Yesterday, my second grader came home from school beaming. He was so excited to tell me that he received the scores of his winter reading test, and that he tested “off the charts” and was being moved into the highest reading group. He excitedly shared that his score was one of the highest in his class and far surpassed the end-of-the-year expectations for his grade level. When I remarked about how excited he was, he said it felt as good as “my birthday!”
While I was proud of him, I was honestly not surprised. At his most recent parent/teacher conference, his teacher and I talked about his personality and how it carries over into his testing style; he is patient, hard-working, and has a strong desire to do things the “right” way, and that while many kids tire during tests and rush to finish, he is slow and methodical. As a result, he routinely scores high.
I, on the other hand, was not a good test-taker as a child. Although reasonably bright, I performed poorly on nearly every test that I ever took, and while I do not remember a single instance in which it held me back, I do remember feeling badly about this at times throughout my life, wondering why my knowledge and passion for learning never seemed to shine through when I wanted it to. So, a part of me hopes that my son will just continue to do well on tests as he gets older. But, as I sat there listening to him beam over his test scores, I could not help but notice that I have rarely seen him that excited about other things that he does well. I have never heard him describe the first time he rode his bicycle without training wheels, or did a perfect cartwheel, or drew a beautiful picture, or beat a video game with the same level of enthusiasm that he had about that test score.
While I know that performing well feels good, I worry that even his little, seven year old self seems to understand that there is some type of importance placed on this by his teachers, or peers, or society—likely a combination of the three. And, I worry that my son may be on the path to believing that his sense of accomplishment and self-worth can be measured by numerical values.
I want him to know that he is more than the score on his 2nd grade reading test, or his SAT scores, or his age, or the number on the scale. He will always be more than the amount of weight he can bench press, or the figures in his salary. I want him to know that he is more than any one of these numbers, or even the sum of all of these numbers.
I want him to see that the value of his life and his self-worth should be qualitative, not quantitative. But, if he is honestly looking for a way to quantify his existence, I want it to be by measuring the number of laughs he shares with friends, or hugs he gives, or snowballs he throws, or acts of service to others he performs. I want him to measure the depths of his love, the distance he travels as he explores the world around him, and the weight of his effort in all that he does. I want every day, every moment, and every accomplishment to feel as good as his birthday.
I want him to know that someday, a test will come that he will fail, and that failure may change him, but it will not define him.
“It’s not the years in your life that count. It’s the life in your years”- Abraham Lincoln.