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Encouraging Heroes. You can be one too.

Excerpted from Smart Is Cool, to be published in 2013, by Dom Testa

We can emphasize the benefits of academic achievement to today’s students by teaching the fine art of visualization. In other words, show them the future.

Young people are so focused on the here and now that they often ignore the consequences of their actions. To your average student, tomorrow is something to worry about tomorrow; today, it’s all about perceived image.

If this is true, then what’s the solution? How does one go about getting a young person to look past the limitations of today without sounding…okay, without sounding old. You can almost visualize a fifteen-year-old rolling his eyes and saying, “All right, Grandpa.”

Start by acknowledging the importance of their relationships, and how crucial friendships are to them. Then talk about how some of those friends will mock education, disrupting the educational process. Students see this firsthand on a daily basis, and they’ll recognize it.

And then the bombshell. Break the news that, as important as these peer relationships are, and as tempted as they are to sometimes bend their values in order to fit in with ‘the crowd,’ there’s something they should realize: The day they walk out of high school, and for the rest of their lives, the number of people who will care about how cool they were in school is…zero.

Zero. Nobody cares. Not one adult cares what clothes you wore, what music you listened to, or what circles you ran in.

This basic truth has never been explained to them. Students place so much importance into pleasing a small group of people, for a tiny window of their lives – maybe three to five years – but chances are they’ll never see those people again after they graduate. They’ll have sacrificed the next sixty years of their lives for a few, short years of perceived image.

So, in a few years, what will other people care about? Things like:

  • •What do you know?
  • •What are your skills?
  • •What do you have that can benefit my business?

Oh, you sat in the back of the class and cut up with your friends? That’s nice. I think I’ll hire the woman over here who graduated with a 3.8 GPA.

Oh, you never read a book? Hmm, that’s interesting, but I think we prefer the young man here who spelled everything correctly on his application, and who graduated in the top ten percent of his class.

Oh, you were…cool in school? Next.

Now we’re talking consequences, and not in a preachy way. It’s real life.

Then discuss options. Students who blow off their education severely limit their options in life. They’re stuck with a few (not-so-attractive) choices. Those who knuckle down and do the work, those who aim higher and commit themselves to go farther, are rewarded with a plethora of options from which to choose when it comes time to make a career choice.

Obviously this message will not get through to every student, but many will take notice. There are young people who have everything it takes to achieve academic success; they’ve just never (pardon the pun) put two and two together. They’ve never processed how today’s actions directly and significantly influence their tomorrow.

I love the writing of Ray Bradbury. In one of his landmark short stories, he put forth a remarkable vision of how the ripple effect of time can drastically alter the landscape of our future. His time-travel story A Sound of Thunder shows how one minuscule event – the killing of a tiny butterfly, millions of years ago – escalates through time until we’re left with a future that is changed, and not necessarily for the better.

That ripple effect applies in each young person’s life, too. The choices that they make in the classroom today have a cascading effect throughout time, and it’s powerful to watch as this realization dawns on their faces. Until it’s pointed out, creating a visual comparison in their minds, they’re likely to never imagine it for themselves. Remember, they’re completely caught up in today; tomorrow is a concept that’s hard for students to imagine.

It’s our job as parents and educators to open their eyes to that futuristic new world.

Dom Testa is an author, speaker, morning radio show host, and has kept a ficus tree alive for twenty one years. He’s also the founder and president of The Big Brain Club, a non-profit foundation that helps young people recognize that Smart Is Cool. More info at DomTesta.com.

Earnest Parenting: help for parents who want their kids to think seriously about the future.

Image courtesy of Sean MacEntee via Creative Commons license, some rights reserved.