This School Year, Let it Be the Year of the Perfect Effort!


08.24.21 • 1:30 pm EDT | 0 responses |

Partnering for Potential; not Perfection

With the flip of a calendar page, another school year is about to begin.

I have always thought of September as a very hopeful month and I’ve often wondered  why. In my mind’s eye I can see legions of hopeful, and even harried parents, facing another school year. And the ritual begins with the buying of new clothes, backpacks, notebooks, pencils, binders and the like.

There are new teachers to get to know, bus schedules to memorize, lunches to pack and kids to calm down, as they face another year.

But just what is it we hope for our children as we make those purchases, inside all that “newness” at the beginning of every school year? It’s probably a new start; a chance to start fresh as we erase all of last year’s missed assignments, lost opportunities, and maybe, dare I say the word, failures.

In a documentary called “Waiting for Superman”, the film looked at the failures of the American public school system, noting that while American kids lagged behind all other developed countries in skills like math, our children were rated highly in “confidence.”

It is this cult of self-esteem based on “nothing” that has taken over the culture and ingrained this sense of confidence about underachieving.

Education is about drawing out the potential of each child and building on it through the mastery of skills. The reality is that for each child, that potential is quite different. Each child’s abilities, personality, desire to excel and compete is very different, and very unique. Education is about drawing out that latent potential and harnessing it to achieve mastery of educational skill sets with each successive grade.

But today, maybe we should settle for mere mastery, as in larger numbers in some schools sometimes we are not, as a nation, even achieving that goal.

With the advent of Common Core and the hullabaloo it has caused with its emphasis on more “rigor” in academics, schools increasingly are looking at foundational skills and realizing “rigor” is having a hard time succeeding, perched atop an already shaky foundation.

And, just playing devil’s advocate here for a moment, whatever happened to the acceptability of the “gentleman’s C” as a grade? C is deemed mediocre, and therefore meaningless, or less than meaningless, today. But why?

Is it because we put the same drive and determination into success in parenting as we do in building careers? And that letter grade on the report card at the end of the term, speaks to our success or failure as parents in that regard?

That letter grade speaks most of all to the abilities of our children to negotiate school, and to master what is expected of them, with parents as partners, in that process. We can and should model and teach them how important their best effort is in that process. But, children themselves, must have to desire to succeed and excel.

And maybe, given the undeserved promotion rates in failing schools in some cities, we must revisit the concept of acceptable standards of the minimum “gentleman’s C” in order to get a high school diploma.

And it should send out alarm bells that in Oregon, minimum standards for high school graduation in the areas of reading, math and writing have been eliminated.

Is it because they are considered unachievable or is it because our expectations of achievement for students have fallen so far as to disappear?

In other words, paraphrasing high school football Coach Bob Ladouceur of Concord, California, as he addressed each successive team that helped build an incredible 11 year, 150 game winning streak at De La Salle High School,  “I do not expect a perfect game, but I do expect a perfect effort.

For more on Bob Ladouceur, please watch the movie called, “When the Game Stands Tall,” with Jim Cavieziel as Coach Ladouceur and Laura Dern as his wife.

Maybe, with that quote ringing in our kids’ ears, we can assure them that the almighty A does not define them each and every time they receive a letter grade in a test or do a project.

For many times in life they will learn just as much about themselves from failure, as they will from success. They will learn tenacity and the ability to strive and overcome.

Admittedly, the last year and a half, with its need for amalgams of in-class and virtual learning because of the Covid pandemic, has had an effect on young people and their ability to learn and succeed.

This ability to navigate change and adapt is the stuff that engenders legitimate confidence, as they realize over their academic careers, and in life, that anything of real value is achieved with great effort, persistence, perseverance, determination and patience.

It is that “perfect effort”, and the knowledge that they indeed did their best each day, whatever that grade may turn out to be, that will foster their ability to negotiate school, and life, with staying power.

Then, each day when they come to school,  that growing knowledge of their best selves may allow their potential to overcome this cultural mania for perfection.

Be your best self; not someone else! For everyone knows that an original is worth more than a copy!


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