Redefining Success

After the feedback on yesterday’s blog post , I thought even more about the notion of “college readiness” and “success”.

I grew up looking at many manifestations of the European “sorting” mechanism with a mix of disdain and sadness. “How sad to deny a student a university track when they are in middle school” I thought. And that sorting continues throughout their scholastic career. The first time I sat in on one of those “sorting meetings” in a school, I was taken aback. In another blog I will go into detail about what I learned observing a conseil de classe in France, but I want to talk briefly about what I came to realize about my own country’s system.

We routinely set kids up for failure. We certainly don’t do it intentionally (I don’t think we do, though I sometimes wonder about that as a way to continue an American “elite”), and almost without exception, the teachers I know are doing their best to help kids pass their grade levels or courses. Never the less, we set kids up for failure. As I mentioned yesterday, our graduation rate is only 73% — over 1/4 of our students NEVER MAKE IT OUT OF HIGH SCHOOL! Did you know that there are 8 countries in Europe with graduation rates of over 90%??

What are we doing when we deliver to our students the powerful message that ‘Everyone must graduate from high school’ and then wring our hands as over 25% don’t? We send over 25% of our population into adulthood with the message that they are failures. And then, of course, we have our current commitment to “college for all” when only about 30% are achieving that — and many of those that do are saddled with enormous debt and over a quarter of those can’t even find a job in their major!

We must find the courage to begin to align realities and opportunities. We must begin to develop new ways to help each individual understand their passions, talents, and interests and help them develop structures to take the next step in their journey. And it doesn’t matter if they are in grade school or finishing a post-doc degree. Success must be redefined in terms of defining and taking next steps. I’m certainly not talking about pulling back on learning, I’m talking about helping each person move ahead, and to stop worrying so much about someone else’s timelines or definitions of success.

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