Raising The Floor For My Kids and what “Grit” Really Means
Although they would almost certainly not express it this way, wealthy parents choose a school like Riverdale for their children, at least in part, as a risk-management strategy. If you look at the list of successful Riverdale alumni, you’ll see some impressive names on it— Carly Simon, Chevy Chase, Robert Krulwich, the governor of Pennsylvania, and the junior U.S. senator from Connecticut— but for a school that has been producing highly privileged graduates for 104 years, it boasts very few real world-changers. (Sorry, Chevy.)
Traditionally, the purpose of a school like Riverdale is not to raise the ceiling on a child’s potential achievement in life but to raise the floor, to give him the kinds of connections and credentials that will make it very hard for him ever to fall out of the upper class. What Riverdale offers parents, above all else, is a high probability of nonfailure.
The problem, as Randolph has realized, is that the best way for a young person to build character is for him to attempt something where there is a real and serious possibility of failure. In a high-risk endeavor, whether it’s in business or athletics or the arts, you are more likely to experience colossal defeat than in a low-risk one— but you’re also more likely to achieve real and original success.
“The idea of building grit and building self-control is that you get that through failure,” Randolph explained. “And in most highly academic environments in the United States, no one fails anything.”