David Bouchier: The Best Of Luck

May 15, 2017

As we navigate the dreaded pre-summer season of tests, exams, and the breathless wait for results, students from kindergarten to university are facing the challenge of their lives. They don’t like it, and nor do their parents, thousands of whom have withdrawn their children from standardized testing so as to avoid this trauma.

It is all so unnecessary, and the rebellion against testing is a healthy sign. It shows that the sovereign values of consumerism have finally begun to make their mark on our tradition-bound education system. Educators simply have not done their market research, with the result that they offer quite the wrong product mix for twenty-first century. They should stop pushing students to acquire knowledge that they don’t want, and offer them something that they do want.

What students want is a break, a bit of luck. Any child who studies the television five hours a day already knows the secret of success. You never see those people on the small screen working, let alone reading hard books or taking exams. They’re just lucky, or unlucky. Every day’s news confirms that life is a gamble, from Wall Street to Pennsylvania Avenue, and success and failure are as random as lightning strikes.

Children learn at an early age that this is what grownups really believe. Do they see their dear old grandparents upgrading their qualifications for late-life career success? No, they’re off to Atlantic City or Foxwoods to play the slots. Are their parents and teachers taking evening classes in voodoo economics to improve their financial prospects? No, they’re lining up for lottery tickets. It’s clear to the dumbest child that adults don’t believe that success lies in knowing the answers to boring exam questions. Like all adults back to the beginning of time, they believe in luck.

Thirty years ago the distinguished Harvard sociologist Christopher Jencks, in a book called Who Gets Ahead, revealed the awful truth that success or failure in life is mostly due to dumb luck. Education has almost nothing to do with it. Successful college dropouts like Bill Gates, Oprah Winfrey and Mark Zuckerberg seem to confirm this disturbing discovery.

So perhaps schools and colleges might consider integrating luck into their programs. Astrological readings, grades based on a daily lottery, field trips to local casinos, and fortune cookies for lunch. This would get students ready for real life, when a throw of the dice can decide everything, one way or another. If there must be tests, they should reinforce the same lesson. What are the odds that “jackpot” is a verb? In how many states is gambling legal? How do folks manage to get rich in the other states?

Under this new regime students and their parents could relax, knowing that educational success is a gamble like every other kind of success. In the lottery of life anybody might win anything. And if, by some fortunate chance, you just happened to be a television celebrity whose father just happened to be a millionaire two hundred times over, you might even get to be President. In fact, you could almost bet on it.

Copyright: David Bouchier