Curling Parents

Friday, March 21, 2014 - By: Clayton Johnston

‘Curling parent’ is a term I first heard from the Head of School at Phillips Academy, John G. Palfrey, at the SSATB Conference in Philadelphia this past fall. It certainly resonated with me as I’ve seen a few of these in my years in Admissions!

You know the type: the parents who are always trying to sweep all barriers out of the way of their children.  Hurry hard! They are the ones intent on making sure their kids get everything they need, leveraging every advantage.  The kind of parents who seek to eliminate every ounce of stress, friction and adversity for their offspring.  From the cradle to university, they lead the charge in creating an obstacle-free environment for their children.

But then what?

Think about it; if students never have to fail, how can they learn to succeed? How do they learn to grapple with difficult situations and find a solution without melting down?  If they have never had to overcome adversity, how can they function in the real world of university and beyond? Unfortunately, many of them can’t.

People have asked me about our policy of only accepting students if it is their choice to be here. This is one of many reasons why they choose us. Once our students decide to come to Brentwood, they are signing up for many things, and among these are independence, fortitude, challenge, maturity, autonomy, responsibility and … grit.

Brentwood is a university preparatory school.  Not only are we expected to prepare students academically for university but we also need to set them up for life by allowing them to make decisions and, at times, face considerable adversity.

At Brentwood we believe that developing ‘grit’ means that every student will have to learn to deal with some rough waters.  To be blunt, this happens in life so we all need to get used to it. On occasion, confidence may be shaken and egos bruised and students will have to learn to advocate on their own behalf.  They will not always have someone there ‘sweeping away the problems’ and because of this, we believe that ultimately our students will be a stronger and be more successful human beings.  Falling and ‘skinning our knees’ on occasion helps us learn about balance, making prudent decisions, and navigating the inevitable obstacles that life throws at us.

Boarding schools have always been good places to get a little ‘grit’ because they demand independence and a certain degree of separation from traditional support structures.  Don’t get me wrong, at our school we care deeply about our students and the relationships that are established here are nurturing, caring and empathetic – beyond belief at times.  However, most of our students are still away from home and must make day-to-day decisions on their own.  Keeping with the curling metaphor, in many ways, they become the ‘skipper’ – the determiner of their own course. Sometimes they slip up, but most times they negotiate things effectively, learn to adapt, and achieve unimaginable success.

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