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Tuesday, February 09, 2010

Worth, Value, and the Problem of Words

One of the cool things I get to do in my job is meet with students and their families to talk about life after high school. We gather together around the round table in my office for me to listen to their hopes and dreams, ask questions about who they are and what they are passionate about, and offer some insight and support to the process of figuring out this huge time of transition.

A tool we we use to help juniors figure out where they are at in relation to college readiness is a standardized test called the PSAT. It helps student and parents gauge what areas they doing well in, what areas need work, and how improve in those areas both in the classroom and on the test. In the midst of these conversations, I notice students and many times "feel" students equating worth and value to the scores on this (and other) test, as well as, grades, GPA, and class rank.

On a couple of occasions, I have had to halt the meeting for a redefining of personal worth and refocusing of why they are valuable. You see students (especially high achieving girls, I've noticed) start tearing up when they see their test score that might not meet their expectations, not high enough for college they are looking at, and be where their other friends are scoring. When I stop and ask what they are feeling, the answers of each student can be summed up in one phrase: "I'm not good enough."

Their value is so tied up in the personal, family, and institutional expectations that are project on them that they begin to define their own value and worth based on this educational data. It's so sad. Thus, the "timeout" to redefine self-worth/personal value.

I've struggled not with having these conversations (they are priceless and powerful), but with using the words worth and value to define how a person "measures up". So I've reworking the word "significance" into my vocabulary during these important meetings.

I think significance is ab better word But should I throw out the baby with the bath water and not use worth and value? The reason I ask, is because worth and value have the connotations of being linked with money, goods, services, and stuff. All the things that humanity uses to determine their place in this world (thanks, Michael W. Smith). If we are going to get people and especially students to think of themselves differently, I wonder if a change in vocabulary is in order.

Just some thoughts. What do you think?

1 comment:

Matt and Toni Rings said...

There's a great Andy Stanley message on his "Destination" series, and it's about "The Path Principle". That says that where you end up is not your 'good intentions', or your 'dreams', it's about the path you take to get to where you want to go.

You may have all the good intentions in the world to go to college, but if you don't take a path of study and discipline for learning, and studying to earn the grades and pass the tests... you won't get to where you 'intended'.

Of course, in the message, he talks about the faith side of that, but the principle holds true in all of our life. One of those natural laws God set forth... it's not the intention, its the path.

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