Wednesday, September 23, 2015

Average kids

Some parents push their kids very hard to excel. In addition to individual examples, there are some patterns. There's the stereotypical case of immigrant kids, especially Asian immigrants. I don't know how widespread that actually is, but I believe it has some basis in fact. This gives rise to the "model minority" image. 

I think rich parents, or at least some rich parents, push their kids to excel in order to maintain their social status. Dad went to Exeter, so you must too. Dad went to Harvard, so you must too. Dad's a Wall Street banker, so that's your destiny too. 

Now, up to a point, kids can benefit from parents who set reasonably high expectations. However, we need to make allowance for the fact that (gasp!) most kids are average. 

"Average" isn't a complimentary adjective in American parlance. But in many contexts, there's nothing wrong with average.

If I go to a hamburger franchise, I expect an average hamburger for an average price. If I take my girlfriend to a fancy restaurant, based on a glowing review, and pay extra for what turns out to be average cuisine, then average is substandard. I wanted to impress her. Make it a memorable evening. But average food for average prices is the way it's supposed to be.

Most kids are average because that's the definition of "most." At least one definition. In that respect, "average" is a synonym for "normal." 

Now an average student can sometimes be competitive with a gifted student if the average student is diligent while the gifted student is a slacker. 

Some gifted students never develop their potential precisely because everything comes to them so easily. They coast through school. What is effortful for the average student is effortless for the gifted student. Same output, different input. 

Up to a point, a Toyota can go as fast or faster than a Ferrari. But that depends entirely on the indulgence of the Ferrari driver. He lets the Toyota pass him. But it only takes the slightest pressure on the gas pedal for him to leave the Toyota in the dust.

The problem is when ambitious parents expect their average child to be completive with a gifted child who's exerting himself. That puts unreasonable pressure on an average child. A gifted student has more in reserve, and if he chooses to tap into it, he can outperform an average student, regardless how of hard the average student applies himself. 

When it comes to competing for admission to Ivy League schools, it's detrimental to kids if parents fail to make allowance for their innate abilities. No amount of hard work will offset natural aptitude if you're up against someone with far more aptitude who floors the gas pedal. 

A child should not be made to feel that he's a failure if he can't compete at that level. He can put the pedal to the metal, but if his engine is a Toyota, that won't beat a Ferrari. An overachiever can outperform an underachiever so long as the underachiever has no ambition. But a gifted student has an unsurmountable advantage if he chooses to exploit his superior aptitude. There should be no shame in losing that contest. 

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