If you've ever taken steps to innovate or stray from the beaten path in your children's education, odds are you've probably heard the following refrains a million times. They can come from friends, colleagues, or even your own parents:
"How will your kid ever get into college if they don't go to a normal school?"
"Your kids need to respect the order and authority of adults."
"You're crazy. I would never take a risk like that with my child."
Alright, let's all take a deep breath. Ready? Breathe in.....and release. Now that we're calm, it's time to realize that tuning out of peer pressure and negative criticism can be one of the hardest things for a parent to do - but it might just be the best possible thing you can do for your kids.
Whether you've decided to homeschool, unschool, or send your kid to an innovative learning center like The Base, you've made a decision that shows you care about your kid in a deep and respectful way. But that doesn't stop people from telling you that you're making a horrible mistake.
Many people view "good parenting," as 18 years of even-keeled, status quo stability that might luckily lead up to admission to Harvard. But you're different. What you care about is helping your children become healthy and happy adults who are engaged with the world and people around them. So our advice is to take other people's criticisms with a pretty sizable grain of salt. It's likely that you've already discovered how difficult it is to convince people who have already convinced themselves that you're doing the wrong thing. So whenever possible, you should feel empowered to shrug it off.
But if you do wind up having to prove (to other parents, family members, friends, or even yourself somedays) that you're truly making the right decision for your child, we have a few reminders to help give you confidence and turn a deadlocked debate into a productive conversation.
1. Avoiding Risk is Risky
Many entrepreneurs and innovators know this to be true: it's probably more risky to avoid risk than to learn to deal with failure. Thomas Edison had to try thousands of different filaments before he perfected his lightbulb. As our founder, Nicolas Zhang, frequently reminds us, "Failure is normal. Success is actually rare. Don't fear failure." In Silicon Valley, people actually brag about their failures! You can be a role model and take a risk by allowing them to think, learn, and grow differently than the mainstream society. Who knows? They might end up being the next great disruptive thinker who can change the world for the better!
2. My Kids will be Truly Unique [and this will help them get into Yale]
Not to toot our own horns, but Brendan and I both attended and graduated from Ivy League schools [Yale and Columbia, respectively]. Sometimes we wish we could be completely blunt with parents and say: It doesn't matter if your kid is a piano whiz or gets a 2400 on the SAT and is valedictorian of their high school.
If you think about it logically, the Ivy League schools are very small (each school only admits around 1000 students each year). Now, we work in China where literally MILLIONS of kids fit the criteria above. There definitely isn't enough space in the Ivy Leagues to fit all the 2400 SAT-scoring, piano whiz valedictorians out there.
What we noticed about our classmates when we were at those schools was that they were truly unique, and they did things that showed they were unique, even if they went against the grain.
My classmates did things like start a satirical magazine in high school that made fun of the school's principal or compete in International Poetry Slams reciting spoken word against sexism or work at a record store and cover a Music Festival in the local punk magazine. Allowing your kid to truly dive into their interests and passions by learning at a place like Armada will actually CREATE the kinds of learners that end up going to Yale.
3. AND there is life BEYOND the Ivy League or college in general
Okay, say your kid gets into an AMAZING college. I went to a fantastic college prep school in San Diego, and I felt like I had worked my WHOLE LIFE to get into my dream school, and I did it. But I got to college and was immediately hit by the sense of WHAT THE HECK DO I DO NOW? You're telling me there's life beyond getting into an Ivy League school? I didn't know what I liked to do or what I was passionate about other than school.
I tried to turn my passion for school into a career by being a professor, but through many struggles and existential crises, I floundered through four years and eventually earned my B.A. And still I had no idea what I wanted to do with my life.
Luckily, I started experimenting with a career in various kinds of arts and education jobs until I found Armada where I am able to fully come to know myself and my goals.
I share these stories to illustrate that allowing kids the freedom to play and discover their passions will allow them to clearly identify what their purpose in life is as they gradually grow into adulthood. A clear purpose in life is one of the most valuable guides in helping us find a career, relationships, and meaning in our lives.
You're making the right choice by allowing your kid to deeply know themselves and the world from a young age. You're a free thinker and innovator and your kids will end up thanking you for the opportunity to shine and flourish in their own way.
Keep calm and fail on,