As a "real world" awaits

  • Buddy Groups
    Working in Middle School & K-1-2 buddy groups 

    Posted by Tim Barrier, head of school, Sept. 26, 2019

    I love watching our youngest children arrive at school each morning. The way they walk, skip and run through the front doors seems to say, “Here I am, just the way I am, and I can’t wait to get going.” Children bring to school their interests, their hopes and their dreams – and the big decision for us at school lies in what we’re going to do with all that.

    It’s been well-researched that, sadly, schools do a good job of stifling the unbridled optimism and enthusiasm of a kindergartner. In one study, capacity for divergent thinking, or seeing multiple answers to a problem, was measured across a school age spectrum. Some 98 percent of kindergartners tested at the highest end of the study’s scale, and ten years later, only 10 percent did.

    Even more tragically, schools do an effective job of taking away childrens’ dreams. We send a clear message that it’s not good enough to be interested, even passionate, about some thing, whether it be science or basketball. We have built into the system ways of deciding who gets to follow their dreams and who doesn’t. We provide tests, tracking systems and tryouts to ensure that only the most talented will end up with full access.

    It’s easy to fall back onto the argument that a “real world” awaits, with competition, failures, disappointments just around the corner. Why not prepare them for that now? Let’s make sure we show them early on how they stack up with everyone else. Let’s reinforce the “I’m no good at math” refrain we hear. Let’s ensure that some kids don’t get much playing time in games so that they understand their physical limitations, stop trying, and miss out on all the good stuff sports are supposed to be teaching.

    Sure, there’s reality; not everyone gets to be an astronaut, and it’s really hard to make a living as an artist. But why do we worry so much about our kids being let down by life? What’s the worst case – they spend a lifetime following a passion and never “succeed” in it by traditional measures? And they spent their lives doing something they loved? Sounds okay to me. How many scientists or artists or engineers do you think we’ve lost because somewhere along the line a test, teacher or parent told them their work wasn’t as good as someone else’s? Of course feedback matters, and objective measurements can, and should, propel improvement. Ultimately, however, it seems we’re more secure in having our children go for the predictable path to “success” at the expense of what they might really care about.

    But the problem is, their adult world just might be a lot different from the one many of us navigated. The future is going to recognize a much wider range of talents and abilities (not my idea – researcher and author Ken Robinson has been talking about this for a while now). We have the opportunity, and mandate, as a school to help our children find passions, interests and the confidence to do something with them. Everyone we can think of who has achieved “success” at some point made a firm decision to do so. And we can definitely instill in our children the capacity for care- something each one of them will need and their world will reward.

    Here’s to a year of keeping our children’s dreams alive and well! 

    All the best,
    Tim