By TMoM Team Member, Ashley Quinn Kibby

When I was in grade school in the 1990s, nothing mattered more than academic performance. I had to get A’s because I needed them to prove my intellect, make my parents proud, and get into college. In college, I had to make Dean’s List for many of the same reasons. But once I started my career in advertising, my ability to score big on a test was not the most useful skill, and it certainly did not prepare me to navigate the complexities of life.

Sure, memory and retention are great muscles to exercise. But we need much more than good grades to develop the emotional and social intelligence that a productive, safe, and healthy society demands. Especially when unprecedented challenges to our environment and infrastructure will require cooperation and ingenuity like we’ve never seen before.

This is why I hope my kids get Cs in school: Curiosity, Compassion, Communication

Now you might be thinking, that’s easy for me to say, my twins are only two! But I’ll tell you the most important thing I’ve learned from raising these two children. They have shared a womb, room, preschool environment, and parents, but everything from the topics of their interests to the pace of their development is completely unique.

I try to foster my kids’ individuality by tuning into their specific outlets instead of providing a one-size-fits-all approach. While this can be time consuming, it helps them both to develop emotional language, social support, and creative expression. Above all else, it’s taught them to trust their own instincts. Now I wonder how this translates to a classroom of twenty.

Today’s Classrooms

My friend’s six-year-old excels at math. He also works one-on-one with a student aide because he’s “behind” in reading comprehension. Another friend’s nine-year-old creates and performs amazing comedy acts. She also just started medication to help her focus in the classroom. Both children are now learning that their abilities are measured against their peers, and that being different requires correction. Both are being conditioned to get the grade, even if that goes against their natural inclinations or interests.

It’s widely accepted that our children must hit the same academic milestones around the same time, but is this model working for us? Some of the most prolific minds in history — from Thomas Edison and Benjamin Franklin to Walt Disney — performed poorly in high school. The innovative workplaces of today and complex challenges of tomorrow also make it clear that diversity in skill and experience is a priority.

So, what are the costs of conformity? Do our academic standards foster curious minds, compassionate friends, and good communicators? Do they support our ability to recognize, appreciate, and leverage our innate abilities for the benefit of all? And do they help develop essential life skills like cooperation and conflict negotiation?

Social Emotional Learning

Academic performance and social and emotional learning (SEL) are not mutually exclusive. In fact, many schools have adopted SEL curriculum or a Responsive Classroom approach. This is precisely because research correlates it with success in school, work, and life. Today, many preschool and elementary curricula incorporate aspects of SEL. This includes self-awareness, self-management, social awareness, relationship skills, and responsible decision-making.

Dennette Bailey, owner of Bailey preschool in Winston-Salem, fosters social and emotional development in the classroom. She does this by having children explain what they are doing through simple activities. She incorporates this during show and tell, drawing, or building Legos. “This talk-through improves speaking skills, fosters self-confidence, and allows them to practice gauging the response of their audience.”

Lizzie Hall is a first grade teacher at the leading independent school, University School of Nashville. She says “We believe that social and emotional learning is the most important in early education and academics come after.” For K-5 classrooms, Lizzie has helped developed curriculum that addresses concepts like Identity, Power & Privilege, and Metacognition. Her students learn to understand and trust signals from their bodies. They learn to regulate emotions through mindfulness. They also learn to respect and appreciate differences through interactive activities with pairs and groups.

Room for Growth

Our standards for success are expanding, but there’s still room for growth. I have high hopes that my Gen Alpha kids will learn to value cooperation over competition, and originality over standardization. Perhaps our forced experiment with virtual learning, and new technology in the classroom, may even create opportunities for students to move along tailored pathways pertaining to their unique interests and abilities. Until then, I will advocate for my kids to learn their C’s and try not to push so hard for those A’s.

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