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It Helps to Look Through Other's Lenses

Myths About What Students Need to Succeed

Beliefs are individual’s truth until one sees through other’s lenses. I am hoping to help parents and teaches examine the beliefs or myths that parents and educational institutions have promoted for the last 40 years, and build a better future for our children that focuses on how to thrive instead of survive.

Myth #1: Every child needs a college education to be successful.

Myth #2: Children need our help to be successful.

Myth #3: AP classes, good grades, and high SAT’s will guarantee I get into the school of my dreams.

Myth #4: Getting into the best college will guarantee you get a job out of college.


Myth #1: Every child needs a college education to be successful.

Not all youth of the 40’s finished high school. If they got a good job, many left to help support the family. My father joined the army at 17, so he could support his country, get a solid pair of shoes, and to help support his single mom; who still had two boys at home and was working two jobs. Very few were afforded the opportunity to attend college, yet look at the accomplishments of that generation.

The fifties was portrayed by Norman Rockwell as family focused. Children were expected to go to high school and some families promoted further education, but there were plenty of trade school options available.

As a student of the 50’s and 60’s, I do not remember a big push to go to college. Most of my friends have AA degrees, but got jobs and worked their way up the ladder. Some high schools were offering a college track and a traditional track. The schools in affluent neighborhoods encouraged students to further their education after high school, and many who could not afford the price, attended the two junior colleges. The decision for many males to go to college was to avoid the draft. College still was not promoted as a guarantee of future success. Unless their parents were pushing, younger children wouldn’t have been able to answer a question about their college choice.

It was not uncommon for females to go to college to meet a husband or fulfill the requirements of their desired careers; nursing and teaching. My father persuade not to go to college. He said, “Save time, and get a secretarial job.” It was obvious he hadn’t seen my grades in typing class. Fast forward to our 50th Reunion. My friend turned to me and said, “Look around at those of us who have beat the odds and become powerful entrepreneurs and successes. How many of us were in “the college track?”

Something happened between the 1970’s and the 1980’s to change how society felt about education. The evaluation of public schools rested on how well they scored. Signs around the city indicated if an institution was a “Blue Ribbon School.” Pressure placed on students to receive the distinguished scholar title shifted the focus from the joy of learning to cramming to get “A’s.” As children grew, they began being asked about where they planned to go to college. My eldest daughter came home very distraught after she and her fifth grade classmates were being interviewed by the middle school counselors. “What do you want to be when you finish school?” She asked me, “How am I supposed to know what I am going to be when I grow up, I am only 11.” Then the questions got more detailed, “Where are you going to apply to college?” She couldn’t answer that either.

I could guarantee only 10% of my classmates in the class of 1967 would be able to answer that when they were in middle school, but the students of the 80’s and 90’s all knew where they were going, even if it wasn’t the best path for them. The pressure to get into “The Top Schools,” became a competition amongst parents. Parents were comparing their children’s grades to see who got the highest GPA. And the myth grew and began to filter down to 5 year olds who, would proudly wear clothing of the college they would be going to in 13 years. Sadly, some didn’t get accepted to their dream school. The rejection left them depression and tarnished their self-esteem.

The truth is, the graduates of prior generations were much happier. They learned on the job. When the pressure for degrees for pay increases and position advancement, they would take night courses, even though the principles being taught in the class would not apply to the work they were doing. 

The belief that one needs to get a college degree to be successful is limiting students’ possibilities. Just look at 16 year old entrepreneurs who have seen the opportunities of the internet and created their own video games or on-line business. Do you know the age of the on-line business owner from whom you made your last purchase?

The students of the 2000’s found that getting a college education was not a guarantee of anything. Many were left with huge debts they are still paying off and no job offers. There was a common belief that a Masters warranted a six figure job. The depression rate increased in this demographic because they were forced to take barista jobs just to get insurance.

Constantly seeking more, does not lead to satisfaction. Teaching to a test will no longer support them in a world that is changing exponentially.

There are ways we can guarantee our students’ future success. They need to learn how to:

  • tap into their innate abilities to solve challenges 
  • relax and enjoy the moment
  • develop responsive communication
  • critically think about what they see, hear, and read. 
  • become empowered human beings who self-advocates
  • manage their time 
  • develop supportive executive skills 
  • embrace mistakes as opportunities

Myth #2: Children need our help to be successful.

In the late 1970’s parents began volunteering in the classroom. The push for more help to support children was prompted by a media fear indicating the schools were failing the children and the posting of test scores for public view ignited unnecessary fears in parents. School Districts were scrambling for ways to improve instruction and get better test scores with limited budgets. Some suggested volunteers could be utilized. 

No one projected the negative impact of such a move. Parents were not trained how to view the work they were grading. They did what mom’s were doing at the time, compared their child to the others in the class. They were not aware that there is always a wide span of cognitive abilities because of the age range in any given classroom. What is difficult for a third grader at the beginning of the year, could be ten times easier if revisited at the end of the year when their brains have developed a little more. Parents didn’t know that, so many resorted to getting tutoring for their children or doing the homework. This caused added stress to an already not ready brain. Many of the projects assigned to children were not at the student’s independent level and the pressure parents felt for their children to succeed resulted in them often doing the project while the child played. The mission project was the first time I witnessed the results of this pressure. At open house, parents were gathered around the tables that housed the missions and compared their grades, while their children were on the field playing or eating cookies.

