The Effects of Pressure

I’m a middle aged adult.  I own an interesting and successful business.  I have two grown children who are successful by any measure.  About 9 months ago I took up a new hobby.  As my husband is an avid bicycle rider, I decided to join him so that we could go on bicycling vacations together.  So far we have taken two – in the San Juan islands, and in Sonoma Valley.  They have been thrilling, so we are planning another biking holiday in July – this time in Ireland.

We just joined the Westchester Bicycle Club, and a week ago went out for our first ride.  It was my second ride of the season.  My first ride had been 10 miles and this one was supposed to be an easy 22 miles.  We had joined bike level D, when level E was the easiest level, designed to attract families.  Although, at the beginning of January, I proudly rode 40 miles in Sonoma Valley, I am not naturally athletic, and found keeping pace with this group to be quite a challenge. 

By the end of the first hill, I was resoundingly bringing up the rear.  Everyone waited for me at the top, giving them a chance for a water break.  But they pushed off as soon as I arrived, so, although I probably needed a break more than anyone, I didn’t get one.  The distance between me and the rest of the group increased.  By the time of the next round-up, I was ready to quit.  Not just for the day, but biking in general.  I told the others I would make my own way and meet them at a later rest stop.  As I rounded the bend, I realized that I didn’t want to ride any further.  Looking around, I knew where I was.  As an adult, I could make my own decision.  I turned my bike around and headed home. 

Suddenly, I could see the sun again, and realized that the day was beautiful.  I could ride quickly, and found that riding actually was fun.  When I arrived home, I checked my odometer.  I had ridden 17 miles at 11 miles per hour.  Not bad for my second ride of the season.   As I am an adult, I had been able to muster the resources to take control over what could have been a terrible day; a day which, after only an hour or two, had threatened my enjoyment of the sport for the long haul. 

When my husband returned home I told him what I had done, including my overall distance and speed.  His response was, “you weren’t riding that fast when you were with us! At that point your speed was only 8.5 miles an hour.”

I keep reflecting on my own biking experience as I think of the many children we place in schools each year.  The many children who may respond to their environment as I did, without understanding it as clearly.  How many parents want to push children beyond their comfort zones?  How often does it happen?  There is a subtle difference between challenging a child when she feels safe and pushing him into an arena where he simply feels inadequate.  I have clearly enjoyed challenging myself to ride faster, or take the hill, on past rides, where I felt I had a chance of success.  But this time, knowing I was out of my element, I was discouraged beyond the point of trying. 

How do we help parents find schools which provide the exhilaration of continuous challenge without tipping the balance to exert too much pressure, thereby destroying the love of learning, for tomorrow as well as today?

Liz Perelstein

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3 Responses to The Effects of Pressure

  1. Anonymous says:

    I think it is a hard balance between encouraging a love of learning without focusing on the end goal (college, good job, etc) and just the practicality of those end goals. However, I think if you push children too hard they will end up somewhere they don’t belong and be less successfull in the long run (thus defeating the purpose of the end goals anyway).

  2. findingschools says:

    I have always viewed schooling as an end in itself, rather than a means to an end. But now that my child is close to college graduation, I too, find myself wondering whether I should be pushing a bit more towards a “sensible” career goal. It takes courage to be a parent.

  3. findingschools says:

    An interesting analogy! Yes, as a parent I have faced this dilemma many times. The personality of the child matters too – my daughter who is willing to listen, and needs direction, is willing to be pushed – some days it seems like it is too much, and on other days it seems to be just what she needs. My son on the other hand is master of his own destiny – refuses to be pushed, does not require validation, and will not discuss any school issues. He decides if and when he wants to push himself.
    I wish both were a little more like each other, with a more balanced approach – but teenage years are hard, and we are all trying to be as supportive as possible with choices that they make.

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