Teddy Graubard’s life and death is a painful reminder of the pressures many of our students feel in school–particularly in independent schools in America. Considering the many factors outlined in this essay, which contributed to Graubaud’s death (his academic dishonesty on an exam, drive for achievement, his sense of honor, mild form of Asberger’s syndrome, and theories about impulsive suicide), what lessons might we learn as educators? As schools?
I think that Carol Dweck’s theory about fixed and growth mindsets that she outlines in her book, Mindset, add an important lens for educators looking at this tragic case. Here is a boy whose mindset was fixed in certain ways. Could he see that he could grow from this mistake in character? Could he know that not a one of us is perfect in character or intellect? Despite the fact that Teddy worked very hard intellectually, athletically, and socially to meet the high standards that he set for himself, I don’t think that he ever considered that he might fail. When he stumbled, or “failed” in his character, he got lost in the emotional enormity of that failure, and the results were tragic.
I think as educators we can help our children understand that we all fail- physically, intellectually, socially, and, unfortunately, morally. We cannot let our students zoom so far in to the idea that they should be perfect that they can’t zoom out to gain perspective when they make mistakes.
When I saw the Dahli Llama speak in Atlanta a few years ago, he said, in answer to a question about how to reduce the amount of teen suicide occurring in Eastern countries, that students need to think outside themselves. The Dhali Llama promotied the idea of community service as a way to help all teens find perspective.
I agree with this solution. To some extent, when we are sad or angry, we are focused so minutely on ourselves that the problem, by contrast, seems bigger than we can handle. Looking outside of ourselves and our problems helps us to find perspective in ways that can help us cope with larger emotional issues.
Of course, I am not suggesting that if Teddy had done community service then he would have been fine. However, I do think that he needed someone there with him after he heard the news to help him zoom out of the situation. To let him know that a moral mistake was not the end of the world. While it was a big deal, he made it the end of his his world, and someone should have been there to help him see that his world a was bigger than that moment of failure.