This morning I read a short article about how parents in the Netherlands raise their children to value education for their well being, rather than for achievement. The Netherlands has one of the top education systems in the world. Naturally, I was intrigued as to what makes it the top-ranked country in the world and what are they doing differently compared to my upbringing in the education field. One aspect that the article highlighted was students are encouraged to see themselves as they are without the pressure of performance, competing with their peers, and grades.
I grew up in a household where education was everything. You go to school to apply yourself, be the best student, and bring home only the best grades. My parent’s always reminded my siblings and me of the opportunities that were easily given to us. In Haiti, they had to pay for school, prepare their own lunch, and travel far to get to the school building. In America, the school system provided school bus transportation, free education, and depending on your home situation, free lunch. My parents would say we were privileged compared to other students across the world and they were right. Sometimes I miss those days when my only responsibility was to be a student.
However, as I think about my son and have discussions with my husband about how we want to raise him, I can’t help but wonder, is that all there is to education– going to school, getting good grades, and being the best? How about the wholesomeness of the child and how will we make sure, as parents, that our children feel a sense of completeness within themselves, despite the pressures to conform, and perform in an educational world saturated with the need to prove self-worth by achievement and accolades from others?
I must give my parents credit because they raised me up to be a passionate, inquisitive, and curious young woman. I understand I was raised and brought up in a different time period. My parents projected upon my siblings and me, what their parents always wanted from them, or what they wished they could’ve had for themselves when they were my age. So it’s not a surprise that in elementary and junior high school, my parents expected me to apply myself. In high school, I had to remain focus to be qualified for the university level. During university, the expectation was to do well so I can get a good paying job. The problem is at these crucial stages of my educational journey; I lost my sense of purpose because I was too busy competing with my peers. I saw myself in who ‘they‘ were and not in who ‘I‘ was–I think that’s something many young people can connect with.
As a young teen, I maintained a mindset of always being the best and working hard. By the time I entered high school the value of education had become a source of achievement, rather than the awakening of my mind. At Mount Pleasant High, I was not only in competition in the classroom, (that’s if I was even interested in the content matter) image also became a defining factor of who I was and how others saw me. What I wore, the style of my hair, my friends, and overall demeanor. My intellect took a backburner, and if I was in good terms with the teacher, grades were not a problem. High school was all about graduating and getting into university.
My college years were a whirlwind of emotions. I entered a different world, with student peers that had a broader perspective on life and wasn’t afraid to share their opinions and worldview in the classroom. I felt like the invisible man occupying space. I thought college was just about doing well, earning a degree, and at the end of all your efforts, getting a good paying job. The reality of it all is college was a time in my life where I recognized my achievement gaps. It was no longer about competition or image–it was about proving myself worthy of the opportunity placed in front of me. For so many years, my mindset was all about being the best and achieving good grades to be successful. It never occurred to me, till then, the importance of communication, working collaboratively with different people that are entirely different from me and the importance of learning to appreciate and utilize my voice as well as life experiences to contribute to what should’ve been my real educational journey from the beginning.
The beauty of different seasons and stages I have encountered throughout my academic journey is the growth and progress that it has made in my well-being. My parents were right by teaching me the value of education at a young age. Although I got lost along the way, it was the many lessons I allowed myself to learn throughout my process that has shaped me into the woman I am today.
So, as I think about my children and how I hope to raise them up, I pray my husband and I will be parents that teach them how to be confident individuals. I hope our children will welcome different opinions and have the courage to stand in their convictions in what they believe to be real and authentic, while also being receptive to what others can teach them. I have no desire to move to the Netherlands, but I sure can learn from their model and apply it to my household.
Saturday, October 14th, 2017