I’ll never forget visiting the room of a teacher who was given the children who had been labeled difficult. I witnessed parents and siblings who were fully engaged and listening to the student explain a project he had done independently. He was so proud. It didn’t look like the professional mission projects, but it was 100% his own work. 

Parents didn’t understand the varied developmental stages the children were in, which was the reason for grouping. They didn’t want their child feeling bad about being in the red group, until it was pointed out to them. One mom told her son, “I’m going to get you tutoring so you can be in the yellow group.” Suddenly, this happy child felt not good enough. His performance in class declined because his self-esteem was crushed. He was making consistent growth in the red group because it was at his developmentally appropriate for him.

Teachers began seeing increases in the number of students manifesting inattentive behaviors. Some blamed it on the influence of Sesame Street and felt the need to become an entertainer to keep children engaged. It wasn’t until 1984 that I discovered why my students weren’t listening in class. They didn’t have to stay engaged because their parents or a tutor were helping them at home. It made total sense as to why they would zone out when I was explaining the homework. If they felt lost, they didn’t ask questions like my students of the 70’s, because they could go to a safe place in their minds and get a parent to explain the work at home, and some parents admitted they did the work just to stop the child from crying.

The result of parent involvement in all aspects of their children’s school work created stress in homes that didn’t exist in the past. I was told that homework provides a bonding experience between parents and their children. Bonding would not be the word I would use.

Students who relied on parents to help them throughout their educational journey were not equipped to handle the demands of college or were tutored all the way through. Coming out of college with a degree didn’t guarantee the jobs they had been promised. If they did get a job, often it was lost because they had grown accustomed to others telling them what to do to pass tests, but they never learned how to be self-reliant.

Myth #3: AP classes, good grades, and high SAT’s will guarantee I get into the school of my dreams.

The push for excellence and academic achievement has set students on paths away from enjoyment of life and into one of debt. They have been driven to the point of depression and exhaustion. Added coaching to achieve that desired score, has left students living a life on a hamster wheel, never having the opportunity to stop and smell the roses. Many students have felt the pressure to excel in all areas of their lives since elementary school with after school accelerated programs and pre-Olympic training programs. Many Olympic or NBA hopefuls were burned out by fifth grade.  Students felt compelled to take on advanced classes their freshmen year to guarantee they would get the golden ring by the end of their tenuous four years.

The pressure to take geometry in their freshmen year was being pushed by schools to accelerate the math program. I convinced my girls not to take it and retake algebra. Math was not their strongest subject and they both were glad they took it again, because they really didn’t understand what they were doing in 7th grade even though they learned to do well on the tests. They had to bear the brunt of cruel classmates who made it clear they were better because they ‘got into’ geometry. But, three years later, when their classmates were taking statistics and ruining their GPA’s, my girls were grateful they took the more appropriate route for themselves.  

I have been called many times to work with high school sophomores who were straight A students and suddenly began failing. When asked what the students are fearing, because there is always a fear behind such a change, each and everyone of them said the same thing, “I can’t do this for three more years and then four or eight after high school.” The pressure to keep up the intense life of seeking the grades simply gets too much to bear.

When AP classes were first introduced, they were designed for those who excelled in one area or the other. It was an attempt at differentiated instruction to meet the needs of the gifted students. High achievers fought for access and the program suddenly was bursting at the seams. The added enticement of weighting the grade by giving it one more point helped students achieve GPA’s above the coveted 4.0. That would no longer be satisfactory. Colleges felt weighted classes would make candidate selections clearer. With the growing number of better than 4.0 many colleges did not accept the weighted grades. 

The SAT was first given to help separate those who would make good college candidates from those who were not geared a college education. Then entrepreneurs saw opportunities to make money and began offering ways to get a perfect SAT score. Colleges have seen the negative impact of this tutoring. There is even talk that the SAT’s aren’t as valued as they were in the past. Students trudging through school working for the A’s and test scores are missing the most important part of high school; the social. It is possible to work toward a reasonable goal and not fill your nights with studying for 3-4 hours. According to Michele Bora, author of Thrivers, they are reported to be the most unhappy generation of young adults.

Myth #4: Getting into the best college will guarantee you get a job out of college.

Many college graduates working at Starbucks will tell you that this is a myth on a grand scale. It may have been true in the 70’s and 80’s but as more students flooded universities and private colleges, so was the job market. Their dreams of landing 6 figure jobs were dashed. In fact, many have been left with a few letters after their names and huge debt. 

The good news is we can save the children today by shifting from an academic push and embrace teaching the 21st century skills I mentioned earlier in this article. My courses will guide teachers and parents in how to incorporate these skills into everyday life and enhance the delivery of curriculum. 

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