“Is it about the grades or about the learning?”
Perhaps many of us have heard this challenge leveled at us by our teenage children when being harassed about their grades. In my case, it was 2002, and the kid was clearly engrossed in the learning—of the subjects he chose to be, anyway—but he was rebelling against the idea that his grades were the sole definition of his intellect and capacity to learn.
Little did I know that those conversations that I was embroiled in with my son might end up being one of the most significant discussions of our time. I didn’t understand when these conversations were taking place—just one year after the 2001 passage of No Child Left Behind—how dramatically and emphatically this question was about to be answered for every class that came after him: “Son, it IS about the grades.”
While No Child Left Behind has very likely demonstrated that we can bring up the overall education of the masses, arriving when it did may have had the unintended consequence of contributing to a whole generation of people in America who are accustomed to having their life measured by the scores that have been attached to them, becoming a very accepted personal measurement of their success or failure.
When looked at through the lens of history, No Child Left Behind happened when it did both because we were falling behind other nations in international test scores, and, in good measure because, by 2001, schools nationally had the computer technology necessary to track and react to such data—a circumstance that was unheard of just ten years before. And the truth is that, as a result of this same advancement in technology, many other public “measuring sticks” for success began to appear at roughly that same time.
Facebook launched in 2004 and became fully public in 2006, and a new system of public measures was born. Never before had your number of “friends” been such a public and documented form of social clout. Very quickly thereafter (sometime between 2006 and 2010, depending upon whom you ask), we have yet another series: “followers” on Twitter and Instagram, and “connections” on LinkedIn.
All told, the 26-year-olds of today have grown up fully entrenched in what we at Campos refer to as “A MEASURABLE LIFE.” As discussed in our Sequencing the Millennial DNA report late last year, the consequences of this form of life-long public measurement are just beginning to be felt.
As an entrepreneur, a marketing strategist, an employer, and a parent, here is my greatest worry about this: Are we cultivating a culture where our youth are so driven by their scores that they have either given up on themselves before even discovering where their unique strengths lie, or who are afraid to take the substantial risks necessary to chase the big idea?
I subscribe to the Howard Gardner theory of multiple intelligences. The “scoring” related to testing such as the No Child Left Behind testing fosters the expectation that this sort of rote learning is the only type of “intelligence” that matters. I heard Gardner speak on this once many years ago, and I have never forgotten what he said he tells kids who are not the types of kids who easily do well on tests. He said he looks them straight in the eye and tells them that the skills they learn in school are not directly correlated with the skills that it takes to be successful in life, and, when they question their value against a kid who gets only perfect school test scores, they are to remind themselves that school is very likely this kid’s “finest hour.”
As an employer, I am looking for the kids who have the courage and the critical thinking skills to be ever working toward their “finest hour” and have not limited themselves to the measurable scores that their world may now attach to them.
Learn more about our thoughts on "A MEASURABLE LIFE" by downloading our trend brief.