BY JANA HEMPHILL
While I agree with Rory Francis that, “we are failing to give our next generation some of the basic tools they need to succeed in a complicated world,” (Feb. 3 Guardian) I would disagree that, “unacceptable test scores” in standardized provincial assessments are the measure of our failure.
Test scores do not reflect a person’s success. Many a ‘poor student’ has changed the world. Winston Churchill was famously at the bottom of his class. Sen. John McCain graduated 894th out of 899 in his class at the U.S. Naval Academy. Here in Canada, Ron Joyce, co-founder of Tim Hortons, dropped out of school after flunking English in Grade 9. James Orbinski graduated from a west-end Montreal high school with average grades. He dropped out of university several times, before becoming a doctor who accepted the Nobel Peace Prize on behalf of the international organization he led, Médecins sans frontières. The list goes on.
Studies prove neither IQ, nor academic marks, predict success. Success has more to do with drive – a motivation towards a greater sense of purpose, than it does with the grades. Without drive even the ‘brilliant’ kids fall short of expectations. And interestingly, it appears the traits that sometimes cause students to struggle (and drive the teacher nuts) actually lend to a successful future: stubbornness, creative thinking, impulsivity, rebelliousness.
An alarming number of high school kids today feel either disengaged or incredibly pressured. For many the only purpose of high school is to get into the ‘right’ college.
Many kids feel high school classes are irrelevant to real life or their future careers And they may be right. Many jobs that today’s high school students will have in their lifetime do not even exist yet.
So how do we bring engagement, real-world learning and a sense of meaning into education? I believe that the answer lies in developing a student’s passion and purpose. Helping students to understand their inherent strengths and skills – things they are already good at and love to do. This not only helps them find meaning, it fuels self-esteem and an understanding that a test score does not determine one’s value. Further, teaching students about real world issues – problems that need solving – will inspire them to use their gifts to create an impact in the world.
I am not suggesting we throw out testing or do away with other important subjects, just that we help the next generation to understand why they are working so hard. When you are working from a value-aligned, purposeful place, hard work - even school work – can be a lot more inviting.
I would go a step further and suggest we rework the system to support our very youngest learners. In this age of high anxiety, what if kindness and compassion were taught in schools just like math and reading? What if kids were taught how to pay attention not only to lessons, but to their own emotions? What if we taught children not only how to improve their own well-being, but that of those around us, in our communities and in our world?
The school environment can be very stressful. Many students struggle to make friends and perform well in class. Kindness helps build a sense of connection among students, teachers and even parents. Learning to strengthen attention and regulate emotions are foundational skills that would benefit kids throughout their whole lives. On top of that, having classrooms full of mindful children completely changes the school environment. Classes in caring, emotions and gratitude would lead to increased happiness and the science is in: when we are positive, our brains become more engaged, creative, motivated, energetic, healthy and productive.
When Mr. Francis suggests, “a well-educated population is fundamental to a civic society,” I would suggest he expand his definition of the term ‘well-educated’ beyond simply great test scores, to include caring, creative, happy, purpose-driven individuals. These are the traits that lend to more positive outcomes in education, business, community and beyond.
- Jana Hemphill of Brookfield is a writer and entrepreneur; and owner of Storybook Adventures, a peaceful farm that invites families to disconnect from the fast pace of daily living and reconnect with animals and nature.