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Roger C. Schank - Playing By The Rules

Monday, 7 Jul 2008 | 4:33 PM ET

I got D in "Works and Plays Well with Others" when I was in the first grade. When being a good guy is your goal being right probably isn’t. When being right is your goal, others with whom you

have to work with will find you annoying. This is a conundrum for creative, innovative, people. It is hard to be liked and to be inventive at the same time. Let’s face it: no one really likes an inventive kid. Yet it is delightful when our child draws a cute picture or asks a provocative question. We are excited by our budding genius.

But, geniuses tend to be bad students. Why? Because they don’t typically think the questions being asked of them in school are very interesting and they have more interesting ideas of their own to pursue. This is a problem for the parents of bright kids. Conform, work very hard, and do what you are told, and then you get to go to Harvard seems to be the plan of many a parent. But is this is reasonable plan?

Pushing kids to do very well in school is also a rather subtle way of pushing them to never challenge the rules. And the rules are really not there in order to make about geniuses. The rules of school are intended to produce citizens who fit in. Knowing the right answers is the key to success. But, when a teenager asks why he would ever need algebra and his parent answers that he will need it later, the parent is lying. No adult uses algebra, but we force students to know it in order to get good SAT scores and get into Harvard. Overachievement and high expectations for kids means expectations that are very conventional.

No brilliant poet, author, scientist, or entrepreneur, ever succeeded by knowing all the answers. Success is bound up in their asking the right questions at the right time. School doesn’t care about a student’s questions, not in the Age of Testing, Testing, Testing.

So, stop pushing your kid to do what he is told and allow him or her to be what they want to be and do it their own way. Say no to Harvard and yes to following one’s own path. I taught at Yale for many years. There are lots of kids there who know how to well on tests and whose primary question of a professor is whether what he just said will be on the test. Not so many geniuses there. Push your child to think, rather than to succeed and good things will follow.

- Roger

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Roger Schank was Professor at Stanford, Yale, and Northwestern. His latest projects are grandparentgames.com and an alternative to the existing school systems described on engine4ed.org.