Confessions of an Overachieving Parent, Part IV

By: Matt Mitchell, Head of School

Dominion offers a compelling college-preparatory education combining the best of the time-tested classical model with the latest beneficial educational options in the context of a Christian worldview. We are passionate about the liberal arts and about helping each child achieve to his or her fullest God-given potential. Yet, we also recognize that the culture of Northern Virginia often creates unique challenges for parents. The following blog post is an installment in a series of reflections that will be posted from Matt Mitchell, our Head of School, as he shares observations, perspectives, and personal experiences in support of balancing the pursuit of excellence with the pursuit of reasonableness.

Last summer, Mrs. Bricker attended a conference of the Society for Classical Learning where a presenter challenged the audience to consider the importance of “the liturgies of small talk.” As he unpacked the concept, the presenter suggested that our communication conveys to our children what we value, whether we mean to do so or not.

The presenter went on to offer the example of graduating seniors. “What is the first question that every adult asks of a high school senior?” he asked. We all know the answer: “Where are you applying for college?” What’s the second question? Yes, there it is on the tip of all our tongues: “What do you plan to study?” As they take in the questions asked of them, soon-to-be graduates get a picture of what adults in their lives value. He invited the audience to ponder what it would look like to make small talk more meaningful. How might it become more focused? More elevated? Less anxiety-producing?

In a related vein, I was recently talking to one of my older children about growing up in what is largely an over-anxious generation. I really do not think that this child feels those pressures as intensely as some. If I’m being honest about my personal pride, I would like to think that the absence of anxiety is because my wife and I don’t exert pressure. So, imagine my surprise, conviction, and sorrow when I learned this child’s response to a question about whether or not there is a culture of pressure at Dominion: “The only time I feel that way is when you tell people about what I’m studying or when you share information that communicates how rich Dominion is academically.” The remark was authentic, not mean-spirited.

Some of you may identify with my desire to go back to school in order to benefit from the classical education in which our children are investing their time at Dominion. I often envy the books they are reading and the discussions they are having with their peers. In my enthusiasm for what they are learning, I caused my child a sense of needing to “live up to” the expectation that my children are receiving an excellent education.

What we say – not just to our children, but also in front of them – leaves an impression. That’s a little frightening. What are the things we convey that we do not intend? Where are we missing the opportunity to convey the things that we value? A consideration of the liturgies of small talk invites us to choose our words carefully.