Sunday, April 24, 2016


What makes a person "successful" ? Surely, in our common use of the word, our society uses the word to define wealth accumulation. "He made a success of himself," doesn't refer to fatherhood. Many may describe Donald Trump as a "success". Readers, that is a very narrow definition. But few would blanche if they heard Trump being described that way.

I found myself reading the radio again. NPR has a fine blog and today the link to this article came across my Twitter feed  Neil Gabler, the person being interviewed in this article said the following, which really struck me:

We have been taught that a middle-class existence is ... maybe a $250,000 house, and a vacation every year, and a car for each adult, and education for the children. And indeed, those are the very metrics that the commerce department has used in defining what a middle-class life is. But as I point out in the article, if you put a price tag on that middle-class life, as USA Today did several years ago, the price tag for that middle-class life is $130,000. Only one in eight Americans makes $130,000. So the middle-class life that we've all been taught is ours — if only we work for it — is out of the reach of all but a very small number of us.

We better begin to rethink in a serious way what he means to be successful in the United States because very few are going to "make" successes out of themselves. Of course, we also need to also make it so that American wealth is shared more broadly and fairly.

How does this relate to schools? I can't help but think of The Race to Nowhere.  For it is in school that we begin to define success by how fast we go, how many credits we acquire, our scores on standardized tests, etc... For some students, this frenzy never ends. They even may feel that they thrive in such a system and are proud of their ability to "win" the race. I can't help but think of the millions of folks who self-medicate themselves with food, booze, or drugs to cope with the stress of it all. Thousands of our best students chase success but earning great grades to get into great colleges to get into great grad schools to get prestigious jobs. The whole time people do this, they are looking forward. I think it little wonder that people have mid-life crises. "All this for what?" some of the "successful" may say to themselves. And for those who fail to make the magical $130,000, they must realize by the time they reach their 40s that they never will "make" it. Either way, most of the "successful" and the "non-successful" are dooming themselves to unhappiness.

As technology begins to take the jobs of white collar workers, the need for a reimagining of success will be increasingly urgent.

Our best schools can help kids by encouraging learning for its own sake. We could also help reimagine what success means.

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