For as long as I can remember, one of the biggest targets for blame when it came to a child’s failure seemed to be the schools. The reason that children in the inner cities had a higher rate of failure was because they didn’t have access to good schools. To try and fix that problem I remember things like busing kids to better schools across town, focusing more on core subjects and less on electives, changing how teachers were evaluated and all sorts of other plans that by themselves didn’t really provide the miracle solution. Sure, we’ve all seen the movies where a motivated teacher or administrator comes into one of these “bad” schools and somehow turns it all around and the kids are better and more successful in the end. But what was it they really did? They didn’t fix the broken buildings or get better textbooks or improve the neighborhoods. They somehow taught the students how to succeed despite all of that.
Perhaps what they really did was focus on the non-cognitive skills of the students. Before, research was limited about non-cognitive skills; however, today many scholars are investing large amounts of time and energy in this subject. Their research indicates that increasing a student’s non-cognitive skills may be a better indicator of future success than academic grades.
While schools still need to focus on the academic education of our children, more effort needs to be made in teaching non-cognitive skills if we want our children to succeed. However, school resources are often still limited and they are still “graded” on how well their students do academically.
This is perhaps where those of us in the community, who work with the youth outside of school, can help bridge the gap. Our work should be complementing the work of our schools so our kids have a greater chance of succeeding in school and in life. We should help in developing the non-cognitive skills of our youth.
I work for one of these organizations and our focus has always been on the non-academic skills children need to succeed. We are not equipped to teach math or reading, but we can still help the youth in our programs to succeed in those subjects by focusing on their non-cognitive skills. We can help them to build character and resiliency so they can learn to overcome the obstacles in their lives and succeed regardless of what school they attend. We can help them learn about what is expected of them in the workplace and the classroom and how to deal with the difficult situations they may encounter there. We can help them learn to work as a team, to respect each other and themselves and to set their own goals for success.
Perhaps if we stop playing the blame game when it comes to student success and participate in the lives of our youth – either in the classroom teaching academics or outside the classroom building their character – we’ll all reap the benefits of their success.