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This afternoon, my sixth grader told me that one of his homework assignments that is due tomorrow is to talk to his family about the importance of college, to find out who would be most proud of him for going to college, and then to write about that.  I was a little confused, so Joey told me I could find the specific assignment on the class website.  Here’s what I found:

This week I would like you to have a discussion with your family about how important it is to them that you attend college and earn your degree.  This may even include your extended family of grandparents, aunts, uncles, and cousins.  I would then like you to respond thoughtfully and thoroughly to these questions:

Who would be proudest of you when you graduate from your university of choice?
Why would they be so proud of you?
Remember to state your claim, then provide evidence (examples, details, etc.) to support your claim.

I have to say that I was quite taken aback.  I’m weary of the achievement mindset.  My perspective has been changed so much in recent years – probably for the most part by having a child with an intellectual disability, but no doubt just by parenting my typical kids as well. 

We are a society that is obsessed with achievement – and by achievement, I mean that we seem to define success through a very competitive lens: there are winners and there are losers, period.  The winners are the kids who get really good grades, excel in sports and/or other extracurricular pursuits, who have schedules crammed with activities, who are above grade level, ahead of the crowd; they are adults who have high-paying jobs, live in nice houses, go on killer vacations, have plenty of stuff, and who can shell out the money to pay for all their kids’ pursuits.  The losers are the average kids and people – the ones who don’t necessarily shine academically, who aren’t especially athletic or artistic, who live in so-so houses and have so-so jobs and don’t have cleaning ladies or hefty savings accounts – let alone college funds for their kids.  Happiness, fulfillment, character, integrity, kindness, compassion, healthy relationships – none of those things seem to play into the “success” equation.

It’s fine to encourage higher education – and don’t get me wrong; I’m certainly not against college.  I hope my kids do go to college.  But I’m more concerned with them growing up to be good people – decent, compassionate, emotionally healthy, honest people who can take care of themselves but who don’t measure their worth by the grades they get or the money they make or the stuff they have.

I feel like this assignment is divisive.  What about the kids whose families can’t put them through college?  What about the kids who just aren’t cut out for college?  Should kids be made to feel that their families might not be proud of them if they don’t go to college?  It implies that college is THE path to “success,” and I just don’t believe that’s true.  There are many paths to success, and I think we really need to take a hard look at how we define success in the first place.