A friend of mine recently sent me some quotes from a talk that Bill Gates supposedly made some years back to a group of high school students. He was alleged to have given the kids some seriously tough love, including telling them, Life isnt fair. Get used to it. His comments have been making the rounds of the Internet ever since and have now landed in my computer, despite the fact that he never gave such a speech or even visited the high school in question. So much for the power of the Web.
The real lessons
Kids need to hear some no-nonsense advice
But the quotes caught my attention, so I looked them up. They came from Charles Sykes, a radio talk-show host in Milwaukee and the author of the 1996 book Dumbing Down Our Kids: Why American Children Feel Good About Themselves But Cant Read, Write, or Add. In that book he set down a list of 14 rules for students. Now, he has expanded his advice in a recent book called 50 Rules Kids Wont Learn in School: Real-World Antidotes to Feel-Good Education.
Sykes offers no-nonsense advice for teenagers and maybe even many young adults about what the real world is like when youre trying to make a living, raise your kids properly and pay your bills. Sykes is also trying to equip parents to help their kids find success in life beyond school and in a not-so-subtle way attempting to take on the education systems modern bubble-wrap mentality of no losing, no disappointments, no harsh reality checks.
Sykes takes a hard-line but humorous approach to instilling the discipline, morals and good sense that keep kids from becoming sulky, self-centered, spoiled brats. The advice is terrific and to the point. I dont think anyone who reads my columns would disagree with Sykes sage advice.
Lets try a few on for size:
The world wont care about your self-esteem. The world will expect you to accomplish something before you feel good about yourself. And, You will not make $40,000 a year right out of high school. You wont be (a corporate) vice president with a car phone until you earn both.
This next one should be on every kids locker: If you think your teacher is tough, wait till you get a boss.
This one hits home: Your school may have done away with winners and losers but life has not. In some schools they have abolished failing grades; theyll give you as much time as you want to get the right answer. This, of course, bears not the slightest resemblance to anything in real life.
Sykes has much more advice, but central to his larger narrative is the point that many young people and way too many young adults have a sense that the world somehow owes them a living just for being them. Life, unfortunately, has some harsh surprises for such people.
On the flip side, there is opportunity for anybody who has the courage and the determination to makes things happen, working hard and doing their best to help others.
Money is certainly one measure of success, but it isnt the only or most important one. Mother Teresa, a humble nun, won the Nobel Peace Prize for her work with the destitute of Calcutta, and she never had money.
Sykes believes, and I agree, that too many young people have been conditioned to believe that life after high school or college will be the same, except with more cash. As a result, they are unprepared for competition for jobs and for the hard work needed to succeed in their careers. It is up to all of usparents, teachers, mentorsto forcefully remind kids of both the reality and the promise of life.
Charles S. Lauer is the former vice president- publishing and editorial director of Modern Healthcare. He now is a consultant to the healthcare industry and also serves on the boards of healthcare companies.
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