What is next? Let’s calm the f*ck down.
I dare you to google the term “ready for college” then “ready for kindergarten.” What you will get is roughly 200 pages of results for each (with an unimaginable list of more resources available). Why? Because our parents, schools, communities, and even teachers (and sadly many of our kids) have embraced a culture of “what’s next.”
What does that mean?
It means that we are no longer trying to develop our children as quality individuals in the present moment. Instead we are focused on gaining steam towards what is next. Albeit sports, education, work, scores, scholarships, or some other element of life we have lost our capacity to let our kids focus on the life they are currently living.
As a community of adults we have somehow lost track of the now.
There is some truth to the belief that we need to plan ahead. But do our two year olds need to learn to read in order to pass a test in third grade? Do our middle school students need to have proven athletic prowess before the age of eleven to be a worthy team member? Do our high school kids really need a grade point average above a 4.0?
Here is just a taste of what we know.
Early reading is not the same as early literacy. Pushing kids to academically excel early on has negative consequences. Middle school students benefit from extracurricular activities (athletics being one option). Athletic opportunities during adolescence supports enjoyment of physical activity, but when that opportunity is focused on competition, the negative impacts on mental health become more predominant (as do the physical consequences of pushing too hard too early). High school grade point average accounts for very little in terms of predictive success in college (with only college level Math and English being associated with high school GPA). The bigger influencers of success are motivation and engagement.
So the question is this, why the f*ck are we so focused on what comes next?
We really don’t have much to hang our hat on when it comes to proven predictive qualities of a good life (i.e., we can’t say without a doubt that doing x will always lead to y). Innately, humans do their best. When they get distracted by negative self talk, social pressure, or perceived value achieving their best becomes complicated. Why? Because our efforts, likes and dislikes, strengths and weaknesses, etc. turn from being about individuals to being but about a collective set. The complications of competition and comparison isn’t necessarily new, but the longitudinal negative effects of thinking about human development and life in general with a “what’s next” viewpoint is becoming a problem.
If we think that what we do in elementary school should first and foremost get kids ready for middle school, we do them a disservice. If we get kids ready for college and not allow them time to nurture themselves as high school students we do them a disservice. It’s a disservice because we aren’t allowing our kids or the systems that support them to do what is best for them at the age that they are currently at… we are always thinking about what’s next (and often times with unwarranted concerns or out of habit).
We worry about the past and become anxious over the future. The problem is that the behavior of focusing on what is next fuels anxiety and contradicts any efforts we make to improve the mental health of our kids. No one has a crystal ball. We don’t know what will happen or what will be be possible, challenging, easy, or life altering from one day to the next. All we can do is try with every action and every word to cultivate presence in the now.
What would happen if we pushed away from getting ready for what is next? This isn’t about one system (PreK) getting ready for what is next (elementary school) but about a bigger picture of contributions at every stage (not discretely, not in preparation for, but in contribution to). Maybe we can take a collective breath and agree to do one thing: calm the f*ck down and let our three year olds be three, our eight year olds be eight, our eleven year old be eleven, and our sixteen year olds be sixteen, etc.