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February 1, 2012 at 8:49 AMComments: 5 Faves: 0

Redefining Success: A Boy Named Will

By Dr. Jeff Chamberlain, MD More Blogs by This Author

Our society tends to have a very narrow minded view of success.

If children do not conform to arbitrary academic milestones, they may be considered “behind”, “lazy,” or a “problem." Although we all want our children to be “successful”, I think it might be time we redefine what that means.

To build my case, I have a true story about a boy who challenged the conventional wisdom of what it means to be a "success"…

Redefining Success: A Boy Named Will

A little over a century ago, there was a boy named Will. He was always on the go and he seemed like a very intelligent child, but often got into trouble with his teacher. Some people described him as distracted. “At times he was unaware of what was going on around him," one family member remembered. Even as he got older, his sister would often check him over to make sure his close matched. And, most disturbing to his teachers, instead of doing his assigned homework, he would often choose to work on projects of his own. 

His father often traveled and would bring him home mechanical toys. Will and his brother would play with the toys until they broke. Then when the toys were broken, Will would figure out how they worked and build similar toys of his own!

By the time Will was in high school his teacher did not know what to do with him. On the one hand he was very intelligent; on the other hand, his “distracted” nature seemed to be getting worse. Will once remarked to his sister that he could see more vividly with his mind than his eyes. Will would often take a half day off of school to work on projects that he felt were more interesting than school. When his teacher complained about these absences to Will's father, he told her that these half days off are good for him, and that he'd be a better student because of them. 

While playing hockey with some friends, his front teeth were knocked out, naturally making him incredibly self conscious. Around that same time, Will’s mother became very ill and Will decided to drop out of his senior year of high school to take care of her.

Shortly after Will dropped out, his younger, more impulsive bother (who also had problems with being distracted and focusing on his school work) also decided to quit his studies.

At this point, by society's standards, many people would say that Will was a failure. He did not perform within the boundaries dictated by the school, and, to make matters worse, he was a major influence on his younger brother dropping out of school. Given all this, it would be easy to label him a "problem" - but look closer.

Will possessed many positive characteristics! He was active, inquisitive, enjoyed building things with his hands. He was intelligent, even though he did not do what the teachers wanted in school, and he was compassionate - when he dropped out of school, he really did take care of his dying mother!

  Let's see what happens to Will next…

Being such an active young man, Will couldn't stay still for long. He and his brother started building printing presses and by the time Will was 21 years old, the pair of them were publishing 3 separate newspapers! They didn't stop there. Once their newspapers were established, they soon got sidetracked by the latest technology craze - bicycles! They started repairing and building them and soon had a successful bike shop.

Will (or as he is more famously known...Wilbur) then became interested in flight. He and his brother Orville designed a wind tunnel to test wing designs and eventually developed the first airplane.

Reflecting on Success

Society looks back now and says “Wilbur and Orville Wright were very successful,” but even up to the day they had their first flight, society looked down on them because they did not do things the way that they were “supposed to.”

Instead of defining our children’s success by solely focusing on school grades or external behaviors, we need to open our eyes and look at the whole child.

Are they compassionate, creative, hard working, musical, energetic, funny, artistic, or loving?  What characteristics make them the unique and wonderful person they are? What can we, as adults in their lives, do to cultivate those talents and build up their self esteem?

There is a world beyond school, and we want our children to contribute to it.

Stay Healthy,
Dr. Jeff M.D.

Photo Credit: Fleischer Steve

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  • There's a world beyond school?! Well put Dr. Jeff, well put!

  • Great blog, Dr. Jeff! I also love what you said that there is a world beyond school.

    I was just helping this girl with her math homework last night. And she would get distracted often, but would always get back to her work. And you know what...the distractions were fine! It was a good break for her(and me!).

    I've always heard you are supposed to work maximum 20 minutes on one task and then take a break or go to another.

    She took little mini breaks about every 5 minutes and guess what....she got her homework done! Everyone's different and as long as they find what works best for them, then great!

  • Dr. C, while I may agree on the fact that there is too much emphasis applied to grades as a mode of measuring achievement, I don't believe that the education system should be ignored as a result of this mistake. The trouble with the education system is that it hasn't evolved enough since its inception. Many a brilliant thinker has defied the "norm" where schooling is concerned, but most have gone on to state that learning certain skills in school may have helped them accomplish what they did more efficiently. What do you think needs to happen to the education system to make it work within the confines of an ever-evolving technological society?

  • My wife and I have opted to homeschool our kids. By technicality, they would be considered unschooled, as we're not using a pre-ordered curriculum that is based on the same faulty belief that grades are all that matters.

    We don't do tests or quizzes. We don't have memorization sessions. Our goal is to teach our children to think. Maybe they don't know how to solve the current problem, but they'll know how to figure our how to solve the problem by either drawing comparisons to a problem previously solved, or weeding through it in the vein of dimensional analysis.

    So, do my kids have ADHD? I'm not sure, but I hope so. :) Can't solve the problem right now? Walk away and get some perspective. Do something else and the solution may present itself. Or, we could force them to bang their heads against the desk/table/wall because it all has to be done RIGHT NOW, because TODAY is the day that every student has to learn the capital of Nebraska, because it REALLY matters.

    I feel that the standardization of education is ruining our children's future. Hey, I've got a great idea... let's make our kids drones! Any who won't comply with our zombification methods, we'll just drug them until they conform. One radical might disrupt our developing pods.

  • My nephew (22 years old) was diagnosed with Asperger's. Unfortunately, he was misdiagnosed for many years, even as Schizophrenia. Now 22, living on his own in an apartment, he is unbelievably intelligent. Give him a computer and he can take it apart and have it put back together the same day but with improved modifications. His dream is to design computer games (he has a mind of a 14 year old), can’t fault him for that. I believe he might just accomplish that!

    Never underestimate a child that thinks and works differently then the “norm”. And seriously, who has defined what “normal” is? I want to meet those people please.

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