A School Administrator’s Response to Tom Friedman’s OpEd: “Average is Over”

In today’s New York Times, Thomas Friedman has penned a provocative article that is a must-read for all educators. Friedman writes:

In the past, workers with average skills, doing an average job, could earn an average lifestyle. But, today, average is officially over. Being average just won’t earn you what it used to. It can’t when so many more employers have so much more access to so much more above average cheap foreign labor, cheap robotics, cheap software, cheap automation and cheap genius. Therefore, everyone needs to find their extra — their unique value contribution that makes them stand out in whatever is their field of employment. Average is over.

via Average Is Over – NYTimes.com.

I am concerned that Friedman’s article will, in twisted ways, validate the anxieties of parents who want their children to change the world before they are sixteen so that the Harvards and Stanfords will take notice. As we – school leaders and educators – debate 21st century education and continue the march towards becoming 21st century schools, it is imperative that this progress does not feed the high school or college admissions frenzy that is already pervasive in our culture, especially in independent schools that talk of “rigor” and advertise themselves through the number of graduates going to Ivy League institutions and near-perfect SAT scores. The latest issue of Independent School magazine has an article on anxiety school heads and principals are seeing as early as the elementary grades because families are concerned about their child’s perceived success and the possibility of falling behind his or her peers. Neal Brown, the author of this article and a head of school himself of a PreK-8 independent school in Maryland, writes:

We know that force-feeding academic skills to young children is not healthy for them and won’t improve their current or future lives. But we can’t just snap our fingers and expect all parents to let go of their anxieties for their children’s futures. Rather, we need to engage parents in an ongoing conversation about what makes most sense — about the learning process that will help their children develop into successful, engaging, and resilient adults.

Last year’s movie, Race to Nowhere, highlighted this point as much as it showed the dangerous consequences of overburdening expectations and the competitive culture we live in. So yes, Friedman may be right in that average is officially over and today’s current and future jobseekers will need to do something extra – their “unique value contribution” – to be noticed, however at what expense will we see this occur? Can we as educators help our parents and students strike a balance? I have written before about my school’s work last spring on developing our Portrait of a Graduate. The four attributes our faculty eventually agreed to as reflective of our mission and program are: Independent Learner, Effective Communicator, Community-Minded, and Balanced. That last attribute – balanced – is, to me, what keeps our school and program in check by always asking the question: Are we allowing our children to be children? Great schools are not academic factories but communities, and as we say at ACDS, one big family.

How do you strike a balance in your “school family”?

5 thoughts on “A School Administrator’s Response to Tom Friedman’s OpEd: “Average is Over”

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