What Happened To Your Class Valedictorian?

“…They are reliable, consistent, and well-adjusted, and by all measures the majority have good lives. “

“In another interview Arnold said, “Valedictorians aren’t likely to be the future’s visionaries . . . they typically settle into the system instead of shaking it up.”

“Research shows that what makes students likely to be impressive in the classroom is the same thing that makes them less likely to be home-run hitters outside the classroom.”

“So why are the number ones in high school so rarely the number ones in real life? There are two reasons. First, schools reward students who consistently do what they are told. Academic grades correlate only loosely with intelligence (standardized tests are better at measuring IQ). Grades are, however, an excellent predictor of self-discipline, conscientiousness, and the ability to comply with rules.”

“In an interview, Arnold said, “Essentially, we are rewarding conformity and the willingness to go along with the system.” Many of the valedictorians admitted to not being the smartest kid in class, just the hardest worker. Others said that it was more an issue of giving teachers what they wanted than actually knowing the material better. Most of the subjects in the study were classified as “careerists”: they saw their job as getting good grades, not really as learning. The second reason is that schools reward being a generalist. There is little recognition of student passion or expertise. The real world, however, does the reverse. Arnold, talking about the valedictorians, said, “They’re extremely well rounded and successful, personally and professionally, but they’ve never been devoted to a single area in which they put all their passion. That is not usually a recipe for eminence.”

“Ironically, Arnold found that intellectual students who enjoy learning struggle in high school. They have passions they want to focus on, are more interested in achieving mastery, and find the structure of school stifling. Meanwhile, the valedictorians are intensely pragmatic. They follow the rules and prize A’s over skills and deep understanding.”

“School has clear rules. Life often doesn’t. When there’s no clear path to follow, academic high achievers break down. Shawn Achor’s research at Harvard shows that college grades aren’t any more predictive of subsequent life success than rolling dice. A study of over seven hundred American millionaires showed their average college GPA was 2.9.”

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