William Deresiewicz’s book Excellent Sheep takes a critical look at the authentic learning and healthy development students sacrifice because they are too busy being the perfect student with the perfect grades in the high pressure, fast-paced, check-the-box world of preparing for college acceptance. In the book, he reminds us:
“Life is more than a job; jobs are more than a paycheck; and a country is more than its wealth. Education is more than the acquisition of marketable skills, and you are more than your ability to contribute to your employer’s bottom line or the nation’s GDP, no matter what the rhetoric of politicians or executives would have you think.
To ask what college is for is to ask what life is for, what society is for—what people are for. Do students ever hear this?
Students are expected to demonstrate creativity and perform service in order to get into college, but no one thinks they should be dumb enough to take them seriously as vocational goals.”
After much discussion about passages like these, our faculty began talking about how important it is to remember that we need to develop the confidence and passion of every student we encounter -- and to do that we need to truly validate them for who they are right now, instead of always pushing them to look ahead at the next stop, off in the distance. A person is only intrinsically motivated to determine their next destination when they have had time to stop and explore the one they are already at.
To use another metaphor, we raise our children in a perpetual state of dress rehearsal – pre-school is dress rehearsal for kindergarten, kindergarten is dress rehearsal for elementary, elementary for middle school, and well, I think you see where this is going.
And if you ask any performer, the dress rehearsal is the part with all the hard work and stress. The performance is the satisfying part, the meaningful part, where all the work pays off.
Who would want to be stuck in dress rehearsal for 13 years?
When do we let them perform as the people they are right now at the age they are right now?
How long before they get the satisfaction of being fully-realized performers in their own narratives?
Can you imagine if people older than us constantly drilled us on the rules of Scrabble because “When we get to the retirement home, everyone is going to expect us to know how to play it”?
My hope for each school year is this: That we– as parents and educators – stop - at least some times - the rehearsal for college and appreciate adolescence as one of the greatest performances ever. They are not little children and they are not mini-collegiate scholars. They are at a crucial, specific, and final point in their development. They need to know and understand who they are, so they can learn who they want to become and how to get there. Maybe she needs to be a C student before we teach her how to become a B student. Maybe she needs to be a poor decision maker at times to learn how to become a better decision maker. Maybe she needs to be uncertain and insecure before she becomes resolved and confident about her own passions and talents.
And I know this is scary, because they might suffer, they might struggle and they might make mistakes. And no one wants this for their child. But if it is true that suffering, struggling, and making mistakes is an inevitable and important part of life and learning, what better time and place for her to do it, then while she has the love and care of her parents, and the guidance and support of a place like Louisville?