In my last post, I talked being able to relate to the experience of the makers of the documentary Most Likely to Succeed, because my kids don’t like school.
Their dislike of school started at a young age, but at this point I will admit that I might not be helping any. Because I also identified with the narrator when he realized that what he was telling his child about school – that you need to do well in school to get a good job – wasn’t true. In the past I’ve used statements, almost exactly like the ones he used, when talking to my own kids. Things like —
“You want to flip burgers the rest of your life? If not, you’ve got to do well in school.”
And when they’ve complained about students who don’t pull their weight in group projects, I know I’ve said —
“That’s why you want to do well in school. So you can get a job where you don’t have to work with people like that.”
We expected our kids to do well in school, buying in to the thought that if you do well in school you’ll succeed. For our kids, when they did their best that meant they would end up among the top of their class.
But the thing is, all my research shows that to be a false assumption.
Yes, you are going to have to study hard to get something like an engineering degree. But you don’t necessarily have to be at the top of your class to do so.
Doing well in school will not necessarily translate into doing well in your career or life.
So I’ve started being honest with my kids about that. Because I worry that part of the despair and anxiety that students in this country are suffering is caused by them sensing the futility of their efforts. Something about the fight for good grades and getting to the top just feels artificial. As much as we want to discount the ideals and insight of youth with their lack of experience, our kids aren’t dumb. I think they know better than we do, that they’re in a game they can’t win. That no matter how hard they work, there will always be someone who out-performs them. And in our highly connected world, it’s as easy as a Google search to find someone better than you.
So for the most part kids put their trust in us, the adults, and blindly trudge on.
With all the homework they get assigned they don’t really have time to do anything else.
In light of this, we’re trying to change how our family thinks about school and homework. But in spite of our shift in attitude, our kids are still having trouble letting go of the details. They still work to get the best grades. And here I am saying that’s wasted effort. At the same time, there is value in striving for excellence and I cringe at teaching that out of them. I’m sure the mixed signals don’t help my kids any. It’s not a good situation.
I saw this best explained in either the Most Likely to Succeed film or book when it was called “the prisoner’s dilemma.” In short, taking all the hard classes and not getting enough sleep isn’t a good answer. And taking easier classes that bore you to tears isn’t a good answer either. But you’re forced to pick one not-good answer over the other. The prisoner’s dilemma.
I’ll admit it was kind of a relief for our dilemma to be validated. In Excellent Sheep, Deresiewicz mentioned that he had heard parents say something similar, but he gave the impression that he didn’t really buy into the idea. And I think I got a similar impression from The Price of Privilege: How Parental Pressure and Material Advantage Are Creating a Generation of Disconnected and Unhappy Kids, Levine Madeline PhD.D
But this problem is very real. It is very hard to have your child choose a class with less homework, when they want to take a class with a punishing schedule because they like the interaction in the classroom. It’s difficult to tell a kid who wants to take the hard route to take the easy way out.
I’m still actively working on what to tell my kids about doing well in school. How much is it really worth? Do you currently have kids in high school? What do you think?
In my next post, I’ll look at how school evolved into what it is today, and whether or not that will work for tomorrow.
More articles in this series and review of Most Likely to Succeed
- Most Likely to Succeed Documentary Review and Discussion – Part 1/11
- I hate school – Most Likely to Succeed, Part 2/11 Does your kid hate school? Do kids they really hate it because they have to work hard and they are lazy, or is there another reason?
- How important is doing well in school to success? – Most Likely to Succeed Part 3/11 Have you told your kid that it’s for important so they can get a good job? How important is doing well in school to success?
- We don’t need human calculators, so why are we training them? – Most Likely to Succeed, Part 4/11 Our education system was designed to train workers for jobs that are being replaced by machines. It’s outdated.
- Fear of Failure in Education – Most Likely to Succeed Part 5/11 Schools are as much afraid of failing the test as students are, in spite of it not being a guarantee of success.
- High Tech High – Most Likely to Succeed Part 6/11 In search of a new model for teaching, an alternative to memorizing facts and to regurgitate them on tests – High Tech High.
- Project Based Learning – Most Likely to Succeed Part 7/11 Most Likely to Succeed presents the best solution I’ve seen to the problems of run-away tests and hours of homework – project based learning.
- Grades – What are they for? Most Likely to Succeed Part 8/11 What do student grades mean? Are they a measure for improving learning? Or a way to rank kids against each other so we can identify the “best” kids?
- The problems with group projects – Most Likely to Succeed Part 9/11 For group projects like those portrayed at High Tech High in Most Likely to Succeed, schools will have to structure, teach and grade projects differently.
- Cut the School Curriculum – Most Likely to Succeed Part 10/11 To change learning to be more in-depth the way it is presented in Most Likely to Succeed, we’re going to have to cut the school curriculum.
- Most Likely to Succeed – Learn more Part 11/11 Change the antiquated structure of education to prepare students for jobs and create happier, healthier, more creative individuals.