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Elite schools do not necessarily mean your child will succeed

I could bore you with the details on my PhD dissertation research – but in a nutshell how a child learns/performs/insert favorite performance adjective here in school depends on 3 simple things:

1. Education is a priority at home

2. Child is intrinsically motivated

3. Family is actively involved in child’s life – just learning

Motivated kids will learn in even the crappiest schools with limited resources.

Elite schools are good for: parents egos and social filters. The fanciest and most advanced school curriculums will not motivate an Unmotivated learner but it will make parents feel better.

Lastly, the best schools public or private are not determined by curriculum, tuition, test scores or exclusivity, but instead those with high parent participation.

1. Education is a priority at home

I read this to mean that parents are allowing the child to focus on education. It comes first before anything else.

As I see it, this can be harder for poorer families who rely on their children to help take care of the household or of their other younger children.

Education can be theoretically a priority, but I do also understand that life gets in the way as well, and sometimes you cannot just let a child be a child if you are in dire straits.

For richer families, lower-middle class and up, it is a priority at home when parents do things like buy books, read with them, teach them different things and make time for them, showing them that education is very important, emphasizing school and learning.

I would also like to add that even though it is a priority, it will not be our only priority at home.

Little Bun will be encouraged to get a job ASAP because I remember working while in school and it gave me a real sense of independence, motivation to do better in life, and made me an organized person who had to get up early, take the bus, make sure she made lists, kept to a schedule, etc.

So while it will be a priority, he will also be doing sports (soccer I suspect), and holding down a job.

2. Child is intrinsically motivated

This one is very difficult to to force.

You can have children who are motivated from a very young age, encouraged by their parents to be motivated to learn and be taught, but sometimes, children are just not bloody motivated.

They just don’t care. It can be hard to figure out HOW to get them to care without doing things like bribing them with toys, treats and later, money, or even “I’ll buy you a used car if you graduate”.

Children themselves, have to want to learn. How do we achieve that?

I have no answer for this, but I have been trying to get Little Bun and keep him motivated to learn by focusing on the aspect of learning as FUN.

I want him to see how reading a book, learning on his own, and trying new things, drawing, etc, is all about FUN and it is interesting to learn about different things, rather than to simply just be stuck being a passive observer of life.

Even with the videos he watches, I do talk to him about them – I ask him what he thinks about how the characters act, why he thinks they are doing this or that.

I explain to him when we play games, even, why I am thinking of doing something in a certain way. I explain my logic and rationale for getting through a level out loud, and it seems to help because he is parroting back what I am saying and applying the same principles.

Will it stick?

Will it work?

Only time will tell, but I am trying everything EXCEPT bribing him with food, money or any kind of treat just to get him to learn, read or do math. I am showing him the best I can, how much learning makes me happy (I read a lot), and how it can also make him happy and curious about the world.

Just the other day he says to me: Mommy, Baby Melissa in Baby Looney Tunes said that work was not fun, but working IS fun. I like to work! I am a busy worker who works hard.

I have never heard sweeter words in my life, especially knowing that he does things like come up with Busy Worker Plans and tasks or missions to accomplish each day:

3. Family is actively involved in child’s life – just learning

Everyone has to care. From the parents to the grandparents, aunts, uncles. To care about a child, is to show them how they have a support in their family to whatever they want to achieve and they CAN reach for the stars.

My mother spends so much time with Little Bun when he visits, and she CARES. She teaches him, she does baking and art projects with him, and listens to him in such great detail that he bonded with her in such a short amount of time, and now looks forward to going back to Toronto to be with her.

We don’t have family here in Montreal, but the family we do see on my side, are actively involved and care deeply.

Best schools have the Highest Parent Participation

This one, I have to say, will be more likely for parents with money. When parents with money (not always), they are likely to have more time as well, and are more invested in making sure the school does well.

They donate, they show up and volunteer, they organize meetings, they come along on trips, etc.

All of this, is only what middle-class to upper-class families can afford to do, especially if they have a stay at home parent.

Imagine trying to do this with a low-income family? When are they going to take time off work? How can they donate time, if not money, if they don’t have either to really begin with?

This is a truly tough situation, and a good reason why I suspect we see schools in richer areas, do quite well, and poorer ones, tend to fall behind.

My partner grew up in a very poor school and so did I for a good part of my young life. The lack of care on the parents’ part of whether or not you did well, was an actual thing. They couldn’t really spend the time or energy to care – they were just trying to get by and survive, and had no time to think about enriching their children or making the most of the school experience for them.

Once I switched to a better school with slightly richer parents (middle-class to upper-class), my schooling experience changed.

There were now school trips, outings, fundraisers, and friends with families I could talk to and rely on for time and help.

The key point of this is that Elite Schools are not necessarily the best

So breathe a sigh of relief. You just need to find a GOOD school but you don’t necessarily need to pay a lot of money for a private one.

All these above factors taken into account, elite schools seem to be just to make parents feel reassured they are doing the best that they can with the money they have.

The real factors of children succeeding are things partly within and out of our means to control with money as mentioned above.

We can control the neighbourhood we live in, and how involved we are at home and at school, but a child has to also want to learn, and that for me is the hardest to really teach, as we certainly can’t buy it with money.


  • Marie

    In the future, I hope we learn more about the internal motivation aspect. In my experience it is different based on the child and even on the subject. One kid will read all day or do all math assignments until they get 100%, the other will work for all As. But one won’t pick up a book to read for fun and one would rather do anything instead of writing paragraphs. Same parents same schools . . . I will now get them a small gift after the fact when they have worked hard on something they were dreading, try to leave them with a good feeling, probably 2x per year. So more of a celebration instead of a bribe.

    • Sherry of Save. Spend. Splurge.

      I agree – I wish I knew more about how to motivate a child. It seems like some kids.. just have it, and others are less likely to be as motivated.

      Bribes (not that you’re giving them) are tough to keep up on as well, because it tells them they should be rewarded for working hard, when they should work hard for themselves… and to succeed. Work won’t bribe us to work better, for instance, and for that reason I won’t pay for grades or accomplishments which research has also somewhat shown doesn’t really work to motivate children.

      This is all tough, this parenting lark. I think we just do the best we can but we just have to let go.

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