Achievement and the Big Picture

This series of articles was written for the Birchwood community by Head of School, Charles Debelak, and can be found in the Birchwood School of Hawken 2013-14 Clipboard Newsletter. The purpose of Mr. Debelak's Clipboard articles is to provide parents with information about sound educational principles and child development issues gleaned from history, contemporary research, and Mr. Debelak's 40+ years of educating, coaching, and counseling children, young adults, and parents.
Children grow and develop within a culture. What they learn to think, do, and hope for, is influenced by the culture in which they live. This is also true for academic aspirations. If a culture celebrates and supports academic achievement children will naturally assume these values. But the opposite is also true.
Tracy Cross, professor at Ball State University and editor of the Journal for the Educated of the Gifted, addresses culture in terms of a metaphor for life. He suggests that during the past 50 years, the metaphor for life among young people has changed. In the first half of the 20th century, the metaphor was – life as achievement; its models were Edison, Einstein, and Jackie Robinson. Cross laments that the metaphor has become – life as entertainment.
The change in outlook deeply affects how young people approach life. I agree with Cross’ observations. Our culture today places a disproportionate value on entertainment, often at the expense of academic or character development. Whether or not this culture adversely affects our children depends upon how parents and teachers help them navigate their growth.
We cannot remove our children from this culture. Trying to isolate children from culture creates its own problems. But we can teach them how to function within the culture without being consumed. Entertainment and achievement are not mutually exclusive. Yet parents and teachers should not kid themselves. Entertainment bears an influence that can swallow up children’s time and energy leaving them without the interest or strength for meaningful achievement and personal development. We can, should, and must teach our children to think and act with this virtue in view. It may be hard to believe it’s possible; our culture has drifted far from the confidence that children should, could or would take such personal responsibility for their own lives.

Charles Debelak
2014 May Birchwood Clipboard Newsletter