At the intersection of writing and life with the author of the Cameron Ballack mysteries

Sunday, May 24, 2015

Trying To Draw a Breath

To the mom of one of my students who emailed me this weekend, I know that there might be some disappointment in my failure to respond.

Actually, it was no failure. It was selective non-response. It is not intended to offend. It is intended to do the right thing.

For one thing, I had enough on my mind this weekend. Finishing a sermon for today was part of it. And even before I got to the weekend, my mom called with news that her brother and my uncle Bob was in a severe biking accident, suffering a traumatic head injury. Bob is still unconscious in a hospital in Greensboro with family hoping for more definitive progress beyond the slow signs of hope shown so far. So yes, I've been distracted.

Then there's grades. Grading final exams, finalizing semester grades by Wednesday morning at 8 a.m. Got them in the computer today.

Oh yeah, that's what brings me back to that email. It was about grades. Wondering if there were some issues with this mom's son (my silent answer: no), he's been such a hard worker (my silent agreement: yes), and he needs to make at least an A-minus for his GPA.

Whoa. Excuse me? Needs to?

Hence my non-response. But I'll share it with everyone here: You do not need to make a certain grade. Ever.

You should do your best. You should be diligent, careful, and conscientious in your approach and preparation. You should consider your gifts and try to put yourself in areas where you might flourish and enjoy your educational years. You should never quit. And above all, you should love learning for learning's sake.

But you do NOT need to make a certain grade.

You do NOT need to be in a specific academic track to be judged as a success.

And above all, you should NEVER bow in the temple of the twin idols of Achievement and Accolade, because eventually those gods will fail you, and the river that you want to satisfy you will run dry and you WILL die of thirst.

Why the anger, you ask?

Because kids are despairing. Students are walking around as hyper-driven academic shells while losing their souls. And some are killing themselves over it. A National Review article bears this out by showing what has been going on in Palo Alto (CA) high schools, a crucible in which, as the article says "achievement-obsessed students need to know that life is worth living regardless of your grades."

I am fully aware this obsession-turned-despair can come from various sources. Yes, it can come from a school environment that pours on the steam and doesn't consider--hey, these are just kids. (See one Palo Alto student's excursus on this matter here) Of course, there can be the case of students who are self-critical, highly-perfectionstic, and neurotically driven to success at any cost. And then, there are parents who feed this beast.

The more I'm involved in teaching, the more thankful I am for the perspective my own parents gave me. They prodded me to know I was entirely capable and had all the tools to succeed. However, the end product (grades) was secondary to the eternal value of the diligence and integrity I put into my effort and the love and passion I had for learning. In short, the intangibles far outweighed the tangibles.

And yes, that's what we tell our children, every day. Especially our daughter Lindsay, who attends the school where I teach and knows a thing or two about the highly pressurized academic fishbowl it can be. And I will NOT be a parent who demands a grade as the validating measuring stick of her value.

Parents, I'm talking to you. Your children were made for more than this, as I've shared previously. Your kids are designed to be honorable and faithful no matter what is on their transcript. And if you ever give them the impression their transcript is their identity, you have become Palo Alto.

And yes, I will be saying that whenever needed. Count on it.

And now, I'm going on to more important things. Like getting an update on Uncle Bob's progress.


Robert Marshall Murphy said...

In 1960, 16% of grades were As. Now, it is 49%. Are three times smarter?!

Luke H. Davis said...

I'm saying it's more like inversely proportional. Like how the amount of information in the world doubles every fifteen months, but the amount of wisdom sure doesn't!