Education Opinion

Book Review: Ready or Not, Here Life Comes

February 18, 2005 2 min read
  • Save to favorites
  • Print

Over the course of several books, pediatrician and learning expert Mel Levine has argued that for most people, adulthood is easier than “studenthood.” Adults have the opportunity to specialize in what they’re truly good at—or, as Levine would say, what best suits their neurocognitive strengths. (For example, someone with strong spatial but weak verbal skills might become an engineer.) A high schooler, on the other hand, is expected to do everything well, making intellectual shifts several times a day from one unrelated subject to the next.

But if adulthood is easier, then why do increasing numbers of youngsters have such a hard time making the transition to productive adult life? Levine’s new book strives to answer this question by pointing to fault lines in family lives, our culture, and the educational system.

Ready or Not, Here Life Comes

Levine argues that parents, especially affluent ones, tend to overprotect their children from adversity—witness those who call the principal to complain about teachers who’ve given their kids low grades. These children are almost certain, as young adults, to have a difficult time with demanding bosses. The nonstop culture of entertainment and consumerism, in which parents themselves are often steeped, further contributes to later disillusionment. “Life for many adolescents,” Levine writes, “has been saturated with pleasures that the banality of the workplace cannot match.”

Furthermore, success in school—the Holy Grail for many parents—is often a poor predictor of career success. Levine tells many stories of high school “golden girls and boys”—well-liked kids who were both good students and athletes—who were clueless after the glow of adolescence faded. In school, these kids were often lauded for being well-rounded, but they now have difficulty committing to the “deep and narrow grooves of adult work life,” Levine writes. Once accustomed to the cheering of teachers, coaches, and peers, they also have a hard time adapting to the indifference of employers and coworkers.

Top students, of course, tend to be those who do the best job of conforming to the many social and academic demands made of them in high school. But as Levine points out, those striving to move up the career ladder are expected to be industrious self-starters, generating original ideas rather than merely implementing the agendas of others.

In the second half of his book, Levine suggests a number of ways that educators can better prepare students for a post-school existence. First, they must be careful not to reward “spongelike learning.” Too often, teachers overemphasize memorization while giving conceptualization—the key to career success—the short end of the stick, Levine argues.

And instead of trying to force students to be good at everything, which breeds frustration, schools should allow kids to immerse themselves in areas of individual strengths—to major, so to speak. Levine supports an educational model that would permit students to “demonstrate basic competency in traditional academic skills by the end of 10th grade, after which they are permitted to specialize” by taking appropriate classes not only in high school but at local universities and colleges, as well.

He concludes with the wisest suggestion of all—that we replace college prep with “life prep,” so that students will be armed for “what will confront them after college or instead of college.” The college-or-bust mentality obviously doesn’t work for everyone, and Levine believes that many different paths lead to successful adulthood.


English-Language Learners Webinar Helping English-Learners Through Improved Parent Outreach: Strategies That Work
Communicating with families is key to helping students thrive – and that’s become even more apparent during a pandemic that’s upended student well-being and forced constant logistical changes in schools. Educators should pay particular attention
This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Mathematics Webinar
Addressing Unfinished Learning in Math: Providing Tutoring at Scale
Most states as well as the federal government have landed on tutoring as a key strategy to address unfinished learning from the pandemic. Take math, for example. Studies have found that students lost more ground
Content provided by Yup Math Tutoring
Classroom Technology Webinar Building Better Blended Learning in K-12 Schools
The pandemic and the increasing use of technology in K-12 education it prompted has added renewed energy to the blended learning movement as most students are now learning in school buildings (and will likely continue

EdWeek Top School Jobs

Teacher Jobs
Search over ten thousand teaching jobs nationwide — elementary, middle, high school and more.
View Jobs
Principal Jobs
Find hundreds of jobs for principals, assistant principals, and other school leadership roles.
View Jobs
Administrator Jobs
Over a thousand district-level jobs: superintendents, directors, more.
View Jobs
Support Staff Jobs
Search thousands of jobs, from paraprofessionals to counselors and more.
View Jobs

Read Next

Education Nearly a Million Kids Vaccinated in Week 1, White House Says
Experts say there are signs that it will be difficult to sustain the initial momentum.
4 min read
Leo Hahn, 11, gets the first shot of the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine, Tuesday, Nov. 9, 2021, at the University of Washington Medical Center in Seattle. Last week, U.S. health officials gave the final signoff to Pfizer's kid-size COVID-19 shot, a milestone that opened a major expansion of the nation's vaccination campaign to children as young as 5. (AP Photo/Ted S. Warren)
Education How Schools Are Getting Kids the COVID Shot, and Why Some Aren’t
Some district leaders say offering vaccine clinics, with the involvement of trusted school staff, is key to helping overcome hesitancy.
5 min read
A girl walks outside of a mobile vaccine unit after getting the first dose of her COVID-19 vaccine, outside P.S. 277, Friday, Nov. 5, 2021, in the Bronx borough of New York. (AP Photo/Eduardo Munoz Alvarez)
Education Biden Administration Urges Schools to Provide COVID-19 Shots, Information for Kids
The Biden administration is encouraging local school districts to host vaccine clinics for kids and information on benefits of the shots.
2 min read
President Joe Biden, and first lady Jill Biden walk to board Marine One on the South Lawn of the White House in Washington, Saturday, Nov. 6, 2021. Biden is spending the weekend at his home in Rehoboth Beach, Del. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)
Education Civil Rights Groups Sue Tennessee Over Law Against Transgender Student Athletes
The state law bars transgender athletes from playing public high school or middle school sports aligned with their gender identity.
3 min read
Amy Allen, the mother of an 8th grade transgender son, speaks after a Human Rights Campaign round table discussion on anti-transgender laws in Nashville, Tenn. on May 21, 2021.
Amy Allen, the mother of an 8th grade transgender son, speaks after a Human Rights Campaign round table discussion on anti-transgender laws in Nashville, Tenn. on May 21, 2021.
Mark Humphrey/AP