Jun 15

If I ever have children (according to my wife that is a ‘when’ not ‘if’ statement), I am going to put pressure on them to do well in school, but I am currently wondering the best way to do it.

Today a lot of importance is put upon grades.  “I got all As”. “I graduated with Honors”.  “I was in the top 5 in my class”.  “I kept a 4.0″.  Those things are good, and if they were goals you set (or your parents set), then accomplishing them is a great achievement, and an even greater testament to your ability to commit and meet your pursuits.  However, I think it ends just at that.

What if your goal isn’t to get a 4.0, what if your goal is to get a scholarship?  What if your goal is to learn as much as possible so that you are prepared for your job when you graduate?  What if your goal is to get a great job?  I think all of those are more important goals.  The reason I say they are more important is because they have a real world impact on your life (money for school, skill set to excel at your profession, etc.).  Committing to keeping a 4.0 is an internal goal that can have secondary impacts such as getting you a scholarship, or getting you a good job, but my point is that there are other (I would argue, sometimes better) ways of getting a scholarship or getting a good job.

Now, I may be toe-ing a fine line here because my wife kept a 4.0 throughout college.  I am in no way trying to put down those types of achievements.  It points out to potential employers that you are dedicated and meet your commitments.  In her case it also coincides with great intelligence, but my point is it isn’t the only, and sometimes it isn’t even a good, indicator of great intelligence.  I went to school with several people who maintained great grades and were retarded.

So what is my point?  I want to work with my kid to come up with goals that have real world impact, and then help them make decisions to achieve those.  I think approaching it from that perspective, people realize how grades aren’t as important as we all are trained to think.

I made good grades in school (A’s in most core classes, a handful of B’s, and two C’s, one in art because that shouldn’t be a mandatory class, and one in Calculus because we had to keep a test notebook and I am unorganized).  I graduated I think 13th or 15th in my class of 425.  Did any of that help me get a scholarship?  Nope.  I got a scholarship to TTU solely because of what I made on my SAT.  Grade fail.  I got A’s/B’s in english, but got 2 semesters college credit because I took the AP test.  Same for Calculus — C in the class, several semesters’ college credit because of the AP test.  Grade fail.  Here you can already see why I am reluctant to put too much emphasis on grades.  If you actually know the material, what does it matter if you can keep your notebook organized?  If you aren’t ever going to be an artist and have the handwriting of a 2nd grader, what does it matter if you can’t draw a classmate sitting at the front of the room?  I think grades can be a decent barometer of how well you know material, but many times are skewed by inconsequential circumstances.

It continued in college.  I started out in Honors classes (terms of my scholarship, I also had to maintain a 3.5GPA).  After my first year (I still had a 3.5) I applied for an internship for java development, which I knew I wanted to do, and didn’t get it because I didn’t have any experience at all.  The classes I was taking were not preparing me for the real world.  My second year, I changed a lot of my priorities.  My new goals weren’t to make good grades, they were to experience college life (a cop out? maybe a little bit), and learn enough about development to get the job I wanted so I could start getting experience.  Needless to say, that year I lost my scholarship.  But I also had the best time of my life, met my future wife, became an atheist, and got an internship over the summer, all of which has pretty much led directly to where I am today.

Now do I regret losing my scholarship?  At the time yes, because my parents were pissed (even though I was paying fully for my college by myself, so I don’t understand it completely).  Now I don’t.  Sure things could have come out differently, but if it cost me $10K in the short term to find some of my best friends, find my wife, and a job that will pay me many times over the cost of that scholarship, then I’m glad it happened.

Ok, this post got a little off topic and went from theoretical to my life story.  So I’ll just quickly wrap it up for anyone who has read this far, maybe you can help me ponder these thoughts:

1. Is my story lucky, or have you had similar experiences with grades being overly valued and a poor barometer of anything?

2. If not grades, what is the best way to measure and help your kids measure themselves against their goals?

3. Obviously there are times when making bad grades is an indicator of issues, if I don’t make grades a high priority, will it make it harder for me to tell those times, or fix the issues?

4. Is it still better to make grades a high priority based on the ‘better safe than sorry’ approach?