By Neil Chyten
Why do we do it? Why do we work so hard and push our children to take high-level courses, do their homework, do a hundred hours of test prep, and do so many extracurricular activities? It would be so much easier to turn the other way and not notice when our children are talking to their friends, checking out You Tube videos or playing video games. Perhaps we could take a few more family vacations, or buy a nicer car or go to a Patriots game or two. Or maybe we could just relax more at home as a family, rather than stress out over an A-, or a mere 710 on the SAT Math.
But no, it is not in our nature to do these things. We push ourselves to the extreme limits of our bodies and minds. We stretch eight-hour workdays to 12 or 16 or 20 hours of working time. We demand perfection from our children; we expect them to work harder, and do more, and accomplish incredible feats of academic magic. We buy internships, seek recommendations, and videotape performances. We buy homes or rent apartments in towns with great school systems. We engage in a whirlwind of activities all designed to get our children to the highest level and position them for entry into top private schools and colleges. Why do we do all these things? Why do we sacrifice so much simply for a chance at higher grades, higher test scores, higher-level courses, and top-ranked colleges? We do these things because we all believe that better education leads to better lives. There is no evil in our intentions or our actions. We don’t do these things to prove how strong we are, or how tough we are, or how smart we are. We are simply, 100%, dedicated to helping our children have every imaginable possibility in life.
So, are we correct that hard work, higher grades, higher test scores, and better colleges lead to better lives? Or will all our efforts not create any meaningful improvements whatsoever in the lives of our children? To me there are two answers to this question.
1) Better grades, test scores, schools, and colleges do not, by themselves, create better lives. You can give the keys to a racecar to anyone, but only an experienced driver with the desire to drive fast can truly take advantage of its power. The same is true of our children. Unless they have the drive, determination, and knowledge to be successful, even a degree from Harvard or MIT is not a guarantee of a better life. Conversely, someone with drive and determination can be highly successful, even with modest grades and a degree from a lesser institution.
2) The lessons we learn about hard work and determination that ultimately lead to better grades, test scores, schools, and colleges may, by themselves, translate to more success and happiness in life. So in a sense, a student’s success in these academic activities does equate to a better life and more opportunity.
Of course, the best of all worlds is to have a highly motivated student attend a top school and college. When the opportunities offered by the school match the student’s hard work, intelligence, and determination, the sky is the limit. Put the keys to a racecar in the hands of a racecar driven and the result will be a fast moving car. Put an engineering degree from Stanford in the right hands, and the results can be astounding! So, while we should not stop pushing our children to strive for better grades, test scores, schools, and colleges, we should not leave behind the other life lessons that will also help our children have and live better lives.