As you have probably gathered, your instructor is somewhat skeptical of grades, standardized test scores, and the like—not because these methods of assessment are inaccurate, but because their ability to measure the scope of human talent is limited. For instance, in a New Yorker article by Malcolm Gladwell titled "The Talent Myth," Gladwell suggests that the correlation between an IQ score and job performance is modest at best. Standardized assessments almost uniformly measure how a person functions as an individual, whereas most real-life work activities require group-related social talents.

Admittedly, grades can provide a compelling incentive for students to work hard. But hard work is a habit of living that is best arrived at internally, not simply because of external rewards. In over two decades of teaching, I have found that my hardest working charges experience professional successes regardless of the scores they earned during their high school years. In fact, I have seen many "average" students dramatically surpass my expectations (and those of my colleagues) in their adult lives. Most of you know by now that hard work does not always translate into high academic marks, but why? Very simply, academic grading favors a narrow range of computational and linguistic abilities. The workplace, however, often produces a different narrative.

Good Schools?
One of the most common reasons for a student to find herself preoccupied with earning high grades is her desire to attend a "good school." In the spirit of the ever-quantifying Enlightenment she may feel compelled to compile a weighty list of accomplishments, as if to somehow resume her way into excellence.


As tempting as it is to create a grand edifice of paper accomplishments, the greatest accomplishments in life simply don't translate well on pulp. Imagine trying to convey in a list what it is like to be a good parent, a loving daughter, a supportive spouse, a kind neighbor, an inquisitive and engaged citizen, or a steadfast friend. Try to put those traits into a resume.

But the question of college and career looms. The oft-repeated saying "I have to get into a good school" assumes a curious corollary—that there are in fact BAD SCHOOLS that must be avoided.

I am always tempted to demand that students describe a "bad school" (there are some, incidentally), and on the few occasions that I have done so, I've quickly discovered that the urge to attend a "good school" is, more often than not, an urge to attend a PRESTIGIOUS SCHOOL, with social acclaim and the opportunity for worldly advancement. For students who seek out schools for their names alone (and not their programs, faculty, and ethos), the so-called good school becomes the educational equivalent of owning a BMW instead of a Chevrolet. The truth is that a bad school is one that does not encourage you to reach your God-given potential, that does not insist that you question freely and grow intellectually, ethically, and otherwise. So if you really want to find the best school, look for it in your own compassionate, curious, self-questioning mind.

Please continue to "nuts and bolts"—the next section.



— sources or subjects

d. brooks
oxford university
university of kansas
university of virginia
one-room schoolhouse
(american memory archive)
harpeth hall