We are a culture obsessed with lists. We like when our child gets into a college on one of the many U.S. News and World Report top college lists. We like when our school system shows up in Boston Magazine’s best school list.
We like when our school has top MCAS scores, sports championships and awards for art, drama, science and math.
When we don’t make a list, we fret. What do we need to do to make it next time? What resources should be devoted to this goal?
These are valid questions that should be examined. We also need to ask ourselves how important is the list versus the others things that we value? Do lists blind us to things that might be more important?
For example, a friend, coming from a private middle school with a large drama program was pleased to attend her town’s public high school, in part, because it had won so many drama awards.
But, it wasn’t that simple. She never once made a play because they consistently selected plays with small casts. The most talented kids cycled through and the rest were turned away. The school continued to win many awards, but my friend was out of luck.
Another acquaintance went off to an elite prep school known for its sports dominance as well as stellar education. Happily, he set out for both the hockey and baseball teams sure they would be happy to have him because he had been a stand-out in his town's youth programs.
No thanks, he was told. They had better people. Ditto for a boy who was good at lacrosse, but small. They need bigger guys to win championships.
Conversely, I ran into a hockey mom I had not seen in a while. As her child prepares to graduate, she feels thrilled with the education and opportunities he received at a small private Catholic school. This school has won no sports awards or championships in her child's chosen sports, but that is what made it appealing to her.
Her child chose a school where he would be insured a well-rounded experience. He loves sports for the teamwork, exercise, camaraderie and competition. For him, they end with high school. He wanted a safe haven after school and knew he might have gotten cut or spent too much time on the bench at his large urban high school.
Lists can deceive. Sometimes the top 10 schools differ from the number 50 school by a few SAT or MCAS points. It pays to look at the criteria of the list.
If participation in a wide range of after-school activities is your goal, you might look to the schools that choose plays with large casts or have a few no cut teams.
I’m not saying we should dumb everything down or that we should value lousy teams that never win, but perhaps we should value the experience and opportunity also.
Gifted coaches and directors willing to take chances on inexperienced students can deliver great results. The very existence of awards, lists and prizes bring everyone to a new level.
Before letting a list be your sole guide, make sure you know how that list was formed and make sure those criteria are the ones you value.