So What?

This morning I led a mindfulness class with a group of juniors. I love leading these classes because I gain just as much as participants do from the centering, stretching, breathing, and re-prioritizing exercises. We all need reminders about how to live mindfully.

One exercise I do to help align priorities is the “So What?” Game. Here is how it goes:

Leader: “So, Faith, tell me why you’re working so hard in school right now.”

Faith: “So I can get into a good college.”

Leader: “So what?”

Faith: “So that I can get a good job.”

Leader: “So what?”

Faith: “So that I can make a lot of money.”

Leader: “So what?”

Faith: Blank stare. Thinking time. Awkward pause. Then, “So that my family can be happy and healthy.”

Leader: “Faith, you can be happy and healthy right now.”

The progression that Faith just took is typical of what many, if not almost all, of my students would say. Faith’s final answer is pretty good. Being happy and healthy.  After the money answer, I’ve heard a range of other replies  running the gamut from, “so that I can do whatever I want” to “so I can please my parents” to “so that I can live the same lifestyle I live now” to “I don’t know.”

But here is what I’ve been thinking lately: wherever our students end up at the end of this “so what” game will be the driving force for their lives. No one I’ve asked so far has ever come up with “so that I can glorify God” or “so I can better help my neighbor” or “so I can change the world for the better.” Yet, as a parent, these three reasons along with living a “happy and healthy life” represent what I hope for my life and what I hope for my son’s life.  I’m curious about what kind of world we will be building if the driving force for our children revolves around making money.

Now, before you start calling me a “hippy” or assume that I’m bashing our educational system or believe that I’m heralding the 99%, let me reassure you.  Yes, it is important for students to get into a good college. But, I’d argue it is more important for them to get into the right college than the best college.

Yes, it is important to make a living off which you and your family can thrive. But I’d argue that when it comes to money, no matter how much you have, you’ll always want more.

Yes, people who have resources above the average leverage power in ways that can change the world. BUT, they only do change the world if their goal or purpose in life is more than getting rich.

So, parents and teachers, what is your “So What?” What do you hope drives your children? Your students?

What are some of the other reasons you want your child or your students to be in school? A few I can name:

School is a place to build life-long friendships and connections. Where you learn to interact with others.  School is a place where you discover a subject about which you are passionate. Where you learn the power of engaging deeply and the joy of knowledge. School is a place where you can learn to face challenges, overcome them with hard work and help, and feel the success of a difficult job well done.  School is a place to grow as a person, discover your identity, and build your character. School is a place where you can make mistakes and learn that mistakes aren’t the end of the world–they’re the beginning of an opportunity for growing.

Parents, teachers, please emphasize some of these other reasons with your children. Emphasize the so what? Because it seems like the message, the only message, our kids are hearing right now is that the reason they’re working in school is to make a lot of money once they graduate from a good college.

That is what I heard from my 6th graders when I asked them the open ended question, “why is school important?” It is what I heard from my 8th graders when I asked them about the purpose of what they’re doing in my Journalism class. It is what I’ve heard from 11th graders when I lead the mindfulness class this morning. I bet, if you go home and ask your child, “why do you go to school? Why should you work hard in school?” I know what their answer will be. Is that the answer, or the only answer, you’d wish for your child? For yourself?

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