10/29/2014 04:51 pm ET Updated Dec 29, 2014

America Needs an Education That Prepares Children for Life

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My two previous posts dealt with how our present educational system fails to respect our basic American principles of liberty and equality. This article addresses how it also fails to address natural human growth and the potential long term consequences of this failure.

Children lag well behind us intellectually; the widely accepted Piaget Theory of Intellectual Development indicates they don't become capable of logical thinking until age 7 and abstract thinking until age 11. Children make up for this deficit by reading our hearts, thus they often know the real intent behind our words better than we do.

So the focus on academic proficiency addresses their greatest need, but unfortunately ignores their strengths -- their unconscious, emotional potentials and overall growth.

Sigmund Freud believed our unconscious -- dreams, intuition, insight, conscience, etc. -- controls us much more than we know, and should govern our biggest decisions in life, like choosing a mate or a career. Our emotions often outvote our minds, and are critical to our human relationships.

However, these important potentials of children are largely ignored in the educational process. We simply deal with children at this more superficial intellectual level, leaving their deeper selves to the influences of peer pressure and commercial interests.

Also, the Proverb says: "I hear...and I forget; I see...and I remember; but I do...and I understand." Students remember their coaches in life far more than their teachers, because coaches engage more of their potentials in "do" activities.

To understand why so many student don't like our schools, how would you feel in an organization that focused on your weaknesses while ignoring your strengths -- particularly strengths that are vital to the success of your future life?

Which brings us to the critical question: What is the key to a successful and fulfilling life?

We are fortunate to have a unique study that sought to provide answers to what does predict such a life: The Grant Study at Harvard began with 268 sophomores from 1939-1944 (including John F. Kennedy), utilizing an extensive number of interviews and questionnaires of the men as well as of their wives, parents and children, over 75 years now, conducted by multiple staff members and psychiatrists (Triumphs of Experience, George E. Vaillant; Belknap-Harvard University Press: 2012).

As Director George Vaillant puts it, this research represents "one of the first vantage points the world has ever had on which to stand and look prospectively at a man's life from eighteen to ninety."

The study established 10 accomplishments called the "Decathlon of Flourishing," which, beyond measuring financial success, fame and mental health, particularly focuses on success and enjoyment in work, play, love, health, marriage, children and relationships after age 60.

When the researchers crunched the numbers, they found no relationship between a man's "flourishing" and his IQ, body size or parents' income and education (remember, the SAT is directly tied to family income!). The factors that did collectively predict all 10 decathlon events had one thing in common: relationships. This included:

  • A warm, supportive childhood
  • A mature "coping style" (roll with the punches, sense of humor, delay gratification, etc.)
  • "Soundness" during college years (resilient, warm personality, not overly sensitive)
  • Warm adult relationships between the ages of 37-47

The study found that those who had the best scores in these areas during their youth and mid-life, were the happiest, most successful, and best adjusted in their later years. The conclusion: "It was the capacity for intimate relationships that predicted flourishing in all aspects of these men's lives."

The conclusion of the lead investigator after reviewing 75 years of data? "Happiness is love. Full stop."

Our schools are not set up for this. Competition serves capitalism; curiosity serves schools: kids competing against each other is a poor substitute to challenging each kid's best. Note student apathy, cheating, bullying, even school shootings today in our schools.

But if we focus our schools on curiosity and challenge each student's best, work with parents to ensure a warm, supportive childhood and a mature coping style, we will be preparing far more mature and effective college students, warmer adult relationships, which will not only create "flourishing lives," but change American colleges and ensure this nation's future.

As revolutionary as this idea is, it is completely within our ability to achieve. I've seen it work.