• Jeni Kelsch

The Girl

Updated: Jun 20, 2018

Or how to fail at educating without really trying...



It started with my oldest son. He loved eighth grade. He loved it so much he almost repeated it.

His teachers called me in time after time with, “He’s such a bright boy, we think, but he hasn’t turned in a single assignment, so we don’t know for sure.” Remarkably, he graduated middle school and went on to achieve great things in high school which led to scholarships and honors in college. It was like we planned it; fail early, succeed when it counts. Except it wasn’t a plan.


Enter the girl. The girl walked into eighth grade having barely noticed seventh, which had been followed by a bleary-eyed glance into sixth and fifth. She basically had never proven she had ever attended anything called school. Save from a few pictures and some half-finished math books, there was no evidence of her pursuit of knowledge. I had not forgotten the boy and I knew eighth grade was going to be tough on me. I shored myself up for the emails and phone calls I was going to receive. The hardest part of parenting was about to occur again. I was going to have to let her fail, and hope she followed the same playbook as her brother. I hesitated, maybe we just got lucky before, maybe this is a bad idea. But bad or not it was all I had. “You have to pass eighth grade.”, I informed her. “What?” she asked as she glanced casually in my general direction. “ I said, you have to pass eighth grade, the first time, this year.” I clarified. I didn’t want to leave any loopholes. “Sigh”, was her reply. I took that to mean, “Yes mother, it shall be done!” I didn’t want her casual attitude to trickle down any farther so I started taking the younger ones on hikes to do their math.

“Where are we going?”, they asked.

“To do Mountain Math”, I answered.

“What’s Mountain Math ?”,they whined, fearing some lofty goaled (pun intended) new math type thingy.

“Well, do you remember the story of Abraham, and how he took Isaac up onto the mountain, and he was going to kill him but the angel of the Lord gave him a ram instead? Sheep herding isn’t a thing here. Do your math or you don’t come down.” (Bible threats are so powerful!)


I don’t know if my hard line with math will affect my younger ones, or if my original idea of letting them fail to succeed will work. But the girl passed eighth grade by the skin of her teeth and for some reason I will never fully understand, has managed to rise to the occasion of high school. I asked her about it recently, to which she responded, “Sigh”. I took that to mean, “My mother, my inspiration, I have you to thank, for letting me fail early, well, and often, and for giving you absolutely nothing to brag about on Facebook. For that mother, I thank you. Want to see my report card?”