[Editorial] Ain’t No Rest for the Impressionable Youth
by The Milton Measure on Friday, October 21st, 2016
Miltonian culture has adopted a new spelling of the word “success”: “Ivy League.” Sure, Stanford and MIT are considered successful college destinations anywhere, but the point stands: your college’s U.S. News and World Report Ranking becomes your legacy once you leave Milton. This narrow-minded definition of success, as our Talbot speaker Jonathan Mooney would say, is not only incomplete, but harmful.
Jonathan Mooney, founder of the organization Eye to Eye, which aims to assist those with learning and attention differences, addressed the student body on Wednesday, October 5th. He grew up as “the bad kid,” in large part due to his learning differences, but ultimately graduated from Brown with an English degree in literature. Looking back, he can see how his dyslexia and ADD diagnoses forced him to internalize the “bad kid” label.
Mooney concluded his talk with abstractions about the nature of success: what it means and how to achieve it. If you don’t have learning differences, then doing well in school and on standardized tests — typical indicators of success in our culture — can come much easier than it does for students who do have learning differences. Mooney suggested that intrinsic motivation plays a key role in overcoming the feeling of failure; achieving goals that you set for yourself is both more possible and more rewarding.
Unfortunately, this last point — the crux of his appeal — largely fell on deaf ears. While students overwhelmingly praised Mooney’s talk, many used it as an opportunity for self-congratulation on Milton’s acceptance of learning disabilities. And while the hard work that teachers, the Academic Skills Center, and the entire community dedicate to accommodating and accepting differences warrants praise, this pat on the back misses the more universal point Mooney made.
Every student, diagnosed with a learning difference or not, compares himself to other Milton students — in fact we spend a concerningly large portion of our time doing so. Figuring out what grade our classmates got on the latest test becomes second nature. And the students here are so talented that these comparisons inevitably expose all the ways in which we don’t measure up.
All these little comparisons culminate in the largest of them all: your college choice. Students trawl Facebook for college declarations up until graduation, at which point The Milton Measure publishes a complete listing of matriculations. The insane level to which a college’s name influences students’ goals calls for a thorough examination of the gravitas college holds.
To use Mooney’s terminology, submitting ourselves to the extrinsic motivation of gaining admission to selective (read: Ivy League) colleges forces us to sacrifice something much greater: our goals. Every club you join “for college” brings you closer to success as our culture defines it, but further away from what intrinsically motivates you. In lieu of taking the class that interests you most, you take the course that looks best on a transcript.
So how can we, if at all, shift our extrinsically motivated goals and our narrow definition of success to intrinsically motivated goals that afford a breadth of different success? This question is extremely complicated because no one group or individual shoulders the brunt of blame. Instead, we all share it. Milton Academy, as an institution, drives students towards rigorous schoolwork in preparation for elite colleges. In turn, students tend to push themselves to the breaking point, creating a hostile environment where we compete against one another for a narrow minded interpretation of success.
Although this Miltonian concept of success will almost certainly persist in our community of extremely intense and sensitive individuals, an individual sense of direction also still impacts many students. As a board, we think that students, instead of unquestioningly adopting the mindsets of their peers, should consider what activities they truly look forward to — in the end, we believe these interests are the ones that will “get them in.”
Futile comparisons to others fuel the fire while external pressures fan the flames. Heeding Jonathan Mooney’s sage wisdom could, just possibly, curb the feeling of failure that runs rampant in the Milton community.
Short URL: http://miltonmeasure.org/?p=8422