Monday, April 6, 2009

The Pursuit of Excellence

A very fine traditional school has launched a new initiative.

In the future the school aspires to "help students learn to make constructive use of the pressures that often accompany the pursuit of excellence.”

"Curiouser and curiouser," said Alice.

Tom Peters wrote the book The Pursuit of Excellence, so it must be an idea imbedded in our corporate identity. And I remember the aphorism, "Anything worth doing is worth doing well."

I think about my own goals as a parent and as a teacher. I certainly want to encourage excellence. However, I would rather that young people be able to answer the question, "What are you passionate about?"

It would be rather odd if a student said in anwer to that question, "the pursuit of excellence."

At our last alumni night, high school students and college students spoke about their interests, their majors, their future careers. Not everyone had an answer, but those who were still searching said something like: "I'm interested in music and physics, and also history--well, really, so many things. I haven't decided yet what I'm going to do." At least there is interest! They simply have not committed yet to a narrow focus. (Reminds me of Robert Lewis Stevenson's dedication to A Child's Garden of Verse: "The world is so full of a number of things, I think we should all be as happy as kings.")

Among those clear about their goals was a high school senior who wants to do work in microbiology. That's worth doing, and it's worth doing well.

I would suggest an alternative to the pursuit of excellence: Pursue your passion excellently. The passion comes first.

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