by Carolyn Gregoire
Psychologist and writer Andrew Solomon first confronted the absurdity of a school admissions frenzy earlier than most parents across the country when he was going through the process of his five-year-old son’s kindergarten applications.
“The process felt to me very ex cathedra,” Solomon, the author of Far From The Tree: Parents, Children And The Search For Identity, said during the April 21 New America Foundation panel, “How Are Contemporary Notions of Success Impacting the American Family?” “There are a limited number of schools. There are an enormous number of people who want their children to get into those schools. The competition is stiff and complicated… And the pronouncement that you receive — your child’s admission or non-admission — appears already at that stage to say, ‘This child is destined for success, and this child only for sadness and failure.'”
He spoke on a panel of experts in education and family life who convened to discuss the pressure facing children to succeed at all ages based on an increasingly impossible standard. The panel’s members were Solomon; Anne Marie Slaughter, President and CEO of the New America Foundation; Lisa Yvette Waller, Ph.D., High School Director at The Dalton School; Melvin White, Lead Counsel, Litigation & Risk Management, Clearspire; and Liza Mundy, Director, Breadwinning and Caregiving Program, New America. All agreed that the same characteristics continue to be at play — only with greater reach, more intensity and higher stakes — during the college admissions process. In this paradigm, admission is a sign of success; rejection a sign of unworthiness and future turmoil.
“This seems like a narrow definition for success for someone who is 18,” said Solomon. “It seemed a much more narrow, and in fact ludicrous, definition of success for someone who is five.”
However, a more nuanced definition of success for children — one that takes into account their happiness and individual strengths — can be more difficult for parents to conceptualize and help their kids strive for. It’s tempting for parents to view college admission as a sign of their child’s success (or lack thereof) because it’s easily quantifiable, explained Solomon. The child either gets in, or they get rejected, and an enormous amount of weight is then attached to either outcome.
“Whether your child is happy is a very complicated measurement,” said Solomon. “You may believe your child is happy when they aren’t. But you know whether your child got into Princeton — that’s very clear, and I think that clarity ends up formalizing a sense of success.”
(To read the full article, please visit The Huffington Post.)