Susan Cain

Sex, Drugs, and Dripping Woe

Lucie Manette expresses her disdain for winter's callous indifference to nap location #7 (of 24). 

Lucie Manette expresses her disdain for winter's callous indifference to nap location #7 (of 24). 

Oh, March. 

Every year I remind myself that the lions will, at some point, give way to the lambs, but it's hard to keep an eye out for those lambs when I'm racing around the house with bowls, tubs, buckets, and towels to catch the drips and drizzles seeping out of my doorframes, light fixtures and ceilings. We've signed on the dotted line for a beautiful, drip-free new roof, but alas, our roofer ran late last season with installations, so consequently, we came up a season late and a 50% deposit short.

While I've been holed up like a hermit in her drippy cave, I've had a productive month with sex and drugs. Well, research about sex and drugs, anyway. All I need is a Rolling Stone assignment, and I will have scored a trifecta.

Recently, a mother asked me about what might make her son, who was dabbling in drugs and alcohol, listen to her. What could she say that might make him stop and think, maybe even make better choices? I just happen to teach at a drug and alcohol rehab, so I asked my students to respond to her question. I then asked author and addiction expert David Sheff to take a look at what the kids had to say. Turns out, kids are smart. This isn't exactly news to me, but it was a nice reminder that sometimes, all we have to do is ask kids what they need, then listen to their answers. Here's the link to that article, "Teenagers, Dealing with Addiction, on What Have Helped," which appeared in my column, "The Parent-Teacher Conference," at the New York Times Motherlode blog. 

Which leads me to sex. I've wanted to write a piece about sex education for a while, but when NYU professor Jonathan Zimmerman's new book, Too Hot to Handle: A Global History of Sex Education arrived in my mailbox, I knew it was time. Zimmerman's book is fantastic, and it served as the perfect launching pad for a piece about the state of sex education in the United States. Specifically, it's about the history of sex education, what we teach kids and why, where we are now from a social and political standpoint, and where we might be headed. It features interviews with Zimmerman, sex education instructor Karen Rayne, and Savage Love writer and podcaster Dan SavageHere's that article, "What Schools Should Teach Kids About Sex." 

In book news, I just signed the contract for the audiobook of The Gift of Failure, and I am thrilled to announce that I will be recording it myself! Thanks to my Vermont Public Radio editor and producer, Betty Smith, I am feeling more than up to the task. I've known from the beginning of this wild ride that I wanted to record my book -  I wrote it in my teacher and mom voice, after all - so I'm beyond excited I get to head to the studio at the beginning of April. 

Finally, congratulations to the Massachusetts teacher I don't have permission to name who won the February Gift of Failure drawing! I'm always nervous when I put a galley in the mail, but now that the blurbs are in, I can relax a little bit. At the time the manuscript went out to potential blubbers, exactly two people had read the book, my agent and my editor. Well, three, if you include my editor's assistant. And no, not my husband, not my mom, not my friends. Three people do not a representative sample make, so when the book went out to some of the people I respect most in the world for their opinions, opinions that would end up in print, on my book's cover, I was, well, a little freaked. 

Fortunately, they liked it. I am forever grateful to Susan Cain, Gretchen Rubin, Ellen Galinsky, Amanda RipleyDan Willingham, and Jennifer Senior for agreeing to read my manuscript and for bestowing their kind words on its cover. I've included the blurbs at the end of this post, because it makes me all happy inside every time I see them. 

And thanks to all of you for signing up and being a part of this ride. As always, information on my book tour will be available here, and if you are interested in learning more about using The Gift of Failure as your school or community read (or to find out what the heck a community read is), head on over here

Have a great week, and stay tuned for the results of this month's signed galley drawing on March 31 (the day after a public event at 7PM at Resurrection Episcopal Day School in New York City - come on by and say hello!).  


“It’s hard to overstate the importance of this book. The Gift of Failure is beautifully written; it’s deeply researched; but most of all it’s the one book we all need to read if we want to instill the next generation with confidence and joy.” (Susan Cain, author of Quiet)

“How can we help our children grow to be resourceful, happy adults? Lahey shows in practical terms how to know what your child is ready for and how to offer support even as you encourage autonomy. A wise, engaging book, steeped in scientific research and tempered with common sense.” (Daniel T. Willingham, PhD, author of Why Don't Students Like School?)

“This fascinating, thought-provoking book shows that to help children succeed, we must allow them to fail. Essential reading for parents, teachers, coaches, psychologists, and anyone else who wants to guide children towards lives of independence, creativity, and courage.” (Gretchen Rubin, author of The Happiness Project)

“Instead of lecturing us about what we’re doing wrong, Jessica Lahey reveals what she did wrong with her own children and students -- and how she systematically reformed her ways. A refreshing, practical book for parents who want to raise resilient kids but aren’t sure how to start.” (Amanda Ripley, author of The Smartest Kids in the World)

“Lahey offers one of the most important parenting messages of our times: Unless we allow our children to learn how to take on challenges, they won’t thrive in school and in life. Her extremely helpful book tells her story, compiles research, and provides hundreds of doable suggestions.” (Ellen Galinsky, author of Mind in the Making)

Roots of Action: 55 Best Back-To-School Articles for Parents

Dr. Marilyn Price-Mitchell puts together a lovely list of articles for parents, organized by topic, at the beginning of each school year. This year's list includes some gems, many of which are now bookmarked and on my Facebook feed. I'm honored that "Why Parents Need to Let Their Children Fail" is right up there at number one, but that's not why I am promoting the list. It includes resources from Andrea Nair, Miguel Escotet, Jacoba Urist, Meryl Ain, Susan Cain, Scott Barry Kaufman, Michele Borba, and many of my other favorite parenting and education experts.

