School Success and Life Success

I pick up the best books from our local library sale. Recently, I’ve been reading Daniel Goleman’s Emotional Intelligence. One of the best $.50 I’ve spent in a long time.

His main argument during the first half of the book is that emotional understanding of others has a much stronger effect on how successful people are life; stronger than pretty much anything else. Money, social stature, where one lives, how one was raised, school grades, all these things, Goleman argues, are minimally relevant. What’s far more important, and indicative of future success, is a person’s ability to “motivate oneself and persist in the face of frustrations, to control impulse an delay gratification; to regulate one’s moods and keep distress from swamping the ability to think, to empathize and to hope.”

Goleman also argues that unlike IQ and school success, emotional intelligence can be learned at any time during one’s life and used to create life success. Although, if we learn it as children, it’s a much easier road to being successful as adults.

During his discussion of all of this, he talks about the effect of high grades during K-12 on our ability to predict a person’s life success. He uses one intereseting study to illustrate his point:

“Consider also data from an ongoing study of eighty-one valedictorians and salutatorians from the 1981 class in Illinois high schools. All, of course, had the highest grade-point averages in their schools. But while they continued to achieve well in college, getting excellent grades, by their late twenties, they had climbed to only average levels of success. Ten years after graduating from high school, only one in four were at the highest level of young people of comparable age in their chosen profession, and many were doing much less well.

Karen Arnold, professor of education at Boston University, one of the researchers tracking the valedictorians, explains, ‘I think we’ve discovered the “dutiful”—people who know how to acheive in the system. But valedictorians struggle as surely as we all do. To know that a person is a valedictorian is to know only that he or she is exceedingly good at achievement as measured by grades. It tells you nothing bout how they they react to the vicissicitudes of life.'”

This passage brings to mind three points:

1) How was “success” measured? In this explanation, it’s not clear. I’m going to assume that they measured it by the students’ level of income or stature in a company. I’m wondering, do valedictorians just have a different idea of what “success” is? After playing the game so long, are they done, and are satisfied with being a little lower on the pay and status rung to have a simple, happy life?

2) Grades, as you and I already well know, have no real bearing on our life success. However, very high grades and very low grades year after year after year, that can effect a person. (And not in a good way.) But this study does show that having the goal of getting perfect grades is not, even by a long shot, a reasonable ruler by which to judge whether a child is doing well to prepare for adulthood, like so many educrats would argue that school and good grades are for.

3) And lastly, is it required that when professors are interviewed for opinions on studies like this, that they have to whip out SAT words like “vicissitudes” instead of just saying “challenges” or “demands”? I mean, come on, who says “vicissitudes”?

You’ll be hearing more from my new friend Mr. Goleman. He’s got some interesting points, although I’m not 100% sold on everything. Still, what he says is worth thinking about. Definitely applicable to the life, and learning, of a homeschooler.


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