Thursday, February 8, 2007
Hey Homeschoolers - What Does Success Mean To You?
David Brooks, senior editor of The Weekly Standard, once posed this question: "If your kid was accepted at Harvard, but you secretly thought he or she would be happier at Bennington, would you have the guts to turn Harvard down?" This to me is a really intriguing question, as it highlights the very reasons why we homeschool.
As homeschoolers we have said no to the pressure-filled meritocratic system that organized schooling has come to represent. A meritocratic system rewards achievement for achievement's sake. It is an environment that fosters kids not to take risks because success is so important, and failure is so detrimental in many ways. Kids learn that if they stick to the things they are good at, rather than the thing they have a passion for or an interest in, then it is easier for them to succeed. What end does that produce? People going into professions that may make them money or status, but ultimately professions that they don't really enjoy or will limit their ability and time to do the things they really love. Organized schooling makes the great mistake of rewarding being a good student rather than having a passion for what is being learned. Anyone can learn to be a good student and play the game of pleasing the teacher to get the coveted “A”. The time spent in the meritocratic system is one which energies are spent on obtaining that goal of perfection that everyone else defines for you. As a homeschooler your child most likely is the one defining his or her own success. To that end, we are usually more successful because we put value on our passions and interests.
This is not to say that homeschoolers ignore the rigors of education. I know some homeschoolers that study and work very hard. Their hard work is usually self imposed and self motivated. In cases where it is mom or dad who defines the goals, they at least do it with the child's' abilities and interests in mind. In a typical school setting this usually is not the case as kids must all conform to the cookie cutter, and are pushed to excel in areas they are not interested in, nor wish to be interested in. That is where the kids learn to play the game of doing just whatever it takes to get the "A". It never means they learn anything that will stick in the process.
I have heard a number of times from admissions counselors that they are weary of reading the applications that demonstrate how the usual high school applicant has traveled to the Himalayas, cured a fatal disease, single-handedly started a non-profit corporation, and are fluent in 5 languages. They are refreshed to see a person who is well rounded and has a passion for a particular field of study. Amidst that passion they love to hear what you have done with it.
The kid with the perfect SAT scores and phenomenal accomplishments are the ones who most likely have not had much time with family, or relationships in general, or time for themselves. They most likely are the types that drive themselves so hard that it is just a matter of time before they will self-destruct. They are the ones who will achieve so much but never know who they really are, because they haven't given themselves the time to explore who they are. They are the very kids who have learned that success means they must sell their souls for money and work 40 hours overtime each week at some high priced Wall Street firm rather than learning to live a spiritually satisfying life doing what they love to do.
I think we forget that like most things, success and reaching ones goals is not the destination but it is the journey. As homeschoolers we can be successful in the pursuit of learning, getting into a good college, exploring career opportunities, winning contests and scholarships. I think we are successful not because we have killed ourselves or played some game to get there, but because our achievements come along with the natural course of what we are doing. It's like the old saying," Do what you love to do and the money will come after it."
So do you have the true test of character? Would you allow your child to find out what their true calling, passion, and interest is and pursue it even if it doesn't meet the rest of the world's criteria of success? Will your child be different from the child who graduates from an outstanding university with all kinds of achievements, not having a clear sense of what their mission in life is or who they are? Or will they remain excited in what they are doing and truly follow their dreams and create success and achievement in that? Would you reject Harvard?
Note: This article, written by me, was printed in the fall 2004 edition of the Journal of College Admissions – Special Homeschool issue.