This is absolutely my favorite list of resources right now, and thank you so much, Marilyn, for putting it together! You can access the list here.

I Came to Live Out Loud

I caught a lot of heat a while back for an article I wrote for the Atlantic positing that introverted kids need to learn to speak up in school. As is often the case, I learned a lot from the criticism swirling around my article, particularly from the rebuttal article in the Atlantic by Susan Cain and another rebuttal in the Washington Post by Katherine Schultz, not the least of which is the distinction between "introverted" and "shy." As usual, the serious scholars/journalists on the topic of introverted and shy children - Ms. Cain and Ms. Schultz - were my most articulate critics and my most ardent defenders. As scholars and writers, they understood my points regarding the value of public debate, ongoing discussion, and continued scholarship on the subject of education as it applies to disparate personality types.

This time of year, I am aware that I push my students out of their comfort zone. It is graduation season, and every Crossroads Academy 8th grader must deliver a short speech at the graduation ceremony on something they have learned during their education. For some, it's what they have been looking forward to for years. For others, it's hell. The deepest, darkest, most horrific ninth circle of Dante's hell, the worst possible sentence, handed down by the mean ol' Mrs. Lahey.

But here's what all of those critics of my methods did not know when they wrote of my supposed anti-introvert power trip: I teach my students for three years in a row, three years in which they learn to trust me, to know I would never humiliate them, to know I would never allow them to make fools of themselves, never leave them to flap in the wind.

Today, after three weeks of writing and practice on graduations speeches, I took all of my 8th grade students down to the bridge over Hewes Brook, a lovely, loud spot on the edge of our campus, so they could practice their speeches over the roar of the water and the whine of the wind. A few of my students were so nervous, they trembled.

I drew a line in the dirt along the path toward the bridge. Their classmates had to stand behind the line in the dirt. Far enough away that the speaker would have to project above the sound of the water and the wind in order to be heard. I instructed their classmates, safe behind the line in the dirt, to raise their hands if they could not hear or understand the speaker.

Every year, some the kids freak out with worry. And every year, they get over it and their graduation speeches are better for it. They learn to project. To articulate. To enunciate.

In about a month, they will stand before their schoolmates, teachers, parents, and extended families to deliver their graduation speeches. I could allow them to cringe and worry and fret, but instead, I do what I can do help them work through that worry, battle that anxiety, and become the public speakers I know they can be.

I've watched Susan Cain - representative of introverts everywhere - speak to huge audiences, over the static of her introversion, and she kicks ass.

I know my students - introvert, extrovert, brave, shy - can do the same, and I do everything I can to help them reach that goal.

Learn, Good Soul

This has been a difficult and amazing couple of weeks. I went from a small audience of teachers, parents, and writers to a larger audience of the same, and while I'm happy about most of the thoughtful rebuttals I've received, some have cut deep. The pieces I compose late at night, after my kids are asleep, are precious to me. But I asked for it, and I have received. I dreamed of a dual career as teacher and writer, and here it is, spread out before me. 

That said, I was not prepared for the HUGE number of responses to the article I posted last week at The Atlantic that are based on either a topical reading of the title, or a surface reading of paragraphs one, four, or eight, and nothing in between. While I generally appreciate any responses to my midnight scribblings, many have been downright mean. Not thoughtful, not intelligent, just mean. Conversely, and interestingly, the most thoughtful rebuttals I've received this week are from the very smart authors who penned responses to my article in The AtlanticSusan Cain and Katherine Schultz are class acts. Seriously. Amazing women and thinkers. Women who reach out rather than strike out. Writers who understand the difference between clear-eyed response and blind retaliation. Writers who understand that words have weight, no matter how many of them float out there, unedited and misdirected, in the ether of the internet. 

I love thoughtful argument; I even teach it. The Roman's word for 'argument' does not derive from anger or dissent, it signifies persuasion and open debate. That, I respect. That's the definition of argument I teach my students. Extroverts and introverts alike. 

I truly believe in my position regarding class participation and teaching self-advocacy, and Susan Cain and Katherine Schultz truly believe in theirs. And yet - shocker - they are open to discussion where so many of their devotees are not. So many want to hurl insults while the women who lead the charge of the introverts/shy/social anxiety audience are the most open to dialogue. 

I am a teacher. I love what I do, and when I write, it is to open dialogue. I write to learn. I write to become a better teacher. I've read every comment to every post I've ever published, and I take most of them to heart. Some - the mean ones - I try to brush off, but even that is hard. A few of my nearest and dearest know I've shed tears over the most vitriolic comments and blog posts, and I've even lost sleep over the ones that have accused me of not respecting and my students with everything I am.

I've had great writing mentors who have instructed me not to read comments at all, to have someone I trust read and give percentages regarding positive and negative opinions, but as a teacher, I feel obligated to learn from what I write. I tell my students to be open to criticism, and therefore, I model the same. 

This week, I have a new article coming that will open new discussions, because that's why I do what I do. I write about the art of teaching and what makes for a good teacher. I have my dream job, and frankly, it would be much easier for me to keep my mouth shut and teach.

But if we are going to improve what we do, if we are going to become better educators, we need to talk publicly about our practices and find ways to learn from others.

And that's why I do what I do. So take your best shot. I'm here, and I'm listening.