Students must Pursue Their Dreams, Not Ours

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Phil Black entered the Shark Tankwith an impressive résumé that included an undergraduate degree from Yale, a graduate degree from Harvard Business, an early career at Goldman Sachs and six years as a Navy SEAL. After Black unsuccessfully made his pitch to the TV show’s panel, Kevin O’Learry, aka Mr. Wonderful, shamed him.

“I don’t get you,” O’Leary said. “Your résumé is very impressive [but] it does not equate to a deck of cards. You’re destined for much greater things than this.”

Despite the chastising, Phil Black left satisfied, pledging to continue his dream of making FitDeck more successful. While Mr. Wonderful probably meant no harm, his comments reminded me of well-meaning parents or teachers who push children to become something they don’t want to be.

Seven years ago, I taught Mike in ninth grade World History. Recently I ran into him while shopping when he dropped a bombshell.

He had dropped out of college. Upon telling me, my gaping jaw led him to quickly reassure me, “It’s what I wanted to do. College wasn’t for me.”

Obviously, he had explained this too many times to count as he continued, “I knew [college] wasn’t right, but I went there because it’s what my parents expected of me. Freshman year went fine, but by my sophomore year, I stopped caring. I made up excuses. My grades weren’t good, so I dropped out.

“I’m going to go to a tech school and work on motorcycles, cars, or even helicopters. It’s what I’ve wanted to do.” With my college first mindset, I stood numb but recognized Mike was right.  

Hindsight being 20-20, it began to make sense. As a high schooler, Mike simply went through the motions to please his family and teachers. He adopted the values and rules of his teachers and peers. He diligently completed his work to ensure parental and peer approval, but inside he hurt.

His autonomy had been robbed from him. Instead of learning, he simply completed assignments, while feeling emasculated and ambivalent. During college, he began to defy expectations.

Fortunately, like Phil Black, Mike figured out what he wanted.

As parents and teachers, we must provide autonomy to our students and children. Instead of forcing rules and expectations upon them, allow them the independence to make their own choices. Support their efforts with love and devotion.

Allow them to be true to themselves.

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Reed Gillespie

Reed is a longtime educator and coach, who is passionate about progressive learning and 21st-century assessment practices. Read more of his work here. "I'm a co-moderator of #VAchat, a Twitter conversation for Virginia (and non-Virginian) educators that meets Monday's at 8 ET. Most importantly, I'm a father of four wonderful children and a couple grandchildren. In my free time, I enjoy cooking, reading, sports and, of course, spending time with family."

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