Does Success Happen in a Straight Line?

Feb. 23, 2020

Exploring Catholic University of America

Choosing the right school for your student is more about your son or daughter than the school. In some of my first presentations in Northwest Arkansas, more than a year before Ozark Catholic Academy opened its doors in 2018, I would ask parents what do they want for their children? I would let it sink in for a few seconds and then answer, we all want our children to be happy.

The answer is still the same, happiness, but maybe we actually disagree on the definition of what will make our children happy? In Ready or Not: Preparing Our Kids to Thrive in an Uncertain and Rapidly Changing World, Dr. Madeline Levine presents her observations based on her practice as well as research. In an adapted article from her book, in The Atlantic, the reader is hit directly on how young children are being guided by their parents for success. Dr. Levine acknowledges that children are being groomed for success and winning; yet, they have no concrete guideposts other than that money will be their measure of success: “Money is overvalued, and character undervalued. The 10-year-old sitting before me is the logical outcome of this culture. He wants to be a winner, but knows nothing about the kind of work he’s signing on for.”

Catholic schools are known for educating the whole person. Forming students in the Catholic tradition happens in the most complete sense, when the school is integrated in its culture, curriculum and Catholicism (faith). Whether your children are attending a Catholic, charter, traditional public or even home-school, are they receiving an integrated formation?

Looking over the history of Catholicism, one sees that the saints of the world were not linear, many wandered. Yet, Levine believes that Americans, “fervently believe that staying ‘on track’ beats wandering around. However, reality suggests otherwise. And instilling this concept of success as a straight line can set kids up for unrealistic expectations and disappointment.” Catholic Education has always been rooted in reality. The reality of the human person is important to acknowledge not just in our daily lives as adults, but in the formation of our children.

Dr. Levine continues speaking of all the speeches and presentations she has given over the years: “‘How many of you who consider yourself successful have followed the straight path? How many have followed the squiggly path?’ I have asked more than 100,000 people these questions. Whatever the composition of my audience—techies from Silicon Valley, cops and teachers from middle­-class neighborhoods, the highest levels of management from some of America’s biggest companies—the proportion of ‘straight arrows’ and ‘curious wanderers’ is always the same. Straight arrows make up, at most, 10 per­cent of the people who consider themselves successful. The remaining 90 percent are folks who have taken risks, failed, changed course, recovered, often failed again, but ultimately found their stride.”

The straight path is not for us all. Bradley Birzer in Beyond Tenebrae speaks of how each person is called to live as they have been created, “remind the human person of his universal qualities as well as to leverage his particular gifts, abilities, and excellences.” We may find our stride as Levine speaks; perhaps the discovery of our children’s path will happen with an education that walks along with each student as they find their own path. Western Academy and Ozark Catholic Academy are two schools where their faculty walk along with students.

Dr. Levine reminds me of two other physicians and authors that through caring for their patients began to do studies beyond those that entered their office doors, Drs. Leonard Sax and Meg Meeker. Dr. Levine’s book, Ready or Not, is worth our exploration.

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