In sports, we typically have our children try as many as possible and eventually let them choose which they prefer and promote the mastery of those few sports. Unlike sports, where certain skills can be completely neglected, school requires that our children continue to have some sort of understanding of each academic subject. Oftentimes we believe our children have to achieve mastery of every academic subject, getting straight A’s.
By pushing our children to be an A student in every subject, we are potentially depriving them of developing a true passion and expertise for any one subject. As in sports, if we practice soccer to only move on to swimming then to track then to golf, there is little opportunity to develop a real love and mastery for any one sport. On the other hand, if we let our children choose which sports they really enjoy, and allow them to keep a cursory level of interest in other sports, they can maximize their potential to excel in those few sports. In academia, if we allow our children to excel in subjects they love and be mediocre in those they have little to no interest in, their potential to excel in those few subjects are limitless.
In Eric Barker’s book, Barking Up the Wrong Tree, he summarizes the research of Karen Arnold from Boston College, which expectedly concluded that high school valedictorians do well in college and continue onto successful professional careers. However, valedictorian are rarely the world’s most influential thinkers, leaders, and future visionaries. Eric Barker concludes that schools reward being a generalist and the real world rewards passion and expertise.
Though contradictory to popular belief, Karen Arnold’s research demonstrates that intellectual students who genuinely enjoy learning tend to struggle the most in school. This has much to do with balancing subjects that they are truly passionate about with the demands of the other subjects which they find stifling. Keeping this in mind as our children are in their critical academic years, we must examine the values that we believe are the most important and the type of future we want for our children.