My Child Is A Big Fish In A Little Pond, And I’m OK With That

1489141_10152074329369866_742898553_oI have been engrossed in a gem of a book entitled “David and Goliath: Underdogs, Misfits, and the Art of Battling Giants” by Malcolm Gladwell.  One of the chapters I just read really made me think: would I rather that my child be a little fish in a big pond or a big fish in a small pond? My inner-tiger mom tends towards the big pond.

My son Josh struggled in 8th grade Algebra and ended up needing to repeat the subject his freshman year in high school.  I was devastated.  I was a computer science major, and David was a math major.  We are a family of mathematicians.  Our child should have passed Algebra with flying colors and moved on to Geometry as a freshman!  I thought I totally failed as a mother and as a human being.

Because Geometry was a concurrent requirement for Honors Biology, Josh was also forced into pedestrian-level science track, thereby tarnishing his college applications for sure.  Josh is a scientist, for goodness’ sake!  He had gotten a perfect score in his 8th grade state testing for science. He loves science.

I thought that his 8th grade Algebra teacher was lousy and was more interested in her pending retirement than in teaching.  I was mad at myself for not intervening sooner, but I felt even worse that Josh began to think of himself as being stupid. Yikes!

Alas, when Josh retook Algebra at his high school, something finally clicked.  He began to do really well in his class.  It helped, of course, that he was taking the class for the second time.  It also was a major plus that his teacher was young and enthusiastic and had an innovative way of teaching to make certain that all students understood a concept before moving on.  Josh began acing all the tests, and he became a star student.

He felt good about being the best in this class, a decidedly smaller pond in comparison to the Honors Geometry class which would have been a big pond for him.  If I had insisted that he move up to Geometry, he may very well have struggled and continued to think of himself as a “dumb math student.” Instead, he got A’s in Algebra last year and is now continuing to do well in his sophomore Geometry class.  He thinks of himself now as a good mathematician.  He got his mojo back.

According to writer Malcolm Gladwell, many Ivy league students in the bottom quarter of the class get so discouraged that they drop out of their majors or, worse still, college altogether.  Every single person who gets accepted at Harvard, Yale, or Stanford is most assuredly brilliant, but somebody still has to be at the bottom quarter of the class, right?  Gladwell also sites studies which show that the top students at many of the “mediocre” schools actually accomplish much more than the bottom-half students at the top schools.  It’s good to be a big fish in a smaller pond!

Pushing Josh to take advanced classes just so that it would look better on his college application — or, truth be told, so it would make me look better as a parent — would have done him much disservice in two ways: One, he would have gotten less-than-stellar grades, and two, he would have lost his self-confidence.  We would have set him up for failure.

Perhaps it was in God’s divine wisdom that Josh ended up in Algebra for the second time in 9th grade.  And because his workload has been relatively light as compared to his comrades in honors classes, Josh has been able to enjoy his high school years to the fullest.  He plays the trumpet in the marching band and is making a lot of friends and memories.

I still hope for Josh that he ends up at a decent college and has a great future.  If we have to scale back the Big Pond dreams we had for him, so be it.  Now, after reading this book, this panda mom is thoroughly convinced that it’s better for him to be a big fish in a small pond than a small fish in a big pond.

How Much Would You Pay For Your Child’s Yearbook?

Joshua's very first yearbook

Joshua’s very first yearbook

My freshman son came home the other day with his first high school yearbook.  It’s beautifully bound and is as thick as an encyclopedia (not that he would know what that is because he’s grown up always looking things up on the internet).  It has glossy pages filled with color photographs of smiling teenagers.  The price tag for this year’s edition was nearly $100.

Is it worth it?

When I was in middle school, the school asked those of us on the yearbook staff to vote on our choice for yearbooks — printed on-campus and stapled together for about $12 or professionally bound for a whopping $25 at the time.  At the meeting, the principal shared with us some words of wisdom: “We know the school year memories are really important to you now, but in a few more years they won’t matter so much.  You probably shouldn’t spend too much money on something like this.”  We didn’t really agree with him but our parents sure did.  Given the choice between getting a slim, cheap yearbook for which our parents would pay versus an expensive one for which they would not, the decision was easy.  A majority of my classmates were in the same predicament, so the vote was cast in favor of the in-house, stapler-bound middle school yearbook.  I just remember this fiasco, because my artwork happened to end up on the front cover of this very yearbook.

We hated to admit it at the time, but our middle school principal was right.  The precious 8th grade year book lost its luster only 12 months later when I got my first high school yearbook.  I think I paid (or, more accurately, my parents did) nearly $60 for this memory book, thick with glossy pages and professional binding.  The photos were great, but the autographs were more important.  “You’re really cool.  Have a bitchin’ summer and see you next fall,” signed almost every single one of my friends.  I guess we weren’t all that creative back then.  I still have my high school yearbooks for all four years somewhere in my closet, but I no longer possess the middle school yearbook in spite of the fact that I was the cover artist.

School year is ending in just a couple of days, and my son is upstairs poring over the pages, already reminiscing the various activities he was involved in last fall and looking forward to his sophomore year starting next fall.  He will probably continue to look at this yearbook with fond memories in the years and maybe decades to come.  I took a peek at some of the autographs he’s gotten from his friends, and they all seem to appreciate Joshua’s humor, his prodigious trumpet playing, and his kindness.  He is a good friend to a variety of students, and I would imagine that reading notes from these friends will encourage him to continue pursuing his musical and social skills.  I suppose that’s just as important as keeping memories of high school activities alive in these pages.

So maybe, just maybe, it is worth paying upwards of $100 (or more, I’m sure, for some schools) for my kids’ yearbooks.

But does it have to be so expensive?  And what happens two years from now when both of my kids are at the same high school?  Should I buy one and have them share or get a separate one for each?  Please let me know in the comments below.

Meanwhile, have a bitchin’ summer and see you next fall…