The One Thing That Will Truly Impact Our Future

Education will continue to be a topic of concern as we try and assess what went wrong with our economy. We can focus on all kinds of ways to measure achievement in a misguided attempt to “catch up with” other countries around the world who test better than we do, or we can begin to concentrate on what young people feel energized by and engaged in so they can grow up feeling they have a meaningful contribution to make.

As schools dig through the mounds of paperwork that accompanies their efforts to “race to the top,” we should be reminded of what the top is. The top of the human experience was identified by Abraham Maslow as the need for Self-Actualization.

Maslow describes self-actualization as a person’s need to be and do that which the person was “born to do.” An athlete must engage in athletic pursuits, an innovator must develop ideas, a comedian must make people laugh. These needs make themselves felt in signs of constant yearning. These needs are what many people today call strengths. The person feels lacking something when they are not engaged in pursuit of their strengths. They feel a need for self-actualization.

Standardized measures of achievement do not promote this important goal. Unless there is a study that demonstrates that test scores in other countries produce self-actualized, happy, citizens, than joining a race to get to that particular top is simply the wrong race.

Our schools today will get to the top as soon as we are able to teach children to discover their vocation in life, their calling, their destiny. When our schools are able to do this, we will be teaching young people to make a lasting impact on the world.

Jenifer Fox is an internationally published author, educational keynote speaker and leading innovator on 21st Century Learning. Her groundbreaking book, Your Child’s Strengths, a Guide for Teachers and Parents (Viking/Penguin) is widely accepted as the definitive guide to developing success through a focus on strengths for children. Jenifer authored The Differentiated Instruction Book of Lists (Wiley) and has created Differentiated Instruction, an online professional course for teachers.

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