Just last week, I went back to high school. Now don’t get me wrong–my new odyssey through the angst-filled world of secondary education won’t involve praying for a seat at the cool table, late night cramming for AP tests or lugging my life around in an oversized backpack. I’ll leave those rites of passage to my son Holden who is the one actually starting his freshman year.

No, my journey will be much harder because I will never really know if I am doing it right until it is too late to change things. 

What really scares me is that I am getting sucked down into the same maelstrom of second guessing and over-protecting that is producing a generation of students who are unable to decide anything for themselves. In my own desperate attempt to steer my son away from the soul-crushing rocks of conformity that define public education these days, I plan to use this blog series to chart a new course. I’m calling it The Things You Learn as a Dad

Today, parents lose countless hours of sleep worrying whether or not their kids are taking the right classes or participating in the best extracurricular activities; however, both of those concepts are inherently flawed because they are based on the premise that such things as classes and activities can be engineered for each child to achieve a pre-determined outcome. In a recent article, “How to Get the Most Out of College,” NY Times columnist Frank Bruni explores the misguided way that many students approach college; but, it is my belief that kids don’t need to wait until college to benefit from Bruni’s wisdom. Bruni quotes UNC counselor Eric Johnson, who warns “The more you regard college as a credentialing exercise, the less likely you are to get the benefits.” I would argue that this same flawed approach to education has seeped into high school and is creating a dangerous trend. Bruni goes on to say that students who get the most out of college are those who take the time to seek out mentors and engage in meaningful academic and professional relationships with their professors outside of the normal class times. 

My question is why wait until college to do this? 

If nearly half of high school students in America have an A average today, kids are going to have to find a new way to distinguish themselves. Higher grades and rising test scores are clearly not the best indication of who is and who is not making the “most of their high school experience.” It’s time to recalibrate our scoring system and encourage students to seek out those meaningful influencers, whether they be teachers or professionals in their community. I don’t want Holden to turn into one of the countless apathetic students who appear to be satisfied waiting until college or beyond for something to move them. Carpe diem! Those are the words I have tried, and many times failed, to live by; “Seize the day” seems much healthier to me that “Chase the A.”   

Life at the cool table isn’t all it’s cracked up to be anyway.