Does education determine our destiny?
Harvard Yard. Source: Wikipedia
September is the month of the “rug rat race,” a comical contest that pits parent against parent vying to get their children into the best preschools, the most competitive grammar schools, and selective traveling sports teams. A couple of economists have documented how much time parents are spending on ways to stimulate their preschoolers’ early academic achievement. Spoiler alert: it’s going up. They attribute this trend to increased competition in college admissions. After all, more math drill at age 3 might lead to a math enrichment class in elementary school, an AP-Calculus track in high school and that coveted MIT-admission ticket. Internet executive, here we come!
But a host of studies challenge these assumptions. Cognitive skills—reading, writing, math—are only part of what makes people successful. Basic skills are necessary, but what we do with our skills is even more important. And it turns out that noncognitive skills—curiosity, initiative, self-control; character qualities—are the key. Thomas Edison famously noted that genius is 1% inspiration and 99% perspiration. True success is built on perseverance and grit.
Hours spend on child care per week by fathers. Source: Brookings
That’s why the Greek philosopher Heraclitus said that character is destiny. Our ability to handle adversity—to keep going in the face of disappointment, opposition or ridicule—is just as important as intelligence or native talent. Steve Jobs failed and failed and failed before he brought out the iPod. The same was true of the Werner Brothers, Albert Einstein, and even George Washington. Overcoming adversity produces character. And character, more than intelligence, is what leads to success.
Douglas R. Tengdin, CFA