Monday, February 24, 2014

Only Option?

I get the chance to talk to a lot of high school seniors. I tell them that after they graduate they are in for a shock. If they go to a college or university, no longer will they have to ask for a pass to go to the bathroom. Many of them will live away from home for the first time. They will have the freedom to make more of their own choices than ever before.

And sadly, a lot of them will choose poorly. There is story after story of young adults who go off to college and really struggle their freshman year.

But why? Because many of them haven’t learned to make their own choices. In high school, especially now more than ever from what I’ve seen, students are being forced to do certain things instead of given a choice.

Here’s an interesting word for you: option. What does that mean to you? According to various dictionaries, it means “the opportunity or ability to choose something or to choose between two or more things” and “the power or right to choose” and “a thing that is or may be chosen.”

Now consider those definitions of the word “option” in relation to a saying that is printed on banners posted around schools: “Success is the only option.”

Think about it. “Only option” in and of itself is a contradiction. Having only one choice to make is not really a choice then, is it?

To that end, I don’t think high school fully prepares students for life after high school. That’s a pretty bold statement, though I did include the variable “fully” to give me some wiggle room to explain what I mean.

Here is something I do to help students prepare for real life: I give them the chance and the choice to fail.

That’s right. I believe I learn a lot more from my mistakes than things I get right on the first try.

It’s interesting when I tell students, “Here is the assignment for today. You can do it, or not. It’s your choice.”

Their response? Many will say, “Really? You aren’t going to make me do it?”

I say, “Nope.”

Inevitably, one of the students will ask, “But what if I don’t do it?”

My answer? “Then you will miss out on a chance to learn something. You’ll earn a zero on the assignment which will affect your overall grade.”

If you think about it, that’s how life after high school works. If you don’t do your job, you’ll get fired. You won’t have money. You can’t buy food. And so on and so on.

So why do schools then adopt slogans like “where success is the only option”? Because it sounds good—even though it is fundamentally wrong.

I propose instead: “Where every student can be successful.”

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