Student Achievement

Shoot for the Stars ... Well, Maybe Not That Far

By Kevin Bushweller — September 27, 2006 1 min read

Shoot for the Stars. Anything’s Possible. The Sky’s the Limit. The clichés about dreaming of individual greatness are infinite. But at what point do you need to say to a teenager: Get real, dude, you’re a junior in high school and have Cs and Ds and you’re still talking about being a doctor when you grow up. Do you really think you are motivated enough to suffer through medical school (that is, if you can find a school that will accept you) and then long hours as an intern?

Believe me, I like dreamers, because I am one. And the higher you set your expectations, the farther you will probably go. But the level of motivation has to match the expectations -- otherwise, teenagers are setting themselves up for disappointment and frustration.

An interesting new study by Florida State University researchers examined this problem and concluded that teen career plans are largely out of sync with reality. FSU Sociology Professor John Reynolds tracked changes in high school seniors’ educational and occupational plans between 1976 and 2000. He found that the gap between teenagers’ goals and actual achievements grew over the 25-year period.

Are today’s teenagers simply out of touch with reality? The researchers suggest that grade inflation might be at least one factor. That makes sense to me. If the high school chemistry teacher is handing out A’s to kids who stumble through every lab experiment and do little to truly understand the science, those kids might be superficially motivated to become chemists because they actually believe they are good at it.

Hmmm. That seems a bit troubling for those of us who might one day be purchasing chemicals from those would-be chemists.

A version of this news article first appeared in the Motivation Matters blog.