Randy Pausch: On Not Giving Up on Your Students

**This article is posted in an altered form on Dr. Robyn’s Powerful Parenting Blog as a service to all of our fabulous Powerful Words family schools throughout the world. —————————————————————————————

“Experience is what you get is when you didn’t get what you want…We send our kids out to play football or soccer or swimming or whatever it is… for indirect learning..we don’t actually want them to learn football… We send our kids out to learn much more important things; teamwork, sportsmanship, perseverance, etc. etc.” –Randy Pausch

The article below was in the March Powerful Words Newsletter– since Perry Bateson in Canada just reminded me about the Randy Pausch video (thank-you!), I figured I’d post it here for all of you. (The full YouTube version is over an hour– well worth it, so pull up a chair– but there is a shortened version (10 minutes) that played on Oprah for your convenience).

Aren’t you ruining my child’s self esteem?

Mrs. Phillips came to talk to me while her son, Patrick, age 8, was in class. “Patrick was upset the other day because Guro Jason corrected three times on one of his skills. When you tell him he’s doing something wrong, aren’t you ruining his self esteem?”

This story came to mind today when I was watching a video of the inspirational “last lecture” of Randy Pausch, who’ll likely die of liver cancer within the next few months. I love watching videos like these because they shine such a bright light on learning and put a fire in my belly. In fact, they make me feel like running to the helm of a ship and yelling “I’m the king of the world!”

Anyway, Professor Pausch said; “when you’re screwing up and nobody’s saying anything to you anymore, that means they’ve given up…your critics are the ones who still love you and know you can.” Boy, do I agree with that–although, it’s not always easy to experience criticism and it can be excruciating to watch someone we love being critiqued.

I wrote an article on my own experience with this phenomenon. At Tufts, my advisor was known to be the toughest in my department. My dissertation was often filled with red marks and comments like “no!” “wrong!” and “don’t say this” throughout it’s 150 pages. I’m not condoning my advisor’s unforgiving approach—but rather, his practice. Would he be helping me by giving me a disingenuous pat on the back? Certainly not.

Interestingly, after I was awarded my doctorate, he did say something to me that I’ll never forget; “I was hard on you because I always knew you could do better. And you did. In fact you did so well that you became one of the very best.” I felt as though I had destroyed every brick wall placed in front of me and I was ready to take on the world.

So, what about the claim Mrs. Phillips made about her child’s self esteem? While too much criticism in the absence of praise can be detrimental, too much praise in the absence of critique is just as damaging.

Feelings of self worth, esteem, and gratification come from overcoming challenges. They derive from hard work, perseverance, self discipline, and self reliance. They don’t come from simply being the best but rather, doing one’s personal best and raising the bar higher every time we approach a skill. These feelings don’t come from our teachers and parents telling us we’re doing well when we aren’t or telling us we’re doing “the best” when we’re not putting in “our best.” They come from when others, whose opinions we value, tell us that they know we can do better and then notice it when we do.

In the end, we gain self esteem when we break through brick walls when even we wondered if we could.

As educators, coaches, teachers, and instructors, it’s our duty to inspire students to rise to their potential—not so that they necessarily become better martial artists, gymnasts, swimmers, dancers, or cheerleaders, but so they strive towards their personal best in everything they do.

Nobody ever feels satisfied while leaning against a brick wall that blocks their dream as their superheroes yell “at-a-boy!” But I’ve certainly felt the rush of achievement when I’ve barreled through brick walls, bruises and all, with my mentors and loved ones nodding their heads saying, “we knew you could do better. And you did.”

Here’s to you– for not letting our students give up on their dreams,

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