Wednesday, March 5, 2008

Against Achievement

Just got back late on Monday from several days in New York City (for the NAIS Conference). It was a good trip, a smooth trip, an enjoyable trip, but I've been paying the price since my return: stacks of papers, emails to answer, a backlog of work to be done and people to see and questions to be answered. Hope to be back to somewhere near normal by the end of the week. Maybe.

In between interviewing teacher candidates in NYC, got to hear keynote speeches from Ken Robinson and Daniel Pink, and also to listen in on a sort of dialogue on the ends of education between Malcolm Gladwell and Adam Gopnick. Gopnick in particular impressed me with his impassioned argument that schools generally, and private schools in particular, are getting our mission backwards. He maintained that our goal "should not be to get kids ready [for college, for careers], but to keep them intact." Pointing out that there is a distinction between accomplishment and achievement, he argued that "Children are not naturally and should not be encouraged to be achievers," what he later referrred to as "thick-envelope kids, so driven by the drug of achievement that it gets in the way of real accomplishment." He challenged the assumption that it is the purpose of schools to get kids ready for "real life." "They're alive now," he said. "They'll never be more alive than now, the real time, the true time, the time that matters." He closed with a quotation from one of the characters in Tom Stoppard's play Shipwreck:

His life was what it was. Because children grow up, we think a child’s purpose is to grow up. But a child’s purpose is to be a child. Nature doesn’t disdain what lives only for a day. It pours the whole of itself into each moment. We don’t value the lily less for not being made of flint and built to last. Life’s bounty is in its flow, later is too late. Where is the song when it’s been sung? The dance when it’s been danced?


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