Little Scraps of Wisdom

I’m a dad, and I’m doing my best to figure things out. Knowing that I don’t know all the answers, or even all of the questions, motivates me to learn everything I can to support my kids. In the back of my mind I hear the line from one of my favorite authors, Umberto Eco, a grandfather himself:

I believe that what we become depends on what our fathers teach us at odd moments, when they aren’t trying to teach us. We are formed by little scraps of wisdom.”

I’m conscious of my own shortcomings, and I’m always working to improve those “odd moments” I spend with my kids. I’m also trying to think about what they learn from me when I’m not teaching them, what they see when they see me interact with other adults, and what they hear when I speak to them, of them, or on their behalf.

Bookish myself, this leads me to read; an ever growing stack of books lives on my nightstand. As a high school principal, I know that the ideas I find in these volumes help me not only as a dad, but also in the work I do with students and families at my school.

I never presume that I know more than any other parent, nor that my opinions are the only right ones, though I do trust my experiences and what those experiences have taught me. I also trust in the value of honest conversations about parenthood and education. Knowing we aren’t alone as we help our students navigate this thing called life matters much. Adolescence can be a period of great pressure, both for kids and parents, and everything we can do to support each other really helps.

Along these lines, I saw some knowing nods when at a recent “Coffee with the Principal” our superintendent started talking about the importance of balance for our students today. After telling a funny and moving story about raising his own kids, he referenced some articles and books to a warm response from the parents. Drawing from an interview with Stanford University dean of freshmen and undergraduate advising Julie Lythcott-Haims and middle school teacher Jessica Lahey, he read:

[students become] anxious, depressed and risk averse because parents are focused on keeping kids safe, content and happy in the moment rather than parenting for competence.”

It got me thinking, and mulling it over during the Winter Break, it seemed to me that Lythcott-Haims’ book How to Raise an Adult, might make a great book club book.  This isn’t to say that everyone would agree with Lythcott-Haims, but so many would have opinions that discussion could be rich.

I read the book over the break, and came back even more convinced that this was the right choice to spark discussion amongst parents, teachers, and students too.

51VffITheFL._SX327_BO1,204,203,200_Lythcott-Haims divides her book into four sections, each relevant to the lives of the folks I hope will come to our book club. In the section “What We’re Doing Now,” she adeptly highlights issues front and center in the world of contemporary adolescence, including safety, opportunity, and that bugbear of balance that she calls the “College Admissions Arms Race.” In my time as an administrator, I’ve seen more than a few parents concerned about where their sons and daughters will go to college.

Perhaps the example that resonated most as I read How to Raise an Adult was from my time as a middle school principal and the hour long discussion I had with the parent of a sixth grader concerned about the implications of her daughter’s elementary school math placement. As she left I remember thinking: nobody’s future is determined by the math class they take when they’re eleven. Even as I thought it, I knew I hadn’t convinced the mom that it was true.

In her second section, Lythcott-Haims outlines her argument for “Why We Must Stop Overparenting.” I won’t catalogue her points here; I see this as much of the content of our book club discussion, but her specific reasoning provides examples as concrete as they are compelling. They’re examples I’ve thought about as I’ve sat in the stands at my kids’ softball games and when I’ve gone in to my own kids’ parent-teacher conferences.

As important to the book as what seems to be broken about our current system is what Lythcott-Haims calls “Another Way.” In this third section, she lays out a series of common sense ideas about how to support kids on their way to adulthood.

I’m particularly interested in what the students have to say when we discuss this particular section. I know that as educators we’ve put much effort into some of these suggestions (with more critical thinking and student centered learning a part of what we do). Will they see this? What will parents think?

How to Raise an Adult ends with two short chapters directed right at parents, and the line that still resonates with me is as direct as the rest of the book. “Your kid needs a human parent,” Lythcott-Haims writes, “not super mom or super dad.”

I’ll suggest that it will be both super and human to join the discussion of these big issues with members of our school family.

I don’t know if we’ll have a crowd or a handful of folks when we meet in our school library in a few weeks, but great conversation isn’t dependent on numbers, and I anticipate a rich discussion between fellow adventurers. I’m looking forward to a night of opinions, stories, and the little scraps of wisdom we can share with each other.


The San Dieguito Book Club will meet on April 25, 2016 at 6:00 PM in the San Dieguito HS Academy Media Center. We’ll discuss How To Raise An Adult by Julie Lythcott-Haims.

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