Culture At Large

Why students should focus on what's now, not what's next

Maureen Herring

Our last child is entering his senior year and we want him to relish the experience. It seems like ever since he entered high school we’ve been focused on preparation. Prepare for the next grade. Prepare for standardized tests. Prepare for college. This may seem a little radical for an educator, but I don’t think worrying so much about grades or college admission is going to inspire curiosity and ignite passion.

Curiosity and passion serve learners right now and continue to serve them long after formal education has been completed. These are the traits of people who create, innovate and cause change.

I want my son to be surprised or inspired every day by something he learns. I want him to ask questions because he wants to know more. Too often the only question students are asking in the classroom is, “Is this going to be on the test?”

In many schools tests scores have become goals rather than measures of learning. Teachers feel pressure to cover the curriculum. Students feel pressure to perform well. Dollars and jobs are often tied to student performance.

In the flurry of SAT exams, college visits, writing essays, constructing a resume and considering other options for next year, I hope the class of 2012 can process the experiences that this year offers. Sadly, many students feel pressure to participate in activities that will make them look well-rounded and take classes that look good on the transcript rather than being encouraged to pursue interests that actually inspire them. I wonder if making college admission the motive for academic success kills the joy of learning and wonder of discovery for some students.

Some students need to fall in love with learning rather than success. Some need time and opportunities for depth in learning as well as breadth. Some need practice dealing with people and money and other life skills. Some need to discover volunteerism as a value rather than an item on a college checklist. Some need the option to delay choices they aren’t ready to make. And all students need to focus on being the people God created them to be right now if they are ever to become the people he means them to be later.

High school juniors and seniors are constantly being asked “Where do you want to go to college?” and “Have you decided on a major?” Neither question defines these young people. Too often the opportunity to have an impactful conversation about what’s going on in their lives now is lost in focusing on what’s next. This is the year when conversations should help young people understand that who they are is infinitely more important than career or financial success.

There are questions that I do like to ask students. They are not on the SAT.

Did you learn anything that amazed you today?

What do you love to do?

Have you seen the hand of God in something you’ve learned?

If you could have one question answered right now, what would you ask?

(Image courtesy of iStockphoto.)

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