Nobody has ever asked for my 3rd grade transcript. It is a good thing. I was a pretty lousy student until I was about 18 years old. It is unlikely that I had no good teachers. I’m not suggesting that at all. It’s just that I found school boring. Ask any kid to describe school in one word. You will find a lot of kids who will say the same thing. Reading is what kept me in the game. I read what interested me.
The stories I loved were relevant to my world. In school, the information I was given seemed arbitrary and meaningless. I was too often left alone to puzzle over the exhaustive series of facts and unsolicited tasks assigned to me. But, I really liked Spider-man as well as Peter Parker– his true identity. Peter Parker was not having much success in life, either, but as Spider-man he could do anything. That I could relate to. What I chose to read fed my imagination. I fantasized my own stories, with me as Spider-man or some other superhero. I built my reading vocabulary.
What I didn’t know, I figured out. “Nick Furry” isn’t a tough guy’s name, so I puzzled over it and came to know the hero truly as “Nick Fury”. I anticipated surprise endings. I connected prior knowledge I had of the characters and applied it to new situations they encountered. Comics survive by the richness of their language and by the value of the entertainment. What I learned from reading comics, I applied to other literature. I grew confident enough to read a novel if it appealed to me. I also read guitar magazines, baseball and football cards, and other material that captured my interest. This reading material has real world value. In fact, when I found my 10-year-old reading Sports Illustrated for Kids, I ran it through a Flesch-Kincaid readability analyzer. My 4th grader loved a magazine that had material rated at over a 7th grade level. And the writing was pretty darn good!
I eventually “woke up”, so to speak. Sometimes, if we are lucky in life, we may have an epiphany. I won’t go into it here, but something happened to me that changed my attitude about myself and of formal education. I started becoming curious and lost a lot of the anxiety I had around learning. So, at 18 years of age, tired of bagging groceries at the local supermarket, I entered community college. From there I went to Michigan State for a year. My grades were solid enough to allow me entry to the University of Michigan. This all happened within a span of three years. These events led to my asking fundamental questions, like “Did I really miss out on anything absolutely required for life success in K-12?” And, “If so, how could missing all of that valuable learning in K-12 public school have absolutely no effect on my college performance?” I began to question many of my beliefs about schooling. I had to assumed that I got a pretty good education by reading books that I chose to read. Perhaps the tools of our culture played a hand in educating me. Maybe long conversations with smart friends, comic books, magazines, even film helped me learn to think enough to perform well at a prestigious university. Later, I would read research that shows that reading for pleasure does, in fact, produce the best readers and good readers enjoy many benefits in life.
In working with families, I meet a lot of worried parents. They see the negative impact that low grades and poor test scores have on their children. That is probably the biggest problem with academic failure. Here is what I tell Griffin, and I will tell the other kids when they get into the academic game: It is a game. It is an important game, but it is a game. You don’t really “have” to know everything, and you will forget and have to relearn a great deal of it every year. Also, at his age, Bs are fine with me. I would like to see an A in classes that interest my kids. But, there are other things in life that I want him to do and if getting an A means 3 hours of homework a night, I simply don’t think the game is worth the candle. Guess what the effect is? He gets good grades. He is not stressed about school. He does his homework (usually on time). He tests well. What I’ve done is take the pressure off him. This may not work for everyone, but it has worked for us so far. But never, never give up on a kid. We have no idea how he or she will develop. Nobody will ask for his 3rd grade transcripts. Trust me.