About a week ago, I attended the plenary session of the “Challenge Success 2011 Fall Conference”. Open to the public, this session introduces the audience of educators, parents, and students to the goal of the “Challenge Success” organization: to be able to explain what the word "plenary" means, just in case it turns up on the SATs.
Actually the goal is to redefine today's narrow view of student success, where the ultimate achievement is getting the fat envelope of acceptance from a prestigious college. The redefinition includes making sure children grow into happy adults who enjoy their professions, have outside interests, can work well with others, can take constructive criticism, and are emotionally resilient human beings.
Oh, come on! Or should I say "Oh, Kumon!" Here in Cupertino, we know the true measure of success is about having the highest grades and the excessive extracurricular activities that make college admissions committees leap around their ivory towers shouting "It's youth like these who will save America!"
Everyone knows that a student's future will involve a lifetime of handing out French fries if he or she does not have a GPA over 4.0, play two varsity sports beginning in their freshman year, serve as president of the California chapter of Future Overachievers of America, and found a non-profit organization that raises a million dollars to help children who can't hire their own SAT tutors.
Kids are young for a reason—so they can get by on 5 hours of sleep while taking 5 or 6 concurrent AP courses. Besides, they can sleep after they get the acceptance letter.
“Challenge Success” teaches that raising children to become happy, well-adjusted, productive adults does not cause the emotional and physical damage that just aiming for that fat envelope can cause. Clearly, this organization has not done enough research on the kids' parents' emotional and physical damage. How can we hold our heads up around our relatives, neighbors, and our children's friends' parents if our child is merely happy, interested, and hard-working? This is Silicon Valley. We need numbers in the form of test scores and grades, not touchy-feely psycho-babble, to prove our child is a success.
After all, only numbers can lead to a parent's success in competitive name-dropping. There are more than 2,500 four-year colleges in the U.S., but the only ones that could possibly have anything to offer our children are the ones featured in movies like Legally Blonde or Risky Business, or the schools that people on other continents have heard of. There can be no "right fit" among the other 2,475 colleges. Obviously, the title of this year's “Challenge Success” conference—"One Size Does Not Fit All"—is just crazy talk.
What a relief, therefore, that at Homestead High, six weeks into the school year, the 9th graders just attended a college guidance session. Those 14-year-olds have had plenty of time to adjust to their new school, so it is way past time they begin preparing for their next school. One factoid the students left with was that they need straight A's to get accepted at a University of California school.
Yes, it's heartwarming to know that current societal expectations and institutional processes are in such a tightly wound loop of impossibly high standards that “Challenge Success” won't be able to foist its hippy-dippy attitudes on high school students any time soon. The current batch will get to strive for a fat envelope, and all the baggage it brings, just like the batch before them did.