The writer Thomas Sowell once noted, sardonically, how sad it is that editions of Frederick Douglass’s memoirs, when provided for high school students, were forced to provide annotated definitions of many words. What does it say, he asked, that a slave in the 1800s was able—under the penalty of severe violence—to teach himself a vocabulary that privileged high school students cannot manage after a hundred and fifty years of progress? And what does it say that we have to spoon feed them the answers to these vexing problems—how could they possibly look up a word without our help!—instead of expecting them to figure it out themselves?
We have talked before about why it’s important not to baby your kids when it comes to reading. We have also talked about teaching them that “everything is figureoutable”—that is, giving them the skills to learn what they don’t know.
But it’s also important that, as a father, you provide the expectation that they are capable of doing things. If you treat your kid like a helpless idiot…they’ll stay one. If you assume that certain ideas are beyond their comprehension, it is a self-fulfilling prophecy. Your kids will not learn that which you expect them not to be able to learn. Equally, they will grow and strive and struggle to meet the expectations you do have.
If Frederick Douglass could do it, your kid can definitely do it. He had to fear for his life. He had not only to steal time to read, he had to steal books and newspapers too. Your children have far more advantages. So expect, encourage, inspire them to seize this. Expect great things from them, expect progress, but most of all, expect them to try.
They’ll be better for it.