The Price of Success?

Is it our national ECDD program (“Every Child Dumbed Down,” more commonly known as “No Child Left Behind”) that has warped our children to equate success with getting the right answers on a test? Or did the attitude precede that – success is making A’s, and you make A’s by getting right answers?

There’s nothing wrong with right answers. The problem comes when our quest (obsession?) for success prevents us from trying anything that we don’t know in advance that we can succeed at. “No, I’m going to skip the AP version of that class so I can be sure and pass.” (Or for the GPA hounds, “So I can get an A.”) Where’s the adventure in that? But maybe we don’t want adventure unless we can be sure and succeed at it.

I’ve done some sports bashing over the years – complaining about how sports has, for some, become a new national religion. Maybe in my haste I was throwing out the baby with the bathwater. Maybe the academic side needs to imbibe some of the “Citius, Altius, Fortius” (the Olympic motto – “Faster, Higher, Stronger”) attitude. That’s sure better than just doing enough to get by (what our state proficiency tests seem to be requiring).

We – the academic types – can also profit from the team aspect of sports. What can we do to get to the point where we think, “We will do better when I work harder and exert myself.” A team is made up of people of varying abilities and skills who all work together, for both the common good and individual good of the participants. Can we encourage, challenge and provoke each other? Can we dare (not letting the miscreants steal the word) each other to go beyond what each thinks he or she can do?

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2 Responses to The Price of Success?

  1. Kim says:

    Christi and I discussed this last summer — our 3A high school offers AP courses but usually a good chunk of the top 10 in the class, not to mention usually the valedictorian and salutatorian, did not take any. The school seems to think that a letter grade boost for AP classes seems to be enough, but it is obvious when AP students are regularly left out of the top 10 that it ain’t working. My son John couldn’t kick his AP English grade up over a C (usually was a 78 or 79), which meant he got credit for a “regular” B, and yet he made a 4 out of a possible 5 on the college AP exam … for which he credits his highly demanding AP English teacher.

    I’m proud of John for seeking challenges instead of a way to slide through. I don’t necessarily think he always does his best — too many nights hanging out with friends at Starbucks — but he is a Thinker, and someday maybe he’ll learn to marry that to consistent effort. In fact, last evening we had a rare family meal out, and between Will (20), John (17), and I (age deliberately unspecified), the main topic of conversation was the effect of death on consciousness, the Hellenic idea of the body as a “vessel” for the soul as opposed to the Hebrew idea of whole-self integration, what does it mean that we are surrounded by a “great cloud of witnesses,” and once we die, do we exist outside of time … and they were the ones to bring it up and elaborate on it.

    Will drove us crazy because he had no interest in school, and yet is obviously (to us) brilliant, particularly on the philosophical/psychological/theological level. I have had to reconcile myself to allowing him to bloom in his own time, and to admit that he never really “belonged” to me … I never was more than a steward of this terrific human being. So, I wait … while he works delivery jobs and doesn’t seem to notice the deafening rattle in his car’s engine and plays video games when I wish he’d read … and although he hasn’t made it to church since Easter, suddenly last night he started telling me what he’s learning by reading Isaiah.

    I think it happened in part because I stopped quizzing him about his plans and started sharing my own life with him. The one thing I feel certain I’ve done right is to share my passions with these brilliant young men — I read them The Lord of the Rings trilogy and The Hobbit before they were able to read it themselves; we made it through the Chronicles of Narnia set both as a trio and individually many times; and, yes, in turn they hooked me on Harry Potter. I’ve told them all the stories I know about John, Samuel, Susanna, Charles Wesley; I read them Bill Bennett’s the Book of Virtues; they separately got trips to Boston (including Lexington, Concord, Plymouth, and Cape Cod) where we read every plaque and ate every lobster tail and clam belly in Massachusetts.

    Come to think of it, they’ve taught me something important. Something about the joy of learning, and how sometimes you don’t get it in school. However, wherever you get it, hang on tight. It’s both a gift and a reward.

  2. JAy. says:

    Just found your blog (through Guy Williams; thanks, Guy). I have to say that I agree completely with your comments here-in.

    I am also concerned by the extreme focus placed on the education system to pass a standardized test. As I recall from school, my teachers never concentrated on standardized test preparation. We just studied our education skills. By pressing us towards continued knowledge, the test prep came on its own. We didn’t have to worry about passing our basic skills test. Because they were considered just that, basic skills. Education required progress beyond the basic, and so we all learned to move past what was tested.

    Admittedly, I was always in the more advanced classes in school. But my school’s passing rate on standardized tests was very high, so the shool as a whole had to be doing pretty well.

    Just a quick thought. Thanks for bringing up the topic!


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