Let's talk about ... outcomes!
There is a lot of talk at the moment about children's "outcomes". It doesn't take much digging to realise that authorities generally mean this to be defined as their exam results, their education qualification level or, as one report defined it, their "economic potential".
Several questions mull around in my head regarding this:
Do I agree with these outcomes? Do they mirror my values?
Who has determined these particular outcomes, and their levels?
Who gets to evaluate whether they have been satisfactorily met?
What are the possible impacts of setting these particular outcomes?
Defining children solely on these outcomes, I'll be honest, concerns me and I feel explains a lot of the issues children, and adults, experience in modern society. Let me illustrate somewhat with my own story. I was unquestionably a model school student. I followed the rules, did what I was told, I studied hard, always did my homework and my intelligences aligned with those valued by the schooling system. I achieved excellent GSCE and A Level grades, I went to University (not once but twice) getting a 1st Class honours degree and a Distinction in my MSc. I went on to get a well paid, responsible, "good" job, got promoted and I achieved good appraisals. By every outcome defined above, I achieved the outcomes; I was a success. My economic success meant I could afford amazing foreign holidays, buy a lovely home, upgrade my car, buy things I wanted. These things were nice, don't get me wrong, BUT... I was deeply unhappy. I was profoundly dissatisfied and unfulfilled. I did not feel that I was contributing to the world in a positive, meaningful way. I had ended up with a deep aversion to learning. I was lost to myself. I didn't know who I was, what I stood for, what was meaningful to me, what brought me joy. My mental health was poor and my sleep was terrible. All of this was gnawed away at me. All this ... and I was only in my 20's. It took over 15 years to find my true self, to discover my passions: my ikigai, my raison d'etre...it took all that time to heal.
The experience I had has now deeply informed what I value as important outcomes. It also informs the conversations I have with my children about what they want as their life outcomes. The outcomes we now value broadly look like this:
Joy - living a life that brings you joy and that aligns with who you are. This does not mean that we never experience pain, sadness, hardship etc. Internally aligning to joy helps you to navigate these times. Joy is an inside job.
Healthy - living a life that promotes and is conducive to good physical, mental, emotional and spiritual health, in whatever way that is defined for each of us.
Connected - living a life where you can form and maintain healthy, appropriate relationships with others.
Contributing - living a life where you feel you are adding positively to humanity.
A note on contributing. Some people define contributing as purely economic/financial. That is not the definition we are using here; we are taking a much broader definition of contributing. For us, contributing includes how you show up in the world, how you show up for your friends, family, community, environment, planet. It is how we practice kindness, compassion, understanding and altruism in our daily lives, via our words and actions.
Our outcomes are fluid over time as our lives change and as we mature. For example, one of my boys has been putting increasing importance on physical and financial independence as a life outcome for himself. How he achieves this may, or may not, include exams and qualifications. His "economic potential" or "economic contribution" is his to define and his path to it, is his to define. He gets to choose how important this is, how these particular outcomes sit alongside his other outcomes.
Do we really want to blindly take on outcomes defined externally to us, by Governments, politicians, big business etc? Do we want us, or our children, to be valued purely on exam results, qualifications and/or economic potential? Is achieving these outcomes to gain societal/Governmental approval worth sacrificing other parts of ourselves/themselves?
I'm not suggesting that academics and finances should not factor at all as outcomes. We currently live in a paradigm where money is needed and academics can be a path to achieve that (but it's no guarantee and certainly not a prerequisite). What I'm saying is that they should not be the only outcomes that ourselves, and our children, be defined by. I'm saying that we should not blindly integrate these external outcomes without full and conscious examination, consideration and appraisal. When defining outcomes, whether we are setting our own, or having conversations with our children, it needs to be in an environment of connection and respect, to ourselves, and to them.
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