Monday, February 22, 2010

Philosophical Ponderings

I remember feeling unspecial for the first time in my life.  It was back in one of those big GE classes my freshman year of college.  I remember getting back my first test grade, an 83%, and crying for the rest of the afternoon.  There I was far away from home in a place where I felt that everyone was way cooler, way richer, way cuter, way smarter, and way more disciplined than I was. Just like that, I went from feeling like I was the creme de la creme to feeling like I was a shred of moldy cheese on a slice of Little Caesar's pizza. 

That freshman year of college was also the first time I realized how musically disinclined I was.  Up until then, I had had a great love for music and for singing.  I joined choirs, sang along to the radio, and even aspired to be brave enough to sing a solo one day.  It was 2 days into dorm living, that I realized that my family was either saintly or just as tone deaf as I am.  {FYI--I decided it was the tone deaf part, not the saintliness.}  My kindly roommate would try to harmonize with me and would have to keep stopping because I wasn't singing it right, while my impatient roommate just took to telling me several times a day that I should "keep my day job".  While I've never totally given up my dream of singing a solo one day, I've now amended it to singing it at a school for the deaf.

Of course, after a period of adjustment I regained my confidence, put aside my American Idol-esque dreams, learned how to study the college way, and grew to love the wonderful people that surrounded me, but I've never forgotten that sinking feeling of realizing that I was the proverbial little fish in a much bigger pond than I was used to.

Now, as a mother, I reminisce on these life-changing experiences, and wonder how I can relate them to parenting my children.  I wonder if it is better for kids to be academically challenged more rigorously, but be bogged down with homework, in a competitive classroom filled with other go-getters?  Or is it better for kids to bloom where they're planted, being a top student (and leader) in a less challenging, but more diverse environment? 

On the one side I see the value in the challenging academics pushing them to greater heights (like being a year ahead in mathematics), but is it worth it if we're prematurely making them the little fish in the bigger pond? 

And what about the educational value of being a leader?  Could that not be more valuable than the challenging curriculum? 

I don't really know that there is a right answer to these questions and what's right for one child may not necessarily be the right thing for another, but I am curious as to what your opinions are.  Do you remember ever feeling like you'd suddenly become a peon?  How old were you and how did you deal with it?  What do you think is more important for children--the best academics possible?  Or possibly less challenging academics balanced with more opportunities to lead?



Andie said...

Yep, freshman year at BYU, same as you. The first test I took-and failed miserably-was in anatomy. I WAS SHOCKED. High school was never hard for me, and I did take all the honors/AP classes in high school. But the expectations are so much lower in high school than they are in college-at least at BYU, anyway. When I got married and transferred to a junior college I found it to be much more like high school. I graduated with a 4.0 GPA compared to my freshman BYU GPA which was something like 2.8.

Anyways, we've been looking at the very same thing with Nolan in his math class. In 4th grade he scored in the 98th percentile in his standardized tests, so his 5th grade teacher pushed for him to be in high math in middle school because he was bored out of his mind in her class. When the standardized tests came back between 5th and 6th grade he was right on the border between high math and regular math, so when we moved the new school put him in regular, with the option of moving up later in the year if needed.

We talked to his teacher at conferences and he said that while academically Nolan was perfectly capable of moving up, he felt like it would stress him out a lot personally. The teacher told us, that at least in our district, regular math vs. high math in middle school has no bearing on the math classes they'll eventually be able to take in high school. All of the kids will be able to take calculus if they want; the high math kids will actually have to take a semester or two off in math some time during high school. We put a lot of weight on the professional opinion of the teacher and kept him in regular math. I think for him, it was a good decision.

College admissions are so competitive. For whatever it's worth, when the CES people came through a few years ago and did a presentation to the youth, the BYU-Provo guys told the kids that your GPA (average was like 3.7 or 3.8) and ACT (average 28) were 40% of what they look at for admissions, the other 60% is who you are as a person...your seminary graduation, extracurriculars, leadership skills, etc.

