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Your Kid and Their Portfolio

My wife and I used to watch this old variety / comedy show called "In Living Color". One of their comedy sketches centered around a Jamaican immigrant family. The schtick was, everyone in their family was so hard working, it was ridiculous. In one sketch, a new couple shows the Jamaicans their young child, who promptly ask, "So, what does he do? What's his job?" The comic tension surrounds the irony that, most normal people don't expect their children to perform adult tasks. That would be absurd.

Twenty years later, and life imitates art. Ok, In Living Color wasn't art, but it was predictive. The world economy has forced many cultures to put pressure on their kids, so they can be ready to compete in the global workforce. It's a logical concept. Not every country is blessed with natural resources, arable land or even a stable government. Yet, if you work hard enough at it, developing your citizen's intellectual potential is a no-brainer. Anyone can do it, but it requires time and a lot of hard work. It must also be initiated when your citizens are still young and mentally pliable.

My question is: Are we all "Jamaican Immigrants" now? If so, is that a bad thing?

Personally, when I see one of these "tiger moms" terrorizing their children, I want to ready a cage and lock kitty up. Kids need to be kids. They don't need to be exposed to the plethora of adult stimuli. This includes intellectual demands.

At my kids' last conferences, I was introduced to the concept of the middle school "portfolio". This is a program mandated by the State of Washington. In the Portfolio, the student gathers examples of their best academic and social work, supporting a theme. The idea is to direct the student toward a specific higher education field, or a career goal. If a child wanted to grow-up and be a chemist (yeah, right), they would highlight their work in sciences, mathematics and perhaps some outside studies. Their Portfolio is monitored and graded. Like the third-world country grooming the next generation to compete, the 'gentle' hand of statist bureaucrats will guide our children to a glorious future.

Not on my watch. 'Yall are on notice.

I got a better plan. Cover the basics. Cover them well. Take the time to check for understanding and comprehension, then move on.
Meanwhile, my wife and I will deal with our child's development as a citizen and person. I don't think that my ten year old needs to be planning his future. He needs to dream. He needs to imagine a wonderful, exciting future. In the last five years, my fourteen year old has wanted to be a geologist, meteorologist, musician, photographer and teacher. I haven't looked at her portfolio. I talk to her, and listen to her dreams. She doesn't need direction, structure or some rigid plan. My kids need encouragement and love. They're not machines. They're children.

If we compete on that level, we lose. Any nation can throw together a workforce of "meat CPU's". If some kid from Usmartistan can cite Pi out to one hundred places, and my kid can't, I'm not losing any sleep. At least until recently, the U.S. was a place where people dreamed big, and had the freedom to do so. The smartest people in the world came to America. They didn't come to become smarter (though many did). They came because freedom grows happiness, and success. Better universities will emerge throughout the world. Better freedom will not. From a business standpoint, it's insane to dump your competitive advantage and fight your opponent on their strength. Read Sun Tzu.

I respect the work ethic and drive of that fictitious "Jamaican immigrant family". I'd just differ regarding parenting style.
Another immigrant illustrates my point. A patent clerk from Austria used to daydream on the train, riding to and from work. When he was a kid, he was a poor student whose teachers thought he would never amount to much. Later, after being accepted to the most prestigious university in Germany, this audacious young man continued to dream. He immigrated to the U.S. in the 1930's, and did quite well. But I suppose that assessment is 'relative'.

I just wonder what was in young Albert's portfolio.

1) The preceding does not assume not imply that all persons from the island of Jamaica are industrious and hard working, nor all Austrian immigrants are brilliant physicists. Your results may vary.
2) The reference to "America" is preceded by U.S., and refers to the United States of America. This should in no way reflect on any nation residing south of the Rio Grand River, or north of The Great Lakes.
3) You don't really need to read Sun Tzu. Although it may look good in your portfolio.


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