What is success?


Recently, the Chairman of the City Council, Kwame Brown, held a hearing on a bill that he hoped would revolutionize the school system. It was met with a cool reception by DCPS and the DCPCSB, who both stated that they did not like the bill, while OSSE (the body that regulates both the public and charter schools) said that they stood in full support of that bill. And what was so revolutionary about that bill? What did it do? It would require all D.C. high school students to take either the SAT or ACT and apply to at least one post-secondary institution in order to graduate. You can read about it hereCollege Prep Bill.

The Chairman's logic is easy to follow, and many perhaps would agree with it. There can be little doubt that it is heartfelt. If students take the SAT or ACT then they will be motivated to apply to a college or university. It's a tough love idea.

But here are some questions to ask: how will this effect the dropout rate? Will special ed students be exempt? How will students be motivated to take these extra tests?

These are valid questions, but they fail to get at the root of the issue, which is this, what is success?

In our day and age success is increasingly being tied to the idea that you have as much as you can get. That you have the highest education possible, the most money, a nice house, and a nice car, which, we are told by the media and others, will equal a happy life. Because the cost of living is increasingly rising, you will need these jobs in order to survive, and to get these jobs you need a higher education, which perpetuates this circle.

At to this the rhetoric that schools are to promote college readiness. We must prepare the future, we must make sure all students graduate, and all students go to college, and when you graduate you get it nice paying job (a few years ago the college graduation rate was 55.5% check this). And to ensure that students are college ready, we must standardize the knowledge and the tests, so that we can ensure that students are progressing to reach this goal of going to college.

This goal seems believable, and it is even laudable, but it is extremely lofty.

Why are students not allowed to pursue what they want to? Do you really need a nice house and car to be happy? I know society tells you that's what you need, but does that really equal success?

Education should be about awakening a desire in students to pursue a particular field of interest. This is not compatible with with standardization.

Point in case, Steve Jobs and Bill Gates. College dropouts. Very successful men. Not just because they made a lot of money and could pay entire countries, but because they pursued a dream and achieved it. But by todays standards, they would be utter failures because they refused to play by the standardized rules, and now ironically Mr. Gates is one of the biggest supporters of standardization (but that a rant for another day).

The reality is not everyone will go to college. And the further reality is not everyone will graduate from college (see above). But does that mean they are failures because they don't work a 9 - 5? Rather, we as a society have failed them because we have not allowed to pursue what they want to be. Instead of demeaning them and their professions, we should allow then to pursue what they want to be, and if they want to and chose to follow the "standard" path we should allow for that too.

Happiness and success can be found in the most "unlikely" of places.


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