Working together to help children learn and grow in a complex world
Dec. 5, 2018
Report Card Ruminations
By Phil Spears, Head of School
I recently started a biographical novel I’ve been meaning to read for a long time, Irving Stone’s masterpiece, "The Agony and the Ecstasy," which paints the life and times of Michelangelo. As the story opens, Michelangelo is a middle schooler. Befitting his age, he is desperate to define himself, to break away from parental directives, to embrace his passion -- art, of course -- and he is buoyed by his peers but also constantly measuring himself against them. His family has already decided how he and his brothers will be successful in life. His father proclaims: “... I sent you to an expensive school, paid out money I could ill afford so that you would be educated and rise… We belong to the Money Changer’s Guild, one of the most respectable in Florence… it is enough to make money and serve the [family] name.” An aunt adds, “Happiness is for the next world.”
How fortunate the world is that Michelangelo’s family could not change his mindset and path!
I was struck by this because I’m often quite sure what my children need to do to be successful and happy, both now and later, and I find myself ready to yank out my hair when they refuse to heed my ready prescriptions. “If they would just…” I often say to my spouse, confident that I have all the answers. But this is, of course, a parent trap, and as Canterbury’s first set of report cards come out in a couple of days, this is a good moment for me to step back and remember my excellent parents, who let me fall down and learn from my mistakes much, much more than they preached to me.
They encouraged me, among other things, to read and learn just about anything and everything of interest to me. I had a subscription to a magazine about professional wrestling, not exactly my parents’ favorite sport. They let me listen to all kinds of music, even though my mom definitely did not like my KISS records. And they supported my outdoor exploration; Mom gave me a basement section to keep my pyrite rocks and small creatures. My parents also let it be known that education was very important to them, but they mostly imparted this to me through stories of their own educations -- favorite teachers, favorite books, and important, brief(!) lessons learned in school and on the job.
As I’ve written before, grades certainly are important, and we must encourage and push students all the time to get better in their endeavors. But it’s also important for us to remember as parents that these lower and middle school years are primarily about the development of good habits and skills, the process of gradual growth and improvement in mind, body, and spirit. Slow maturation of children can frustrate adults who care about them and who want them to fulfill their potential sooner rather than later. Naturally, parents may worry that if their child does not achieve and ‘get ahead’ now, success and happiness down the road may suffer.
But the journey from childhood through adolescence to young adulthood is a marathon, not a sprint. This is a crucial reminder as we unveil our first report cards of the year. The most important thing students can do is to take rightful pride in the areas where they have done well and simultaneously digest carefully and strive to implement suggestions for improvement in the teachers’ narrative comments. K-8 report cards are important as a reflection of the child’s developing habits and skills; but once a young person has moved onto high school, his or her K-8 reports will never be seen again. In case it might be helpful, here is a classic, concise article from Education.com on how to talk to your child about grades.
According to a recent New York Times article, our current set of children, Generation Z -- those born in the last 20 years or so -- “no longer wants just a job: they seek more than that. They want a feeling of fulfillment and excitement in their job that helps move the world forward.” We do need to help our children and students strive to become their best selves, including as learners. But please be careful not to fall prey to the parent trap of trying to prescribe success and happiness. Your Michelangelo must paint his or her own story and then go on to make a positive difference in the world!