I recently devoured Most Likely to Succeed: Preparing Our Kids for the Innovation Era by Tony Wagner and Ted Dintersmith, a treatise about how our current education system in the U.S. is failing our kids.

The book aims to turn many people’s ideas about high school and college education upside down. Working hard, getting good grades, and jumping through all the hoops school requires may no longer guarantee success. Parents who push their kids to compete and achieve may only be pushing them to emotional burn-out and financial ruin, as their college debts pile higher and higher. Further, the kill and drill system of teaching does not necessarily promise true knowledge gain, as students learn facts only temporarily to ace the test and them immediately forget them.

Most Likely to Succeed got me thinking about how hard we push our kids to achieve. Some to the point of mental anguish or even self-abuse. So often, we see Lovey being urged to win the competition, be the best in class, get straight As, and rise higher than anyone else in the school game. I don’t understand this blatant competitiveness in our society. Why can’t we let our kids just be human beings? Why can’t parents allow their children ample time to play, to consider the world around them, to breathe? Students should not be stressed out by school; they should be enamored with learning. They should not be exhausted all the time–they should be curious about the world around them as they learn gradually about themselves. They should not be learning useless facts they will never need to know in life and, instead, should be developing character traits that will find them true success in a very rapidly changing world. Education is not a race. Life is not a competition. Why do so many of us forget this?

As a mother, I want what is best for my kids, including a thorough education, a meaningful vocation, security, and happiness. But what course should they take to get there? A learning system based on endless memorization might serve them well in their future vocation–but most likely will not. So what will? My plan is to shape their characters: to help them understand who they are and how to best behave in this world. To teach them tolerance, respect, hard work, personal discipline, positivity, and courage.

Beyond that, I believe in giving them as many real-world experiences as possible. Life skill are essential and, though this seems obvious, something that many parents don’t teach their kids. Money management and consumer skills are also extremely important. We must teach our children to concientiously choose how they spend their hard-earned money instead of succumbing to the role of ‘dumb consumer.’ Added to life skills are work and entrepreneurial skills. Grads are unlikely to land a job out of college that they’ll keep for life–that ship has sailed. So, instead, why don’t we mentor them in how to be their own boss? This way they will understand how to always find a source of income, no matter what tough times may come.

And the first step to teaching the kids anything at all is to help them understand themselves. What do they want? Who are they? What enlivens them? What fulfills them? Without a sense of purpose, our kids, like all of us, fall back into what the herd is doing instead of what is best for them.

Although I’m sure many shining examples exist of great school programs (I’ve witnessed some) and wonderful teachers (I’ve known many), learning like this does not always happen in today’s schooling system. They are not set up that way. They were never set up that way. Many say the current system is failing our students and, indeed, failing us all, as our children are very obviously the future of this planet.

Ted Dintersmith tells us, “The debate and the purpose of education ignores the elephant in the classroom. We have wrapped up our schools in rote memorization, low-level testing, and misguided accountability–preventing them from achieving any real purpose.”

And that leads me to something I think about all the time: how do I help my kids achieve a sense of purpose? So often, kids float through their school years, riding the wave of what everyone else is doing, doing what they’re told, and working hard to be good students. But, as they strive to ace the tests and wow their teachers, how well are they getting to know themselves and working to understand what they want out of life?

Who are you? What is important to you? What makes your heart sing? What makes your heart hurt? What are your talents and skills? What interests you the most? What would you like to learn more about? Where do you want to live as an adult? What do you want to find yourself doing, day-to-day? What do you care about? How can you help make the world a better place? Who are you?

These are questions I ask my children.


If you want to pick up a copy of the book after reading this post, feel free–it’s a great read. (Disclaimer: I am a member of Amazon Affiliates and so receive a small percentage of your purchase, if you go ahead and buy the book.)

I’d love to hear how you experience the education system wherever you live, whether in the U.S. or elsewhere. Looking forward to reading and talking more about this very important issue.