When Did Normal Become Not OK?

My wife asked that question a few years ago when our older son, Nick, was considering where to go to school after high school.   The “problem” he faced was that he only had a 3.61 GPA and scored the national average on his SAT.  He was (and still is) very interested in performing arts and began making videos and films when he was eight years old.  He also sings and plays guitar and has written several songs.

Yet he was not going to get into any of the prestigious four-year universities to pursue his life-long passion for exploring the creative arts.  He simply didn’t get good enough grades or score high enough on the SAT.  Not only that but he hadn’t done any volunteering, worked a job or played a sport.  All bias accounted for here as I tell you he was and is smart, interesting, funny, creative, articulate, curious, independent and confident.  The elite schools would not give him a sniff.  If only he had volunteered to install a water system in Somalia, invented a new language, built a robot or cured a disease while competing in marathons, he might have had a better chance.

Instead he is attending an excellent community college, taking a ton of performing arts, making movies, writing songs and planning to attend an acting conservatory next fall.  He will be fine and he will be successful.  Normal is good.

Here We Go Again

Our younger son, Tom,  is in his senior year and we are going through the college search again.  Tom has a 3.93 GPA (damn that B in freshman weight training) and scored well above the national average on the SAT.  He plays baseball, piano and guitar and is a wonderful singer.  Tom has also written and recorded songs.    By all accounts teachers love having him in class (that was true for Nick as well) and he loves school.

I’m concerned that, he too, might not get into one of the elite schools he desires.

He did not have a job, work at a food bank, write a book or work with third world refugees and, as a result, may have difficulty getting into one of the elite schools.   And he too is interesting, curious, talented,  engaging, smart, confident and independent.  Normal is good.

Normal Is Good

Early on we chose to let our boys be kids.  We felt that strength of character was as important, if not more important,  than strength of grades.   We encouraged them to follow their passions and try a lot of different things and enjoy everything school had to offer.  We talked about being generous and having a loving heart.  That empathy was more important than geometry.  If they wanted to get a job they could, but if not that was okay because we wanted them to enjoy the high school experience as fully as possible and take part in all that was offered.   We set the white lines and worked hard at keeping them happy and safe.  We kept a long trust leash and only had to shorten it a few times.   As a result they have good values, lots of friends, are healthy of mind and body and are interesting young men.  They are comfortable in their own skins and ready to go out into the world.

It’s too bad that normal kids rarely get to attend “elite” schools that prefer super-achievers.  Don’t get me wrong, super-achievers do a lot of good.  But I wonder about them being over-scheduled and becoming grade savants who struggle with the real world.  In the working world I often found that the graduates with average grades were usually better at judgement, curiousity, tenacity, negotiation and relationship building because they had better life skills.

There is a great article in The New York Times entitled: What if the Secret to Success is Failure?  It argues that character is a missing ingredient in our schools curriculum and there is evidence to support the notion that kids with great character tend to do better in college and their careers than those who only have great grades.

I don’t know if either of them will be accepted by one of the big-time schools.  I do know they both would flourish at any school.  And any school would be better having one of our boys enrolled.   I think they are very well-rounded and balanced young men – extraordinary, in a very normal way.

Song of the Day

This song has nothing to do with the post.  She is however an amazing new talent.

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