Whoa. This is the longest comment I've ever left on a blog, ever!

Steve-Rosanna said...

That's Lara and Andie! Love both of your thoughts and ponderings as young mothers.

My first year away at college (a far less selective college than BYU) I failed miserably because I really did not know how to study and because I spent way too much time socializing.

I really did not learn to study until I returned from my mission.

Thanks again for your posts.

Charlene said...

My first year in college too!! I had way too much fun and suffered miserably my first year. If it wasn't for Denise to help me get my head on straight, I may had to drop out!
I love all the answers given so far. I too agree that their isn't a one right answer for every child. Something else to think about, (in my case) my oldest struggles with ADHD,and I've been worried how he would handle middle school life this year. I'm happy to say he has done very well and enjoys being there. He doesn't let it stop him from doing the best that he can and he's determined to succeed in his work. I'm proud of him for trying hard on his school work and his tuba in band.

Denise said...

My parents pushed me really academics and I did the rest...I think maybe they didn't know what was expected, not having gone to college.

And so for me, realizing they need it all...I do really encourage them, but for me, the push is really in academics. I want them all to be in the more challenge classes and to move forward and be on a AP track.

It helped me a lot, and I think it will help them too. So, which I do encourage the extracurricular, I really focus on the academic. Hopefully I'm not pushing too hard.

K said...

We are actually asking ourselves a similar question right now with Andrew starting kindergarten in the fall. How important is it that a kid goes to a great vs good elementary school. Does it matter in the long run?

Deanne said...

I've had the same thoughts concerning my kids and still haven't come up with an answer. I can see pros and cons to both sides.

I grew up in a small school (graduated with 70 kids) and looking back am grateful for the opportunities I was given - sports, music, band, clubs, etc. that I wouldn't have been involved in if it was a larger sea. I also did well academically. Even though we didn't have top rated academics at my school I still was very prepared for college at Michigan State and went on to do well.

I suppose I probably lean towards giving my kids different opportunities to explore their interests and not just pushing academics. I think all areas are important and building my kid's self confidence through these different experiences is most important to me.

AE said...

Lara-- as a continuation of our conversation, I am still thinking about it. However, I am leaning towards the social aspect right now. Academics can be learned without school, but the social aspect, if missed out on, can REALLY affect how you get along in the world. There was a study done at Univ of Chic that tracked GPAs and 'success' afterwards. The 'success' was measured by overall happiness with the individual's lives, salary and a couple of other things. All this was done 'blind'. The results were that the 'A' students did the poorest on the 'success' scale and the 'B' students did the best. The 'C' students came in a pretty close second though. Just food for thought... I will try to find the specifics on the case study. This is an important thought with potentially life-altering results. Keep up the quest!

Steve said...

Great comment Adelia! Enjoyed your thoughts and reasoning.

Steve said...

Great comment Adelia! Enjoyed your thoughts and reasoning.

JenJ said...

OK, I am weird here I guess, but BYU seemed SO easy compared to my highschool. I went to a tough one with really hard classes etc. So the GE classes at BYU seemed like a super big review. But I have always felt like the little fish in a big pond......just doing my part. Just keep swimming swimming swimming..... :)

Lara said...

Thanks for all of your wonderful input. We have a lot of deciding to do over the next few weeks.

melissa said...

I vote homeschool ;) wait that's not an option...

I think that the best thing definitely varies child to child and that they should be encouraged to set their own goals with the things that interest them (sometimes needing a bit of guidance from the parents :)) I'm reminded of the story I believe President Eyring told of when he was younger and studying the same thing his father did. Well one day his father noticed that he wasn't really interested in what he was studying so he told him to go find something to study that he would love. And I agree, the world would be really boring if we only had science and math majors, we need variety like the arts (music, painting etc.) or literature or so many other avenues I think it is sad that some things are only valued when it brings in $$ I think it is most important to find something you love and succeed at that!

that probably doesn't answer your question but just my 2 cents :)

as far as realizing I was just a peon? the first time I went to Relief Society :)

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