Making the Grade

(published 29 March 2015, MST)

It’s that time of the year again. Graduation Day, Recognition Day, Moving Up day -- you name it. Facebook is flooded with photos and greetings, of parents being proud of their children’s academic achievements. A friend of mine said, “sige na, honor na lahat ang anak ninyo. (okay, I get it, all your kids are honor students),” sounding just a little bit sick of it all.
It goes without saying that parents should be allowed to indulge themselves these proud moments. After all, aren’t these the reason we work so hard -- to give children the education we can afford, to give them the tools that would enable them to compete better in the real world when their time comes?
That children turn out to be academic achievers is also usually seen as a validation of the quality of our parenting. We assume that the parents of the valedictorian are doing a much better job than the parents of the kid recommended to take summer classes.
And because the clanging of the medals on a child’s chest has become a barometer of our effectiveness as parents, it’s an increasing obsession that weighs down many parents instead of bringing them joy as they guide their children in their education.
This need not be so.  Perhaps we parents need to remind ourselves that...
Grades are not everything. Sure, As or grades in the 90s are great to see. Remember though that these only measure one thing -- how well a student studies his lessons, not exactly how he thinks or processes his thoughts. Perhaps then, the child who memorizes terminologies or formula may get a higher mark than the child who takes a lot of time figuring out how that formula was derived. Who would we want our child to be?
There are several forms of intelligence. Academic excellence is one thing. But there are kids who shine in other areas while not necessarily obtaining top honors. They may be musically inclined. They may be great  at building things and then taking them apart. They may be great debaters. Or, they may not just be great at taking tests. Knowing our child means knowing where they are good at. If we guide them through this, they will stop measuring their self-worth through external things like medal counts. They will also be better able to appreciate other people’s unique attributes.
There will always be people who are better than they are. This is also known as humility. We have to accept that the word is a big place and that some people are less able than we are, while some are more able than we are. It’s a fact of life. Just because somebody’s better than you are does not mean you are not good or that you cannot get better. Everybody is a work in progress.
Resist the urge to be helicopter parents. Busy as we are with our careers, friendships and relationships, we also want to be superparents -- those who know all the details about their child’s pursuits, know all their friends, manage their schedules and enrol them in all enrichment courses imaginable. We are worried they might scrape their knees, get lost, make mistakes. Difficult as it is, we have to let them. We are there to guide them, not live their lives for them.
Disappoint them once in a while. Sometimes we get so pressured to be the perfect parents that we don’t show our kids who we really are. We feel the need to always be giving, patient, understanding, supportive. But it is perfectly all right to say no, lose your cool and holler at them when they’re taking too much of your sanity. Kids raised in a bubble do not do very well in the real world.
Education does not only happen in school. It does not stop in the summer, either. Learning is never ending and even parents can discover they have more to learn, still.
In the end, what grade matters? It’s not the one printed on the report card. It’s how we learn and what we derive from life, from the people around us, and from ourselves.