Why Getting An ‘A’ In School Is Not Good Enough
Dear Grandchildren (All 16 of you),
I am edified to learn that most of you are getting outstanding grades in schools, ranging from elementary schools to college.
A thought crossed my mind. Perhaps I should send $20 in cash to all of you.
Perhaps I should prepare 16 envelopes, properly stamped and addressed, and send them out today – with the expectation that 14 or 15 of you would actually receive the envelopes. One or two of you would not get your envelopes, depending on how the “90 percent is a grade of A” plays out with the U.S. Postal Service.
The one or two of you who didn’t get your envelopes would not mind – would you?
There is a point to all of this. I will explain it to you. However, as you know, if you ask me what time it is, I will respond by telling you how to make a watch. So relax; the explanation is a long one.
Good grades in school aren’t good enough in the real world.
In elementary school, we introduce you to the world of performance. But we understand that other things besides intellectual growth and academic competence are important to your growing up to be capable of generating the Social Security revenue to support your grandparents in our old age.
So in elementary school, we pay attention to things like social interaction, how you get along with other people; self-esteem, what you think about yourself; effort, how hard you do try to complete your work.
Back in my day, our report cards also talked about “deportment.” These days, that word has fallen into disuse, but it basically means “how we behaved.”
But by about the time we got to high school, the “deportment” part of the report cards went away. The expectation was – and still should be – that by our teenage years, we had already learned how to behave, how to conduct ourselves around other people, how to honestly assess ourselves, and how hard we worked.
Those things no longer counted, because they were supposed to have already counted during our pre-teenage years.
Somehow, along the way from generation to generation, we seem to have stopped telling young people about this change.
So a lot of young people graduate from high school and even from college these days thinking that grades of “A” or around 90 percent, are good enough to guarantee success in the real world.
The Postal Service will fire people who only deliver 9 out of every 10 letters.
If you repair cars for a living, and you only fix 90 out of the first 100 cars brought to you, the 10 people who own the not-fixed cars tell other people about it. They tell friends. They tell neighbors. They tell co-workers. They tell people in the barber shop and the beauty shop.
Pretty soon, you don’t have 100 more cars to fix. You don’t even have 10. But you still have your bills to pay. You go broke.
Broke is bad.
“But … but … nobody is perfect!”
True enough. Every one of us makes mistakes. I spent a working lifetime making mistakes. In 50 years, I probably made … 50.
In the real world, that’s about it. Once a year. They happen because you have the flu. You just had a fight with your husband. You got distracted by the Super Bowl.
Whatever the reason, you mess up. Something goes wrong.
In the real world, most of us work with other people. One of the advantages of working with other people was that, when I made a mistake, other people got a chance to look at my work before it went out the door at a newspaper. So a lot of my mistakes got caught before they did real harm to the newspaper company.
But even if those mistakes did not make it out the door, my bosses knew about them.
My boss when I was in my 20s, a crusty old (to me) editor named Allie Anderson, did not talk a lot. When he did, it was a good idea to listen.
“Everybody is entitled to one mistake,” he said.
“You just had your one.”
Nothing more would be said about that one mistake, but the message was clear. Make that mistake again anytime soon, and go to work somewhere else.
I am delighted to get reports about your outstanding performance as students, getting 85, 90, even 95 percent grades, A’s and B’s.
That is outstanding – for students.
But in the real world, it needs to be 100 percent, or almost that good.
Wouldn’t you tell the Postal Service to fire the person who did not deliver the $20 letter to you that I had sent – if I had sent it?
But I didn’t send a mere $20.
Instead, I am sending this to you. Over your lifetime, it will be worth far more than $20.
Get it right. Take the time, make the effort, pay attention, do it now rather than later. Get it right. Every time.
You will make millions of dollars, and pay thousands of dollars into the Social Security fund.
I and other old folks will cheerfully spend those Social Security dollars, and thank you for having earned them.
Denny Bonavita is a former editor at newspapers in DuBois and Warren. He lives near Brookville. Email: email@example.com