In a lecture about a month ago author Mary Pipher recounted a question she was asked after spending some time lecturing at a university. The university was in the process of creating a class for all freshman to take; a common educational experience that all students on campus would share that particular year and which all professors would know they shared and so could draw upon for their own purposes and connections to make across the curriculum. Many of these â€œfreshman studiesâ€ are innovatively created and taught usually in the liberal arts vein where even the professors who teach it are not well versed in the particular subject matter and so in essence are modeling themselves what it is like to be a lifelong learner. It was in this context the question was put to Mary Pipher. In essence she was being asked what subject matters would she focus on? Are there any great works that all students could benefit from reading? How is it you would design and implement this kind of curriculum? Not being one that ever â€œdesigned a curriculumâ€ before she was hesitant to answer, but they insisted. Her answer surprised me just a bit. In fact I think her answer surprised her just a bit. She paused, thought about it for a moment, and said, â€œI think if it were I, I would teach them all emotional intelligence.â€
Although not a direct reference to the title of his book, Daniel Goleman’s work in emotional intelligence as playing a large role (dare I say the largest) in determining future successes has a lot of merit. As a high school counselor specializing in helping students plan for their futures if it includes college in a predominantly white upper middle class neighborhood where in fact 90 percent of each yearâ€™s graduates do go on to college, I know all too well the game of â€œIâ€™m number oneâ€; â€œthe class rank and where I go to college determines my future gameâ€; the â€œACT/SAT and rank is who I amâ€ game, etc, etcâ€¦ Students are clinging to all these false indicators, as if they are the marks to strive for. Donâ€™t get me wrong. Before I go any further I want to be clear that working hard, taking challenging courses, and striving for good grades are worthy attributes that will get students far. But padding one’s schedule with extra classes by going to summer school to take extra PE in order to up oneâ€™s rank is ludicrous; as if by just rising on the illustrious class rank list makes one that much better of a person. College and success after college has way more to do with what you made of your experience that where you had that experience and thus an old college counselorâ€™s advice rings true; â€œ(the choice of a) college is a match to be made and not a prize to be won.â€ Students who just play the games they think are going to get them into college and hence a prosperous and rewarding life are in for a rude awakening.
I am reading â€œEmotional Intelligenceâ€ and â€œPrimal Leadershipâ€ for a couple of important reasons. Foremost I agree with Mary. As I see it, those students with that spark, and go on to experience true success (a real loaded word and one I should define further but I am already going long) are the ones that possess these skills. Secondly so many feel that itâ€™s just the top 10 percenters who are worth a hoot and need to focus attention on helping. Bull hockey because you are probably talking about those with perhaps a lot of IQ and a lot of the game players I eluded to earlier; not that they could use a lot more help and attention in the area of EQ. There is a sea of middle 50 percenters who go largely ignored. Finally, selfishly I am starting a leadership center in the high school where I work to address these issues. All around the country I have consulted with a lot of folks who teach or have experience in this area (The University of Illinois Leadership Center to name just one) and all speak of these works as seminal in their creation of their mindset and creation of these programs. Leadership is not training in being the formal leader of a group, but is about possessing the skills needed when situations arise. (Much more on this later). I look forward to sharing comments with any other readers out there.