Thursday, June 23, 2005

So You Want To Be A...?

In a number of schools, students participate in a Career Day of some sort. Often, the students are allowed to choose which careers interest them most. And, teachers are almost always encouraging no matter what the student chooses. A side-effect of this is that it becomes quite common for the "doctor" or "lawyer" rooms to fill completely, while many of the other rooms remain fairly empty. We all know that in the real world, most of the population is not made up of doctors and lawyers.

I personally feel that being encouraging is generally a great attribute for a teacher. However, I also feel that sometimes this blind encouragement ultimately sets up a child for failure, which can prove to be quite devastating, especially emotionally. If it is clear that a child has an incredibly low chance of achieving their career goal, is it better for a teacher to ease them into accepting the reality of the situation or better to continually provide encouragement? Note that this does not necessarily mean that a child is not intelligent. This situation could easily come up where a child aspires to be an artist or a professional ball player, but does not have the talent required to achieve their career goal.

Sooner or later, the child will reach a point in his or her life where it becomes painfully obvious that they're not going to make it. Either they are told this by a teacher or they come to that conclusion on their own after a string of failures. Or, perhaps another possibility is that one day they see that the path is too difficult, and so they decide on their own that they would rather not pursue the career in question. It is likely that the child was probably better off not heading down the wrong path to begin with. Much like navigating through a labyrinth, heading in the wrong direction often leads to a lot of lost time and wasted effort. However, it is also quite possible that what the child loses is more than made up by what is gained in terms of psychological development and also having partaken in some worthwhile learning experiences.

So anyway, a few friends and I argued about this over lunch not too long ago. And, I really have to say that I am on the fence on this one. I don't know which side to join. Is it generally better to be encouraging even when you are nearly certain that the path leads to a dead-end? Or, is it better to coax the child into a more realistic frame of mind? Maybe the answer is highly dependent on the mental and emotional state of the child in question. But, one thing I know for sure. If I ever talk about becoming a professional poker player, I want everyone (and their mothers) to tell me that I'm not good enough.


Anonymous said...

I think that parents should encourage their children to work hard to accompilsh their dreams. What kind of world would it be if people never tried to push themselves to do things they never thought were possible. Certianly, there would be more mediocrity and less innovation. Not to mention, there have been many successful people whose attributes don't fit society's definitive character of a particular profession. For example, most high school baseball scouts didn't think David Eckstein would ever be able to play profesisonal baseball. Granted not every child has the ability to puruse their ideal profession. However learning to face and cope failure is an important lesson that can help the child acheive future success. Also, I believe that its better to try and fail, then to always wonder what could have been.

Anonymous said...

I think you have to encourage the child, but accurately delineate all the trials and tribulations that will come along with this supposedly unattainable career goal. Sometimes an accurate description is enough to deter a child from picking a particular unrealistic pathway, however, it needs to be up to the child, and non-specific to the child. You can explain the metrics of how many lawyers/doctors there really are, the massive education involved, the weeding out process, etc., and if they really want to go do it anyway, well their conviction may get them farther than you would've predicted. You should never squash a child's aspirations, especially b/c no one (not parent nor teacher) is truly able to assess what a child is or is not able to accomplish. Plus, if you recall any number of career speeches, many have an anecdote saying that everyone thought they were wrong, no one knew they would end up where they are, etc. etc. It's better to have tried than to never try at all. Besides, most of the success stories came after a number of failures.

Anonymous said...

Most of the career paths that people want to take require nothing more than hard work. Most doctors aren't smart. Most lawyers aren't smart.

Despite all that, perhaps it's best to discourage kids at every opportunity. The "fuck all of you" mentality can be quite the motivator for great success.

Realistically, I think that most anyone could do most anything if they really wanted to work hard at it. I'm removing retards and cripples from the equation. If a certain kid responds best to positive encouragement, then by all means tell them they'll be able to fly. If they're of the type that respond better to negative feedback, then tell them they'll never be more than a caterpillar.

Since "better to have tried and failed" has already been said twice, I'll fall back on my favorite way to express that idea: Shoot for the moon. Even if you miss, you'll end up amongst the stars.

Brute Force said...

I am definitely leaning towards what all of you have basically said. If I was asked this question 3 or 4 years ago, I would have sided strongly with not being encouraging. But, over the years, I've changed a bit. Initially, I thought that useless encouragement would be a waste of time or actually damaging. But, now more than ever, I think that there is a lot of good that comes from failure.