I read with great interest a piece published in the December 2019 issue of The Atlantic entitled “Stop Trying to Raise Successful Kids: And Start Raising Kind Ones.” Written by noted organizational psychologist Adam Grant and his wife, author Allison Sweet Grant, the article makes the argument that teaching kindness to our children is not only more important than emphasizing achievement, it actually augments their achievement.
The article resonated with me as both a parent and an educator. As a parent, I catch myself all the time asking my elementary school-aged children how a certain project or test went, or if they won a recent game. As an educator, I am well aware that our system of education (particularly at the high school level) values performance and achievement. (Don’t get me started on what the college application process values…) Indeed, I firmly believe that encouraging our young people to stretch and reach for success is an important educational value. So what’s the problem with trying to raise successful kids?
Grant and Grant note that while there isn’t anything inherently wrong with asking our kids about a recent test or performance, these questions do signal to our children that we care about their achievement more than almost anything else. Research out of the Harvard University Graduate School of Education’s Making Caring Common project (of which Dana Hall School is a member) is clear: although the vast majority (90%) of American parents surveyed say that raising caring children is a top priority, their children aren’t getting this message. In fact, Making Caring Common’s research found that more than 80% of children surveyed feel that their parents value achievement and happiness more than caring. (If you want to learn more about this research, take a look at “The Children We Mean to Raise.”)
So why don’t children think that their parents value caring and kindness? Because, as Grant and Grant write, “Kids learn what’s important to adults not by listening to what we say, but by noticing what gets our attention. And in many developed societies, parents now pay more attention to individual achievement and happiness than anything else.” This can be a very hard habit to break, particularly given the emphasis that our society places on grades specifically, and achievement more broadly.
Grant and Grant offer some compelling evidence as to why raising caring kids is so important — and it isn’t only about creating a more just and inclusive society. The authors cite research that finds that students who are seen as kind in elementary and middle school have a higher income than their peers who are not. Middle School students in the study who are helpful and cooperative in school get better grades and standardized test scores than their classmates who are seen as unhelpful. The authors write, “Students who care about others also tend to see their education as preparation for contributing to society — an outlook that inspires them to persist even when studying is dull. In adulthood, generous people earn higher incomes, better performance reviews, and more promotions than their less generous peers.” Ultimately, emphasizing the importance of integrity and character conveys important values to our youth — values that they will carry forward in their personal and professional lives.
I am proud that Dana Hall School holds kindness and caring as core values, even if these can be counter-cultural at times. Our motto, “Amor Caritas,” highlights these values quite clearly, and we work hard to live these values in our daily interactions with students, families, alumnae, and staff. Our sixth-grade Latin students just completed their “Kindness Rocks” project; students and faculty recently continued the tradition of giving food to the Union United Methodist Church in Boston in advance of Thanksgiving; and at the fall varsity sports awards banquet, each team awarded a “Dragon’s Award” and a “Coach’s Award” in addition to a Most Valuable Player Award. The Dragon’s Award recognizes the individual on their team who promotes the values of sportsmanship, ethical play in competition and commitment to their team, and the Coach’s Award is given by the coach to an athlete who best demonstrates, throughout the season, the true spirit of Dana Hall Athletics. This award is given not only for hard work and personal improvement, but for a willingness to understand, to learn, to enter into a partnership with their coach and teammates in an effort to recognize one’s full potential.
Every day, I see teachers, coaches, house directors, and advisors encouraging Dana Hall students to live lives of character and integrity. In big and little ways, the Dana Hall community strives to model kindness and caring. By doing so, we are strengthening our community and are preparing our students “for the challenges and choices they will face as women and citizens of the world.”