Raising Children, Not Test Scores

When my daughter was twelve years old, we bought a new house with a beautiful yard. The gardener, Mikel, had been mowing the grass and tending the flowers at this house for years, so when we moved in, he came by to see if we would be continuing with his services. As I declined, he suggested that without his services, “we were not going to raise good grass.” I replied that I’m not raising grass, I’m raising a daughter – and I want to instill a work ethic in her. Mikel loved that idea and completely supported my decision. He often stopped by when he was working in the neighborhood to say hi, or to bring some wonderful homemade Basque treats.

Academic success takes good old hard work. Children can learn to focus their attention and see a task through to completion, even when it feels like hard work. Believe me, once my daughter got older and hard work came naturally to her, I hired a gardener!

Hard work, initiative, and confidence are among several qualities that link directly to academic success. In the early 1990s I served on the board of directors for the Center for Applied Research Solutions, a non-profit organization focused on youth research and best practices for the prevention community, practitioners, policy makers, and the public. The organization was instrumental in the facilitation of research and survey data – conducted by the SEARCH Institute – that identified both internal strengths and external supports in young people, which they called developmental assets. The survey measured these developmental assets and correlated them to academic, social-emotional, and personal success. Internal strengths measured were things like commitment to learning, personal values, social competencies, and self-esteem. External supports were identified as children being valued and receiving support from adults at home, school, and community, along with having clear expectations and boundaries.

Over time, studies of more than 5 million young people consistently show that the more developmental assets young people have, the less likely they are to engage in a wide range of high-risk behaviors and the more likely they are to thrive.
Specifically, children with the most assets are more likely to:
• Do well in school
• Be civically engaged
• Value diversity
Youth with the least amount of assets are more likely to have problems with:
• Alcohol and drug use
• Violence
• Sexual activity

In 1994, I was invited to present my ideas to the United Nations at their International Drug Controle Programme: Developing an International Strategy Conference. Each panelist had just six minutes, so I cut right to the chase and opened with, “I don’t think we have an alcohol and drug problem in our country – I think we have an alcohol and drug solution!”

As human beings, we have a need to connect, to share experiences, and to care about each other and our world. When children grow up without unconditional love, clear boundaries, and adult support, they often find their own solution by using alcohol, drugs, or other risky behaviors to numb the pain and anxiety of feeling unsafe in the world.

Schools play a crucial role in raising each generation of children. To focus solely on raising test scores is to neglect the real needs of children, which will ultimately result in diminished academic and personal success. The child-development perspective of Caulbridge education builds on every child’s internal strengths and external supports in support of their academic and personal success.

Except from A Common Sense Education in Uncommon Times: Caulbridge, by Debra Lambrecht