Dear Lydia

I’m a 25-year-old female history teacher, and I feel like I sound like a Boomer for what I’m about to say… but it’s true! Many kids these days (see how it starts?) face very few obstacles from the moment they’re born until they get to my 10th-grade history class. Parents seem fixated on removing barriers, knocking down hurdles, and coddling kids when they run into discomfort.

At the same time, we are seeing an increased value placed on ideas like “SEL,” “resilience,” and “growth mindset.” The problem is, if we don’t see obstacles, from my perspective, it’s darn near impossible to build resilience. And, if we create obstacles, we create enemies of parents.

So here’s my question … How can I help build these kids into well-adapted individuals without getting put on the PTA’s blacklist?


Boutta B. Blacklisted

Dear Boutta,

First, I get it. The damage being done by helicopter parents or lawnmower parents or tiger moms or whatever they’re calling it this week … it’s going to be stark. 

Dr. Wendy Mogel has detailed it in her books (“Blessing of a Skinned Knee” and “Blessing of a B-”) and she got the attention of a few of us. She famously said, “If we want to raise young adults who know how to solve problems, we must let them have problems to solve while they are still adolescents.” You’re exactly right, a quality SEL-education must come complete with challenges, obstacles, failure, and pain. It’s part of the process. Maybe the most important part. 

So, how do you build in challenges and failures without alerting the Mommy Mob? That’s tricky stuff. But I’m here to tell you there’s a path forward and it’s all thanks to an Austrian guy from the 1800s. 

Ludwig von Mises looked at the way people made decisions, how they innovated, and how they brought new ideas to bear. He boiled it all down to a simple theory he called the “Human Action Model,” which states that the following three components must be present for a person to be driven to act ― a sense of unease, a vision of a better state, and the belief that the vision is attainable. Take a moment to reflect and consider the times in your life when you were called to take action ― maybe it was deciding to become a teacher, or opting to break things off with your significant other. Do you see how all three components came together to inspire your action? It shows us that all progress starts with discomfort; all great ideas begin with a challenge. It’s time to bring Ludwig right into your classroom. 

As you walk through history, start to diagram the model. What was the “sense of unease” for Harriet Tubman? What was MLK’s “vision of a better state”? How did Thomas Jefferson see a “believable path” to that better state? Get these kids not just familiar with discomfort but looking for it. As they start to see it in the biggest inflection points in history, help them bring it down to their own lives ― in and outside of school. Challenge them to consider their goals and the path toward achieving them. Ask them to consider where they are dissatisfied with their lives and how they could change it. What do they not like about their community? You’ll be inspiring these budding social entrepreneurs in no time.

You’ll see it start to click in each kid at a different moment, like popcorn popping throughout your semester. Using this framework throughout your lessons, your activities, and even your relationships with the students, your class will start to take a different shape. In just weeks, you’ll have successfully introduced a framework that helps your students to see challenges as  opportunities to do something great. 

Happy teaching. Stay Empowered,


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