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'Exit the building': School tells parents to let kids problem solve on their own

At one high school in Arkansas, the administration is teaching the parents a lesson about letting children solve their own problems.
/ Source: TODAY Contributor

Parents at Catholic High School for Boys in Little Rock, Arkansas, began the school year this month by receiving a letter from principal Steve Straessle reminding them of the school's decades-old policy against bringing forgotten homework, lunches, or sports equipment to their sons. But after the school posted a picture of the rule on the school Facebook page, it gained the national spotlight.

This sign was posted on the Facebook page of Catholic High School for Boys with the caption: "Welcome to Catholic High. We teach reading, writing, arithmetic, and problem-solving."
This sign was posted on the Facebook page of Catholic High School for Boys with the caption: "Welcome to Catholic High. We teach reading, writing, arithmetic, and problem-solving."Facebook/ Catholic High School for Boys

The reason for the policy is simple, Straessle told TODAY Parents: "Teenage boys will often hit the default switch of calling parents to swoop in and fix problems they encounter. We encourage our boys to fight that inclination and, instead, think how they can solve a problem on their own," he said.

Straessle, who has five children of his own that range in age from 20 to 9, said that the guideline has a secondary purpose to teach the importance of "soft failures." "'Soft failures' are the times when a boy comes up short," he explained. "It's when he forgets his lunch, doesn't make the team, or faces some sort of consequence for behavior that is beneath his character. Soft failures are learning experiences that are the foundation of becoming an adult. Soft failures have never ruined a life. The lack of soft failures has ruined many lives."

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Jessica Lahey, an educator and the author of "The Gift of Failure: How the Best Parents Learn to Let Go So Their Children Can Succeed," told TODAY Parents she agrees with Straessle and his school's policy. "The argument against policies like these — that children can’t be expected to remember everything all the time, and we should not punish them for such lapses — misses the point," she said. "Childhood is a continual, long-term process of learning how to make our way in the world, and parents who short-circuit that education by rescuing their kids are not doing them any favors."

Straessle said the students at his school are "amused" by the attention the policy is receiving, and that accusations in the Facebook comments that imply they are being mistreated makes them laugh. "Every tool a boy needs to solve the problems addressed by the sign are found on our campus," he said. "In the case of the forgotten lunches, boys can get credit in the cafeteria, borrow money from the front office, or bum some food off a buddy. No one goes hungry here." He said the school has not received a single complaint from the school's parents about the rule.

Though he understands parents' desire to help their children, Straessle believes that giving the boys at his school the chance to handle problems or take responsibility for their missteps is as important as any other aspect of their high school educations.

This policy "is intrinsic to our mission of helping parents build self-advocacy, self-reliance, and personal responsibility in our kids," he said. "Educators know that a policy like this is simply one point in a quiver full of educational arrows. It is not cruel or unforgiving. It is a lesson not found in textbooks, but just as vital as calculus or English composition."