Jackie Gingrich Cushman

It is back-to-school time, at least for my two children.  We have completed the basic preparation (buying backpacks and lunch boxes), and have reviewed academic material every day for the past few weeks. My hope is that they will brush up enough to not be totally confused when they sit down in the classroom.   

The start of a new school year has always been fun and exciting to me. Students can start fresh as grades have not been determined and expectations are not yet set.  Many dread the start of the new school year, focusing on the challenges and hard work rather than the payoff of learning. However, I have always enjoyed the challenge of new material and figuring out solutions to new problems, at least academically.

Schools focus primarily on the intellectual abilities of students.  However, more than just intelligence determines a person’s outcome.  In “Coaching the Gifted Child,” Christian Fischer (Scientific American Mind, August/September 2008) notes “IQ is just one ingredient among many in the recipe of success.”  Fisher writes, “motivation and persistence, social competence, and the support of family, educators and friends” are important determinants to success.

James Heckman reinforces this perspective in “Schools, Skills, and Synapses,” (May 2008, Institute for the Study of Labor), contending that “much more than smarts is required for success in life. Motivation, sociability (the ability to work with others), the ability to focus on tasks, self-regulation, self esteem, time preference, health and mental health all matter.”

My takeaway?  My job, as a parent, is to help prepare my children for success, not only by emphasizing academics but also by encouraging motivation, persistence and social interaction.  Schools focus on education, which is systematic instruction. But they can’t do it alone. Parents partnering with schools to ensure student success is imperative. 

As I have long focused on academic achievement and intelligence, it appears I might need a bit of remediation myself.

While some parents, teachers and students focus solely on grades and outcomes, it is important to remember that process and progress matter as well.  Successes often follow failure and failure is often the best teacher, assuming you pay attention to the mistake made and learn to try again in a different manner.  The hope is that, if students can learn to love learning, then they will be able to make progress and be successful throughout their lives.   

John F. Kennedy, the 35th president of the United States, said, “Leadership and learning are indispensable to each other.”  To create the next generation of leaders, we have to create the next generation of learners.  Learners have to be able to make mistakes, take risks, listen with open minds and humility.  They must understand that they do not have all the answers, but be willing to learn every day.  As my husband might say, in a quiet moment, this is where I tend to get myself into trouble. I often move toward a solution that appears obvious to me before listening to others.  

The good news is that learning is a lifelong skill.  As a person who loves to learn, there is hope for me yet.

Fischer notes “school is not a race, but an adventure in learning.”  Let us remind our children and ourselves that we, and they, are not racing to a finish line.  Instead, we should focus on making the most of the trip, picking ourselves up when we fall, focusing on moving forward, and learning along the way.  Learning makes a difference.


Jackie Gingrich Cushman

Jackie Gingrich Cushman is a speaker, syndicated columnist, socialpreneur, and author of "The Essential American: 25 Documents and Speeches Every American Should Own," and co-author of “The 5 Principles for a Successful Life: From Our Family to Yours”.