The Things That Matter
The Things That Matter
It’s a shame that nearly all home-schooling parents are themselves survivors of government schools. At times it seems that becoming an effective teaching parent involves as much unlearning as learning. One of the “shockers” of growing up is looking backward a couple of decades and realizing how much we’ve changed in what seems important to us.
I don’t recall whether or not I was very philosophical in elementary school, but I well remember in later school years that there existed an underground economy whose currency, though invisible, was well-defined by long experience and understood by all. It was the economy of school.
The school economy did not begin and end at the school house doors. For me and most of my peers, school attendance, school activities, and school concerns dominated our waking hours for most of the week and nine months of each year. Between that and television – even back in the dork ages when you could only receive three black-and-white channels – young people were assaulted with a barrage of outside input that left us little time or emotional energy to reflect upon our parents’ values and work at forging our own. Moment by moment, day by day, year by year we were spoon-fed ideas that gradually became our attitudes. Now the long-delayed process of learning to think for ourselves, though exhilarating, is also a bit unsettling.
Grades used to be very important. We had noticed that the kids who made good marks in middle school pretty consistently scored well in high school, too. It was assumed comfortably and correctly that the same trend would continue from high school to college as well. I wonder now how many have noticed, as I have, that the pattern falls apart when the transition is made from college to the real world. I knew a boy in high school who appeared to be programmed for success in everything. He was an “A” student, held a club presidency or two, held high-class offices, was respected by the teachers. In the top bracket of the unwritten “who’s who” list of our high school. Yet when I met his ex-wife at a school reunion, I learned that he had failed in marriage, fatherhood and career. Not that an ex-spouse is the most unbiased judge, but for the most part I believe her. Because Mike is not by any means alone. William Glasser, the educational psychologist, reported an inverse relationship between top grades and top career performance. In other words, he claimed that studies have shown that those who are at the very top of the grade scale usually are not at the very top of the job performance scale.
I’ll admit that surprised me. I had thought that those who learned to thrive in the system of school would learn to thrive in the system of the workplace as well. But not so.
Sports were very important back then, too. In my high school there was as yet no such thing as an academic or music letter, so a letter jacket indicated physical prowess and masculinity. Medals pinned on it were the modern equivalent of scalps. For awhile as an adult, I turned against organized sports altogether because of the false god they had once represented in my life. But I’ve moderated a bit. If kept tightly within Christian priority for time, sports have some value in that they challenge us physically, mentally, and emotionally. They stretch our capacities by constantly shoring us up against our personal limits and challenging us to build our strength and push those limits back. The problem with sports is that they’re easily over-emphasized and there is only so much time.
Popularity used to be large-denomination currency in school. There was a fairly well-defined caste system, to the point that I ashamedly admit there were some kids I avoided. I wasn’t cruel to them as some were, but I mourn the fact that I wasn’t man enough to seek out the most “dorky” kids and make sure they had at least one friend. The opportunity of those years is gone and it won’t return. The kids whose friendship I feverishly sought after are now middle-aged people who probably remember me faintly if at all. If I’d been a friend to the friendless, I’ll bet they wouldn’t have forgotten.
A lot of water has gone under the bridge and for the past 28 years I’ve had the blessing of trying to help my kids build a better value system than I built. Thanks be to God, they’re not like I was. They know better. And I know better now, too.
Grades aren’t important. What’s important is having purpose in life that guides you to areas of interest and responsibility and challenge. And understanding how to go about gleaning the sources of learning that will enable you to overcome those challenges. It’s important to care about important issues, personal and public, and be able to equip yourself to make a difference.
Sports aren’t all that important. They have some usefulness, but honestly they’re attended with temptations to value your own performance only as it compares with someone else’s. I’d hazard the guess that when Jonas Salk created the polio vaccine, his main source of satisfaction was not the fact that somebody hadn’t beaten him to it.
No, what’s important is getting healthy exercise hiking or splashing down a river in inner tubes with your parents and siblings. Long after the trophies have tarnished, memories of how Bubba flipped his tube and nearly drowned his fool self will still be fresh and giggled at around the dinner table from time to time.
Popularity with your peers isn’t important. The group’s values change with every fashion season anyway. Just befriend a dork and see how quickly the cool crowd melts away from you like morning fog. No, what matters is not how many friends you have, but whether you have the right friends. That means being willing to have the right enemies too, because others will not always share your values. It matters that you are God’s friend and an unashamed one. It matters that your other closest friends are your parents and your siblings and if you’re married, your spouse. It matters that you are your own friend. By that I mean that you know who you are, debits and credits and all, and you accept yourself as you are, yet always, as a true friend, challenge yourself to forsake the unworthy and strive for godliness. Honor matters. Conscience matters. Justice matters.
It doesn’t matter how you compare to anybody else’s achievements, but it matters greatly how you measure up to God’s standards. I’m thankful my kids seem to be getting a grasp on that. Because their generation is inheriting a mess, and human jellyfish won’t get it straightened out.