It’s the season of grades and graduations and celebration by students and teachers alike at the end of a long school year. I’ve been reading about honors accumulated, understandable parental pride, and the amount of scholarship money earned by graduating senior classes.
I join in the rejoicing at the transitions that mark new life chapters and the beginning of summer.
However, I’m also reflecting today on what we laud as worthy educational achievement. Thought I might suggest some additional alternative measures for our educational institutions – I’d like to know how many of your students:
are genuinely kind?
can pay bills on time, shop for groceries and prepare meals, rent an apartment, and file their own taxes?
can balance ambition with human connection, work with the other stuff of living?
see value in the process or journey as well as the end product?
understand the complexities of the governance system in our country and how to participate in it?
engage with respect and sincerity across differences, especially where differential power is involved?
are dedicated to devising creative solutions to care for the earth and halt the rush of climate change?
can drive a car without putting themselves or others at risk of either physical danger or road rage?
can competently care for another living thing, whether that’s a plant or an elder or a pet or a child?
understand that vocational choices need to be made in the context of a realistic assessment of what day-to-day life in that field actually consists of rather than idealized images of any given profession?
know to treat people below them in society’s food chain with respect and dignity as well as those above them?
can locate a reliable auto mechanic, plumber, tailor, dentist, worshiping community, primary care provider, and mental health practitioner?
can identify the ways in which they are always vastly interdependent with the rest of the world?
These things are difficult to measure, you say?
Well, sure they are. But we presume to measure intelligence, aptitude, and achievement as if they were single, easily quantifiable constructs. I don’t think we get that right either, so why should that stop of us from attempting to grade our schools on their capacity to do teach these essential life skills?
Or better yet, forget about measuring them altogether and just teach them as a priority, as a requirement for dignified, decent, and capable human living in the 21st century.
Why can’t we do that?