Very rarely do I come across a quote that so deeply resonates with me and touches every part of my life. Recently, I found myself completely absorbed in the book How to Raise an Adult by Julie Lythcott-Haims. Throughout the book, she so clearly and eloquently states what I think and feel about my profession and role as a mom, with one part in particular leaving a lasting impression:
I believe in humans. I believe that all of us should have the right and chance to make our way in the world. I believe this, not only for the sake of each individual but for the sake of a world that gains a little bit when any one of us figures out who we are, what we’re good at, what we love, and what we value, and then works very hard to be the very best version of that self we can muster.
As I read that paragraph, I couldn’t help but think about how it relates to the involvement of parents and educators in their child’s educational process. We want what’s best for them and often dream for them, but in the process forget that they also have to dream.
Sometimes we need reminders that the path leading to their life is best travelled by them.
Second semester always ushers in conversations about planning out a student’s high school schedule, sometimes for the rest of their life. As I begin to have these conversations, I often reflect on a former student of mine who taught me that school and learning is about so much more than what the adults believe to be the perfect schedule.
She was one of my favorites; quirky, brilliant, and opinionated. Our conversations almost always ended up a bit heated with mainstream ideas and beliefs being challenged. She liked to silently buck the system, and at a young age, developed the ability to think for herself.
When she was younger, the district identified her as gifted and she attended our elementary magnet program for highly capable students. By the time she arrived in my office as a 7th grader, she had been told repeatedly by the school that she is special and destined for great things. What I quickly learned is those great things that everyone else had defined for her did not matter in her world.
“I want to work with my hands; I want to learn to weld,” she said to me.
Those were the first words she spoke after coming into my office one day. As a 10th grader who had been following the high achiever path since birth, the pressure to continue on the AP track is fierce. Students often feel they cannot veer off the high achiever course without repercussions. I was excited to hear that she wanted to explore something she loves and equally saddened by the pressure I felt to deliver the programmed message about course selection and the fear of closing doors on her future.
Educators and students face a lot of pressure to plan the perfect high school schedule and academic career for students. I often find myself running through the generic checklist that was created by some utopian ideal who thought it would be a great idea to completely kill students desire to learn. This checklist becomes some sort of mantra that defines high school for so many kids: take every AP class you possibly can, make sure you get A’s in all of your classes, run for ASB (preferably for president), letter in 3 sports and be captain of at least one of them, volunteer somewhere, anywhere. It doesn’t matter if you actually like
what you’re doing — this is only for your college and scholarship applications.
Students who buy into this method of education end up doing school rather than learning for the love of learning. They stop thinking, or in some cases, were never taught how to think. If they are told to view school as a means to an end, they are never afforded the opportunity to try something that might ignite a passion, creating new opportunities for learning and bringing a richer meaning to their lives.
The student in this article recently shared with me how this method of doing school continues on in college:
I think that there is a stigma that college is the ‘be all end all’. Kids work hard and sacrifice a lot to get into the ‘right’ college. Then once they are there, they keep stressing over schoolwork to make sure they get into the right grad school or get the perfect job. There’s not a lot of room in that plan to do something that you are passionate about or that gives you joy.
According to research done by Denise Pope for her book Doing School: How We Are Creating a Generation of Stressed Out, Materialistic, and Miseducated Students kids “do school” but don’t end up learning, they experience tremendous stress (not good stress, but psychologically damaging stress) from this approach, and they adopt a “whatever it takes” mind-set. She has found that after years of watching students move through the system, it feels like we are missing the opportunity to promote the rigor and mastery necessary to develop thinkers, and instead we have set standards for students to check a list to get them to move to the next phase in their life.
Often times, the adults in their world take away their ability to dream and make decisions. We fault them for not being able to articulate precisely what they want to do; in reality they do know what they want, we just don’t quiet our own voice long enough to listen to what they have to say.
Fortunately for the girl in this story, she came from a family that supported her decisions to veer a bit off the high-achiever path; they raised her to think for herself and provided a foundation that allowed her to see that education is about so much more than what is learned in a book. And as for her academic success: she was Valedictorian of her graduating class and, in completing her college applications, chose to write about lessons learned in 5th period shop class.
Photo credit: Barta IV
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Sara Lindberg is a wife, mother, and full-time secondary school counselor. Combining her 20-plus years’ experience in the fitness and counseling fields, she has found her passion in inspiring other women to be the best version of themselves. When she is not running, working with teenagers, or driving her own kids crazy, she manages a Facebook page called FitMom. Sara has a B.S. in exercise science and a M.Ed. in counseling. She does not consider herself a writer, just a woman with a lot of random thoughts and access to a computer. She gains inspiration for her writing from her 6-year-old son, Cooper, and 8-year-old daughter, Hanna.