How many times do parents and teachers say, “Honey, it’s important to do well in school” or “In order to be successful you need to get good grades”? For many, getting good grades and obtaining recognition for their academic achievements translates into high-paying jobs, valuable life skills, and excellent social skills. However, some experts are noticing that the emphasis on being successful is overshadowing other important life lessons. Inculcating the importance of being successful is significant to a child’s development, but parents and teachers need to realize that instilling “success” as the sole priority in life is drowning out other lessons about being a kind, generous, and an overall good human being.
parents and teachers need to realize that instilling “success” as the sole priority in life is drowning out other lessons about being a kind, generous, and an overall good human being.
In a recent Harvard study, 10,000 middle and high school students from 33 different schools across the country participated in a “kindness survey.” In the survey students were asked what they thought their parents cared about the most: whether they are successful in school, whether they are happy (which is defined as “feeling good most of the time”), or whether they care about others. Almost 80% of students said their parents care most about their academic success. Most of the kids also said that they value their own success as well, essentially mirroring their parents’ views about academic success. This shouldn’t come as a surprise, given that academic success is what parents usually remind their kids the most about and reward for the most.
Of course academic success is important for developing school to work skills, but as Teddy Roosevelt once said, “to educate a man in mind and not morals is to educate a menace to society.” Therefore, our students and children should focus on their studies, but they should also be praised and rewarded for doing things like volunteering at a soup kitchen or befriending the new classmate that just moved to town.
Central Queens Academy participated in the Harvard kindness survey and soon after launched a character education program because the results from the survey revealed that students did not give much value to kindness. This middle school now not only rewards students who receive straight A’s, but they also reward students for being a team player and helping out their community.
One big influence on students’ “success over everything” mindset is the college admissions process. It makes perfect sense for an academic institution to put such heavy weight on grades and test scores. After all, judging a kid’s kindness from a college application is not really feasible. However, colleges could make a more conscientious effort to incentivize good character.
Academic success can open up doors for students, but character education is where they can learn valuable life skills and social skills that are integral to achievement.
This focus on character education is a welcomed trend, but there is still more that can be done. The Harvard study mentioned above, suggest that colleges could “count hours that a student spent taking care of an elderly grandfather or baby sister as much as they count community service work in Costa Rica.” Students of all ages, including those in special education, should learn that being a good person is just as important as being successful. As parents and teachers, teaching our children and students to be mindful of others could also make them more successful. Academic success can open up doors for students, but character education is where they can learn valuable life skills and social skills that are integral to achievement.
The child who is ‘left behind’ most is the one who leaves school without transition readiness.
Dr. James Stanfield, Ed.D.