As parents and educators, we can give students permission to be brave explorers. We can emphasize that the highs and lows are both useful because they reveal what makes them tick — what sparks their intellectual curiosity and brings them joy.
- Phyllis Fagell -
Having had time to reflect on this issue after coming to college, I could not agree more with the idea that, "we [need] to give students permission to be brave explorers." There is no doubt that student's at America's top colleges are ferociously smart, but there is an absolute pressure to conform that has only grown stronger in recent years.
My high school experience was consumed by working to stand out. What crazy (as the author puts it) gymnastics or art could be created such that admissions officers would believe in the innate creativity of my peers and the ability to execute they possessed from within. In a sense, it was always an attempt to break free of the rigidity that grades provided.
Looking back from the vantage point of college, from a world where grades do not matter as much, the activities we used to do to seek identity seem to have become far more rigid themselves. After coming to college, I was down for a long while. It seemed that success was defined by getting a prestigious consulting, tech or finance job or getting accepted to further education at a law or medical school. Somewhere in the process of being judged in K-12 on the basis of grades and SAT scores and being judged in college for meeting the formulaic criteria necessary for one of these jobs, students have lost the creativity that brought them to a top college to begin with.
"Our economy isn't money its our people." - Martin O'Malley
I was having a conversation with a girl who came from a similar K-12 experience as mine but in Michigan and she said something that stuck with me:
"Nobody is truly unique in that we all strive for uniqueness to escape fear."
This is a rather depressing reality to accept, that fear of missing out on a top college as opposed to the alternative of hope in being able to leverage the resources of a top school to do something amazing is what drives today's college students. However the fear of carving ones own path outside of the name brand academic institution or name brand corporate conglomerate seems to only have become more pervasive.
There were a lot of things in high school I wish I had a chance to learn in the classroom that I strived to learn outside of the classroom, but one thing I wish my peers were more confident in was taking a risk and having enough confidence in ones own ability to not need validation, and yes I include parental alongside that of any brand recognition. There is a sense of freedom and almost peacefulness in that mindset, however I know there is more that can be done early on to nudge students into that mindset. I'm scared of what to expect from the world in the next five years. At what point will people break from the need for validation that has been driving many students actions since the day they first walked into a schoolhouse?
The world frankly needs that break to happen soon. The innovation economy will not be confined to the Bay Area forever and soon, being a "brave explorer" won't simply be an attitude needed to assume the role of a budding entrepreneur, but the role of a majority of those in our modern, technology based, economy.