough: “You’re not special. You’re not exceptional. Contrary to what your U-9 soccer trophy suggests, your glowing 7th grade report card, despite every assurance of a certain corpulent purple dinosaur, that nice Mr. Rogers and your batty Aunt Sylvia, no matter how often your paternal caped crusader swoops in to save you, you are not special.”


2 thoughts on “My Son’s Not Special

  1. Has UCC stopped telling their students how special they are to be at UCC and how they are better than all the rest? That would be a bit of a refreshing change. I don’t believe it.

  2. I was sharing the “You’re Not Special” speech last week as well. My favourite portion was as follows:

    “we have of late, we Americans, to our detriment, come to love accolades more than genuine achievement. We have come to see them as the point — and we’re happy to compromise standards, or ignore reality, if we suspect that’s the quickest way, or only way, to have something to put on the mantelpiece, something to pose with, crow about, something with which to leverage ourselves into a better spot on the social totem pole. No longer is it how you play the game, no longer is it even whether you win or lose, or learn or grow, or enjoy yourself doing it… Now it’s “So what does this get me?”

    It is up to schools like UCC, and all of us as professionals, to help build in our students the passion, interest, desire, and discipline it takes for “genuine achievement”. Our children need to learn that the only true measuring stick of excellence is not against others; rather, it is a measure of how close they have come to what is personally possible, the sacrifice made to get there, and how much better the world and people they have touched are because of their efforts.

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