I have just started a new book entitled Excellent Sheep: The Miseducation of the American Elite and the Way to a Meaningful Life by William Deresiewicz, recommended by a colleague, and while I am just at the beginning I am finding the content very provocative.
Deresiewicz, a past Yale professor, refers to students in elite school settings as ‘super people’ who have a vast array of skills in the classroom, on the stage and in athletic endeavours and comments that they ‘appear to be the winners in the race we have made childhood.’ I read this sentence on Saturday morning and it has troubled me ever since.
It is not just the words suggesting that childhood has become a race- disturbing enough- but that parents’ expectations, school systems and university counselling of high-achieving students have made it this way.
Deresiewicz suggests that because of ‘endless hoop jumping’ students are ‘not able to pay attention to the things they feel connected to.’ Deresiewicz indicates that ‘so extreme are the admissions standards now, so ferocious the competition, that kids who manage to get into elite colleges have, by definition, never experienced anything but success.’ He suggests that the result is an aversion to risk as well as the tendency to follow existing paths as opposed to having the imagination, courage and/or inner freedom to invent their own.
I began thinking about our School and the unique Grade 1-12 environment where educational space is shared by all grades. Our girls are intermingled and the carefree nature of our little ones- their unbridled enthusiasm and energy- has a tangible impact on our School. One can’t help smiling as children share their curiosity, ideas and creativity with confidence. In fact, one of my favourite things is watching as our senior girls are playing and engaging with our Junior School girls. Not only is this wonderful for our younger girls, but it assists our senior girls in putting things into perspective.
This book, which I know will continue to challenge me as I read, has reminded me of just how important it is for the School and our parents to guide our girls, particularly in the Upper School, to slow down, enjoy the moments and know that life will unfold as it should.
An easy task? Perhaps not. An important one? Without a doubt.