Wednesday, January 20, 2016

Tikkun Olam

Dear Alex,

This morning as I was driving to work, I was listening to a news segment about the changing requirements for the college application process.  The admissions director from MIT was speaking about how a significant number of universities were adopting and enforcing less focus on SAT & ACT scores and quality over quantity, both for AP classes and for extracurricular activities.  It should not be about the long list, but rather how you might be able to discuss at length why you love all you get to learn about in AP History or how singing in a rock band brings you great happiness.

The reason behind the change has to do with a recent study published by the Harvard graduate school of Education.  Two key findings came out of this study:  socioeconomically challenged students are at a disadvantage because they have to work after school thus are less likely to participate in extracurriculars, and more affluent high school students who have the time are doing so much that their stress is reaching unacceptable levels.

So that's all great and interesting and maybe takes some of the pressure off of you at your young age of eleven, but that is not why I am writing you this letter.  The MIT admissions director said something else that struck me so profoundly, particularly after a conversation that you and I had yesterday, that I burst into tears on Route 4.  He said that college admissions were going to shift their requirements to start looking for individuals who do more to make the world a better place (a.k.a. tikkun olam in Hebrew).

Yesterday you got in trouble, yet again, for not turning in a couple of homework assignments.  This has been a terrible pattern for you throughout your sixth-grade year and one that we hope we can fix before you start seventh grade.  The reasons range from you forgetting that you have the homework to do (write it down!), losing the homework sheet (put everything in your binders and/or ask your teacher for another!), or the ever infuriating "it's done and in my locker, but I forgot to hand it in" (argh! I have NO advice for that one!).

Yesterday's excuse was a new one and we yelled at you, but now I'm not so sure that was right.  You had planned on doing a math worksheet that was due later in the day during study hall.  You also had a science test later in the day, but you had studied for it and anyway seem to have a real facility with the material (biology! cell structure! a future doctor?!!?) without studying for long.  A friend asked you for help with science; he was having trouble, feeling nervous, didn't understand the material.  All of the sudden, it was like that math worksheet didn't exist.  You put his needs ahead of your own.  And after the science test, he thanked you and said he thought he did really well because of your help (you got a 100% - imagine what your semester grades would be if you actually handed in your homework on time.).

So why did you help this boy?  Because you are at a stage where you crave external gratification from your peers (a.k.a. popularity)?  Because you are really smart when it comes to science? Because helping him meant that you got to be chatty during study hall?  Maybe all of those reasons are partially true.  However, there is one other reason greater than all of those that I believe to be true.  Your emotional intelligence is enormous.  Your empathy is tremendous.  You really do think about others, their place in the world and how you can make the world better for them.  Tikkun Olam.  I'm not sure exactly how it will manifest for you later in life, but I guarantee that whatever you do, you will be successful in making the world a better place. 

I love you.  

P.S.  Please get into a routine of handing in your homework so that you can actually "graduate" sixth grade, otherwise how will you ever make this great impact I've written about. :P