The American education system ought to be about helping students explore their unique potential and interests. Instead, we ask all kids to grapple with a lot of stuff and only reward those students who have the skill of making good grades.
School success should be about developing talents and not about
how well a kid manages assignments, teachers, and rules. We all know geniuses who barely scrape by in the classroom. Or how about those students (maybe even at my house) who coast along in a class, bored out of their skulls--and pass by acing the final with their stellar test-taking abilities? Why can't all of the above kids be celebrated, encouraged, and challenged?
When my daughters were still in elementary school, I remember one of them plaintively asking why she hadn't been called to the stage on Awards Day. The best answer I could give was "because the school doesn't give out prizes for the things you're good at."
In the 1980s, Howard Gardner, a professor at Harvard's graduate school of education, identified 8 intelligences, such as logical/mathematical, naturalistic, and intrapersonal. I know that schools do support many of these "IQs." Kids who are "body smart" can play sports. If you have musical talent, you can join choir or band. The emphasis on reading and writing works out well for students who are good with words.
For over 30 Years, we've known that "book smart" is only one of the many IQs, yet schools still maintain a rigid focus on academics.
There are plenty of deeply valuable intelligences that go un-nourished. What about the student who can quickly see the patterns in a problem and fix it? Or the quietly-effective leader who paves the way to teamwork? Or the kid who has brilliant ideas but is not-so-great at execution? America needs all of them to soar.
High schools create graduates who are expected to succeed at math, English, foreign languages, science, history, fine arts or sports, and other whimsy shoveled onto transcripts by state legislatures. Why? (One of my subscribers sent me a link to some such insanity being forced on high school seniors in Utah.)
This makes no sense. How many jobs require an employee to be good at all of those subjects? Not many. In fact, most companies are delighted to find applicants who are excellent in one specific area.
So there's the paradox--your high school wants to graduate generalists, and the business world wants to hire specialists with a niche skill.
Maybe a better plan is to create an educational system that honors the unique characteristics of each student--a system that can allow broad and brief exposure to core subjects while encouraging students to specialize in their natural gifts.
Bottom line: A traditional high school is designed to nurture those who are good at academics, sports, or (sometimes) the arts. If you're great at something else--something very specific or distinctive--hang in there. Universities or community colleges might be your place to shine. And corporate America wants you!
Other posts in this series: