Lesson 5. Don’t let the best be the enemy of the good: letting go of perfection
Sometimes our desire for the best education for our children can be problematic. In his essay, “Learning in War-Time”, C.S. Lewis says something we appreciated especially during the early years of Trinitas: “The only people who achieve much are those who want knowledge so badly that they seek it while the conditions are still unfavourable. Favourable conditions never come.”
“Unfavourable” certainly described some of the conditions of our first year. As it turned out, our school moved three times that year. Someone suggested we change our tagline to something more trendy: “Trinitas—a school without walls.” In those early years, we also had a fair amount of teacher turnover for part-time positions – always in August.
Those were pretty significant imperfections. There were plenty of others, but our families were committed to making this wonderful thing work. Sometimes it is easier to persevere when things outside your control happen. But, what about those things that seem to be in your control? What about when, for example, you see imperfections and you feel like you could be doing things better yourself? Or, you think the grass must be greener on the other side of that other school’s fence. You’ve invested time and money and you’re used to doing or having things your own way. First, look for the good (we’ll have more to say about that in Lesson 6). Second, remember to be humble, charitable, and patient. All good things take time.
We’ve been talking about not expecting perfection from your school. What about from your child?
A Trinitas alum offers this advice: Demand some level of work for everything, but remember your kids don’t need to do their best at everything. This student remembered that she and her siblings all had to prepare for the spelling bee and the speech meet, but their parents let them prepare to varying degrees depending on their interests.
As a final reminder not to let your desire for the best keep you from the good, we have a “dramatic” example to share. In the early years of our school, we wanted to do a student play but were hesitant because we thought we probably couldn’t produce an excellent enough show. We were a classical school, right? We should probably have 3rd graders performing Macbeth! Then, one day, another parent asked about doing a short reader’s theater performance of a story from the students’ history book.
The Trinitas Reader’s Theater program was born—students spend only a few rehearsals reading through a play, they throw together their own costumes and any “sets” and props they want. Sometimes they make puppets. There’s no memorization. They give a performance near the end of a school day, to the delight of all. Since those humble beginnings, the program has further expanded into our new Latin at Lunchtime plays.
It’s all very low pressure; you could say the standards aren’t high. But that, we discovered, is the beauty of it. We have remarkably high levels of participation because it’s not intimidating—students who are scared of the spotlight end up loving it, and everyone feels a sense of accomplishment in working together to share a great story. Had we let our desire for a “perfect” play rule the day, it could well have prevented us from having any plays. The best can be the enemy of a very good thing.
An important part of letting go of perfection is not complaining. We’ll talk about that in Lesson 6.