Monday, February 10, 2014

Why you should teach your kids that grades don't matter...much

My daughter came home from school this past week disappointed with her term report card. She is in the 6th grade, has always been a very conscientious and dedicated student. Her marks reflect that and as a parent, I was very happy with her grades because I know how much effort she puts into her work. Her disappointment however, is what struck me. 

I found myself consoling her and explaining that I would take her creative and open mind, her endless questions and eagerness to learn over straight A's any day. I told her that her charisma and enthusiasm strikes a chord with people and she is genuinely a great person that people love being around. I reminded her of the volume of glowing comments from her teachers over the years. I also told her what I now know firsthand to be true: grades don't matter...much. Well, not nearly as much as we were raised to think they do. In real life, no one cares that you were a straight A-student in high school or graduated with honours. It only matters to archaic institutions that unfortunately have the power to act as gatekeepers of our livelihoods, and that really pissed me off. 

Increasingly kids graduate with more debt than a sense of self-discipline or life skills and to me, that is the biggest flaw of our education system. Life skills allow one to bounce back from failure, work with difficult people and not take criticism too personally. Life skills encourage exploration, collaboration and nurture creative thinking. Life skills build one's motivation to push themselves further than they ever thought possible. I would take a kid learning that over getting an A in algebra any day. 

Don't get me wrong, I'm not saying ditch education. But what I am saying is that the means of benchmarking a child's success is fundamentally flawed. 

An example of this is my youngest daughter. She is much more of a free spirit, not as dedicated to receiving the affirmation of her teachers on her academic performance as my eldest. She knows she knows what she knows. End of story. She doesn't need someone to tell her how good she is, however, we are struggling with a balance between that self-assurance and conforming with the status quo. We are teaching her to 'play the game' at an early age: to do what is being asked even if she doesn't like it in exchange for the freedom and leeway it will give her. I cringe a little at telling her she has to be obedient because that is the expectation in the social confines of elementary school, but then again, I know it's essential that she learns what she likes or wants sometimes has to take a back seat to group conformation. Coping in those situations falls into the tickle trunk of essential life skills that many kids lack. 

The difference is she knows she is playing a game. I would never tell my kids to blindly listen and obey for fear of getting into trouble. The lesson we teach has always been that there is a time and a place, and to ask questions if they don't understand something. If their questioning gets them into trouble, so be it. I will always back them up on that, even if it is questioning the status quo. 

I find it so ironic and ridiculous that as a society, we revere those who have strayed from the beaten path, those who have gone on their own to explore new ideas, those innovators that inspire the regular-folk to dream, but we applaud them in only in retrospect once things have paid off and we are assured that they did indeed make the "right choice". We are such a fickle society that way: we focus on the end result (and only if it's a positive one). We idolize those who have made their mark, revolutionized society but yet, given how education is structured, we don't encourage it very much in real life especially in our formative years. It's a pretty pathetic state of affairs. What kind of lesson are we teaching were we applaud those leaders of thought and innovation only once they are rich billionaires but are too tentative to encourage it in our own schools?

Part of the problem with school and our society in general: it is too focussed on the end result, be it a letter grade or a career or to get rich. What we need is to foster in kids a sense of self worth, a work ethic and desire to be better everyday in whatever it is that they are doing. Living a life that is rich because you are doing something you love is what makes life worth living. It's not about the retirement at the end of the road anymore. It's about the days in between.

I think that entrepreneurship is one of the best things kids can be exposed to at a young age. That's one of the reasons I started my own company. I felt compelled to do it because I knew there was more to life than working for someone else. I wanted to make a difference myself and show my daughters that it is possible to define and build your own success. Entrepreneurship is an amazing way to do that. It's about being self-reliant, collaborating with others, building a better society by solving problems. Entrepreneurship is about taking action, being creative and following through. to me, those are the best life lessons of all that everyone would be better off learning (and it's never too late). 

In the coming years, kids are going to come out of educational institutions increasingly miffed at how misled they were to believe that a diploma would secure some kind of future for them. As a result, we {parents, business owners, role models} will have to pick up the slack and show kids what IS possible. We are going to see a new insurgence of entrepreneurs...I can feel it...and I find that so exciting. Innovation and evolution don't come from standing still.