TOP OPINION HEADLINE : PRINCIPAL’S OFFICE: Dear parents, school ‘lists’ aren’t
PRINCIPAL’S OFFICE: Dear parents, school ‘lists’ aren’t what’s important
“Not everything that counts can be counted, and not everything that can be counted, counts.” (Albert Einstein)
Ah, it’s that ambivalent time when we are glad to see our children go back to school but anxious that they be “successful” there.
But what does “successful” mean?
Most of us think we know what we want from our child’s schooling. We want our child to climb to the top of an academic list, be the best basketball player in B.C. or have his name inscribed on the honour roll. Our child’s “success” is, thus, measured by how far up he or she makes it on various school lists.
But these “lists” are fleeting and unimportant things.
“Top physics student,” “honour roll in both semesters,” “perfect attendance” or “best basketball player in Coquitlam” will mean little the moment kids leave high school.
Much of the longing we feel for them to be sorted to the top of various academic, athletic and fine arts lists is our own, vicarious ambition. We want them to “succeed” for themselves, yes, but just as much for us.
In personal and professional hindsight, I am convinced that it is things we don’t and can’t measure with foundation skills assessment tests, basketball games and science fair competitions that decide our children’s true success in school.
With adult mentoring, at home and at school, our children learn to accept responsibility for their education and their life. They learn to collaborate, to work with a team towards a common goal. They learn to strive, to work hard at things they enjoy and plow through things they don’t. They gain immeasurable self- esteem.
They learn to set and keep schedules. They learn to make good friends. They learn citizenship and respect for diversity. They will enjoy school life and be happy. They will look forward to the future.
They will blossom as their own person.
These are the important things we should judge schools on, not on how high they sort our child on whatever list we feel most important or how high the Fraser Institute sorts our schools on its incredibly meaningless lists.
Each year, we push, encourage, nag and sign our children up for honours classes. We push them into French immersion, gifted and IB programmes so they can optimize their special talents. We require that they complete their homework before going out to have fun and we get angry with teachers and schools that haven’t helped them scrabble to the top of the list we covet in the way we’d envisioned.
My back-to-school wish for you as a loving parent, then, is that you come to the liberating realization that topping lists is one of the least important things about school.
In fact, the stuff they study is less important than the developmental metamorphosis that we and schools together encourage in them. The “stuff” will come easily if they are happy and feel in charge. The “stuff” will come easily if it is not force fed — if it’s their stuff.
We shouldn’t underestimate what schools contribute in these crucial areas of personal development. Our children need to move past being an appendage of us more than they need to top a list to be worthy or “make us proud.”
Yes, forget the lists and treat them with the disrespect they deserve. They are an arithmetic compilation of subjective judgements that are neither important nor particularly valid.
Dear parents, as one of you as well as a veteran teacher and principal, I offer this advice:
Spend your emotional energy helping your children to own their own schooling. Encourage it.
Maximize your interest and minimize your interventions whenever possible.
Give advice they can take or leave.
Express confidence in them.
Apologize when you screw up, to model taking personal responsibility.
Be sure they know they’re not at school to please you or grandma, but themselves.
And know this: Once they own their education, you need only sit back, share and cheer.