It is the end of the school year, which means that scores of children are bringing their final report cards home to their parents. While one hopes that the image of the stern father overlooking the many ‘A’ s while focusing on the lone ‘C’ is apocryphal, there is no denying the myriad subjects in which most students are expected to excel.
Writing in the New York Times, opinion writer Margaret Renkl recently observed, “School is the only place in the world where you’re expected to excel at everything, and all at the same time. In real life, you’ll excel at what you do best and let others excel at what they do best.”
These are powerful words. As I look back at my elementary and high school classmates, some of the most successful among us were not honor students. Whether we measure success by income, public achievement, community involvement or having happy and fulfilled family lives, some of the best students certainly seem to be successful—but then so do some of the least scholastic. Even if we measure by professional and academic success alone, a classmate who struggled to maintain a barely passing average may very well be at the top of his or her field. After all, you can be a brilliant chemist who has trouble writing a coherent paragraph or a best-selling author who thinks that the San Juan Islands are in Puerto Rico. However, a D in English or geography is not going to give you a superlative report card.
I’m all in favor or getting a broad education. At the same time, let’s remember that school is an artificial environment which shares only a partial resemblance to the rest of life.