John Legend: My father taught us that success isn't measured in money, but in joy and the lives you're able to touch
What if we set our schools to help students discover and pursue a personal passion instead of a predictable path?
Editor’s Note: John Legend is a nine-time Grammy Award winner who has sold multiple Top 10 platinum albums. The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of the writer.
I grew up in a crowded house with three siblings, many passions and incredible energy. I was surrounded by loving family, including two wonderful parents who cared so much about our education.
My father often talked to us about his definition of success. He told us that it wasn’t measured in money or material things, but in love and joy and the lives you’re able to touch. Our parents took the time to teach each of us about character and what it means to live a good, passionate life.
While my siblings and I were all raised together under the same roof, I marvel at how different we can be sometimes. Four kids, four different life paths, personalities and aspirations.
I became a musician.
We all must follow a different path to let our light shine, and that’s what makes us so unpredictable and unique.
It’s also why we need to break with the long-held expectation that schools exist to mold and manage kids. In today’s world, expecting every child’s education to be the same, progress at the same rate and be measured against the same narrow standards of performances is not just outdated, it’s a disservice to young people and to the educators who dedicate their lives to helping them.
I experienced this disconnect firsthand after graduating from college. I had many opportunities in front of me, but they didn’t test my limits, my creativity or enable me to pursue my passions.
At first, I took a job at a big consulting firm, mostly because it felt like what I was “supposed to do.” While I enjoyed the experience and learned a great deal, I couldn’t shake my passion for music. I had followed the somewhat predictable path of a college graduate, but I was obsessing over how to become an artist.
While not everyone has had the opportunities I’ve had, everyone has his or her own version of my story – that moment when you become aware of the thing that will animate and fulfill you, and that period of struggle when you try to find a way to live a life that places your personal passion at the center.
Imagine what it would look like if our schools were set up to help people discover and pursue a personal passion instead of a predictable path?
The good news is that a number of individuals and organizations are finding new ways to innovate in education. Tuesday night, I’ll be performing at an event where allies from the education and entertainment fields will announce the launch of Reimagine Learning, a $30 million fund organized and run by pioneering venture philanthropy, New Profit, which is providing support to educators, social entrepreneurs and researchers who are shaping the future of teaching and learning.
The goal is to create more student-centered environments that help young people not just do better in school but also discover what they love. While tonight is the formal launch, the effort is already well underway.
– Fifteen nonprofit organizations have joined forces to launch Understood.org, a comprehensive free resource that provides support to parents with children who have learning and attention issues.
– Peace First, an organization aiming to identify and support the next generation of peacemakers, has established the equivalent of a Nobel Prize for children whose work contributes to more caring schools and communities.
– The MIT Media Lab has been experimenting with technologies that bring play and creativity back into learning and fit with the different ways that young people learn.
And thanks to a partnership with the MacArthur Foundation and the National Writing Project, I was excited to launch an initiative in 2014 to provide teachers with new resources to innovate in their classrooms, so that they can better meet the needs of different learners. The project, called LRNG, is part of a movement dedicated to inspire innovation in learning to ensure that it better reflects the world we live in today.
With these efforts and similar ones in communities across the country, there’s a strong determination to ensure that schools and educators can start designing schools and classrooms that are more nurturing for students.
We can’t live lives of joy if we can’t discover what we love doing with our lives. So let’s stop funneling people through a system and start letting each person discover the power and uniqueness of his or her own passion.
Let every child’s light shine.