Struggle is among the most important elements in the learning process. Learning a new thing—whether Greek, knitting, or fly-tying—is hard work and requires some pain if it is to be done well. Think of it this way: after learning something new, one is not the same person he was before he learned the new thing; he has undergone a metamorphosis. That process of change necessarily comes with some struggle and pain.
Teachers are constantly pushing their students through these metamorphoses every day. Students are hearing new ideas, grappling with them to understand them, practicing them on paper, being corrected, grappling again, writing again, being corrected again, and on the process goes. When the student masters the new concept, it is the result of his working very hard with his mind, misunderstanding and correcting misunderstanding until it becomes clear. It is the result of him making his best attempt to reproduce or otherwise employ the concept to create something on paper and being corrected repeatedly until he gets it right. Through all of this, the student struggles inwardly with himself, struggles outwardly with the concept he is learning, and struggles alongside his teachers and classmates.
The struggle to learn something new is hard work, and even painful work. Especially for a student who has to overcome his own laziness or lack of self-control, the work is painful. Most students who claim not to like school, simply do not like to work hard with their minds so frequently. There are exceptions, of course, but that is the general rule.
Consider for a moment what is happening to the student who everyday embraces the routine of learning described above. He is learning to persevere through difficult circumstances, and even pain at times, to accomplish something. He is learning to overcome his own laziness or lack of self-control. He is learning to put away his pride. He is learning to work together with other humans. The struggle a good student goes through is sanctifying.
Far too often parents will not tolerate seeing their children struggle. The intolerance usually takes one of two forms: either the parent believes in a sentimental notion of childhood as a constant summer vacation and therefore thinks it cruel for a child to struggle, or the wailing the struggle produces in the child is inconvenient for the parent who just wants the child to stop complaining so he can have peace. In both cases the parents rescue or attempt to rescue their children from the struggle that is causing the pain. While it would be false to say all parents operate this way, it is accurate to say parenting has been leaning ever further in this direction for the last forty years. We have even created some labels to fit these parents: helicopters and snowplows.
As a father of two sons who are both getting married within the next few months, I am regretting every time I made the path easier for my sons. They are good men, and I love them dearly, but would they be even better men if I had allowed them to struggle more. I will have to look my daughters-in-law in the eyes and apologize if my sons give up when the going gets tough. I don’t think they will, but my point for you is, by God’s grace, your child who is now a student will someday become an adult who does things like work real jobs, get married, and have his own children. Those things are hard. He will have to struggle. Let him practice now at school while the stakes are relatively low. Let him have room to try hard and fail, to overcome his sin, to be corrected, and to get it right only after he has shed blood, sweat, and tears. There are much harder things ahead. Let them struggle now so they grow up to become bold, courageous people who are capable of doing the hard things life requires. May there be no thirty-year-old, unemployed, single gamers in your basement’s future.