Wednesday, December 16, 2009

What Does Tiger Woods Teach Us About Schooling?

Schooling implicitly and explicitly tells people to do certain things.  Since the goals while one attends school are largely to earn good grades, finish a certain level, and move on to a more prestigious position (e.g. graduate high school and attend a selective college), it seems to me that once one has finished attending school, it only makes sense for them to try to excel at what they do and move on to bigger and better things.  In the workplace, that often means trying to earn more money and a more prestigious title.  In that sense, Tiger Woods has accomplished virtually every goal that schooling sets forth.  Consider:

-He attended a top-flight university (Stanford)
-He became the best in his field (golf)
-He is a multi-millionaire
-He's not just a golfer, but also a spokesperson, golf course designer and author.  Plus he has his own foundation

When you add in the fact that he's married (to a Swedish model, no less) and has two kids, he's pretty much the model of success.  Tiger is a model of every skill set needed to excel in school -- and was a model of nearly every skill set needed to succeed in life.

But apparently that wasn't enough.  Instead of serving as a role model, Tiger's now just another example in a long line of evidence proving that one can have everything and still not be happy.

And I can't help but wonder: what does schooling teach out kids about such situations?  What if a kid earns straight A's, aces that SAT, and earns a scholarship to Harvard?  Is he/she necessarily a model student?  Have they accomplished every goal the school has set out for them?  It's hard to believe that there's a school administrator in the country who wouldn't be thrilled to have such a student.

But at some point in time there need to be more personal and moral goals set forth.  At some point we need to acknowledge that it's possible to receive a bad grade, do poorly on a test, or attend a second-tier college and still be a good person and lead a productive life.  Because we all know (I hope, anyway) that it's possible to take a low-paying job, pass up a promotion, or marry an average-looking spouse and still be a good person.

I'm not arguing that we shouldn't push kids to do their best, or rid schools of academics to build self-esteem, I'm just wondering what schooling teaches kids about what it means to be successful in life.  Because I'm not sure it always send the right messages.


din819go said...

Great post -- excellent things to think about...I am not sure schools with their race to the bottom, fear of competition and lack of encouraging students to reach new heights is the right place for this training to occur...seems like society needs to demand more of itself and pay athletes much less than it does and put more emphasis on the successful family but nuclear and extended...

Something was clearly wrong in Tiger's family and up-bringing. Why was this the responsibility of any school to correct? Seems much of the blame should be put on the parents...

Why do educators what to take on more and more when as a whole so many do their primary job poorly or average at best

Claus von Zastrow said...

The problems lie in the broader culture, it seems to me. The idea that Tiger Woods should be a model for anything but gold always struck me as strange. Why should I buy a product just because he endorsed it? Why should I stop buying a product just because he was unfaithful?

We have a schizophrenic popular culture. It celebrates lousy behavior (just look at the reality shows) while investing some figures with qualities that have little to do with their actual accomplishments. We consumed both versions of Tiger Woods--irreproachable and despicable--with equal enthusiasm.

Perhaps the real lessons in homes and schools should be to take all this marketing baloney with a grain of salt.

reality-based educator said...

Tiger Woods has an addiction problem. Sexual addiction is a particularly powerful malady because a) society often doesn't see it b) the consequences of the addiction are not as dire as the consequences from alcohol and drug addition. But any man who hears his father is on life support and will die within a few hours who goes off to have sex wit his mistress before returning to the hospital to say his goodbyes, well, that says addiction to me.

EFM said...

Excellent grades, entry to a top university etc., are not the real goals of education. They are merely a strategy. It's not the only strategy, nor is it the best strategy. Learning for the sake of bettering oneself, for the sake of making life more livable, is the real goal of education. Take time to remind kids of the real reason they are in school. Tiger Woods is a sad reminder of how easily we can lose our way.

Corey Bunje Bower said...

EFM: I agree that those are really the goals of education, but students are repeatedly told -- both implicitly and explicitly -- that they'll be successful if (and only if) they receive good grades, high scores, attend a good college, etc. And I think that hurts more kids than it helps.

RDT said...

I've found myself thinking very similar things, not so much about the message that schools send, but about the message that parents with a hyper-focus on achievement send.

My sense is that there are a lot of kids who grow up gauging their every move by the approval they get from adults, and once they don't have grades as a yard stick, money and career prestige have to substitute. And in the end talent is a route to prestige and approval, not to being able to do intrinsincally interesting and exciting things.

Sasha M. Harris said...

Unfortunately we do not live in a society where access to certain career paths and revenue streams can be achieved without the right University names on your resume. All too often parents and teachers sell this bill of goods to children - that there is only one tried and true path to success.

But the sad truth is that for many disadvantaged students or even students from middle and working class backgrounds there really is only one, highly competitive, path to financial security.

Lets be honest, the odds of rising above your parents economic class are minute and shrinking. The baby boomers were the last generation to do it and since then the trend has reversed itself.

What careers are left in this country for the less then stellar academic achiever? I think parents and educators may be reacting to this difficult to miss reality and that’s why they are pressuring students to pursue this route.

Eve Proper said...

Really? You know if Tiger Woods is happy or not?

Frankly, the American Dream, at least for men, includes the things you list ... plus the ability to be non-monogamous. Perhaps I shouldn't call it that, since it is in no way specifically American! In far too many places, a "successful" man is a man who has the loyal wife AND sexual freedom. I'm not sure this is the right example for what this post is about. Don't conflate our notion of "success" with our notion of morality.

Also, it's my sense that no matter how much schools talk up the student with good grades and top SATs, in day-to-day interactions a lot of teachers demonstrate a marked preference for second-rate students - B+/A- students who work very hard for their grades and don't aim too high. The message most often sent is that tall poppies are cut down.

Corey Bunje Bower said...

It seems reasonable to me to assume that something is wrong in a person's life when they sleep with at least a dozen other women and have multiple longstanding mistresses during their first half-decade or so of marriage. I don't know, maybe he thinks that all those women made him happy -- but those don't seem like the actions of somebody who's satisfied with their life.