When it comes to selecting indicators of a child’s favorable prospective adjustment to adult life, many Americans educators and parents have opted for the measurable and binary kinds—grades, class rankings, RBIs, how many extracurriculars, uses drugs or doesn’t, in National Honor Society or not. .

To do otherwise is impractical for some (large university admission panels come to mind), but it does skew the results in favor of characteristics that are easily quantified—intelligence, physical prowess, and the like, leaving out what may be better determinants of healthy adjustment, such as communication skills, interpersonal sensitivity, perspective-taking, insightfulness, an ability to manage one’s strong emotions—anger, passion, envy, aggression—compassion, resilience, flexibility, and tolerance for the unknown or yet unanswered.

Forfeiting the read on these qualitative dimensions of personality may be manageable in some venues, but I worry that it’s another one of these slippery slopes whereby everyone ends up being evaluated with what is inarguably an efficient, if not particularly differentiating, process. America’s culture has shaped in us an appreciation of all things abbreviated, and sometimes we take it too far.

To be fair, it is a lot simpler to figure out how smart someone is at math or how good someone else is at baseball than to figure out which person is the one you’d want as a neighbor or son-in-law or boss. Math and baseball, like SATs and GPAs, yield numbers, nice and neat, like a quick-read meat thermometer. But numbers don’t tell stories. And without our stories, we can all look alike, at least on paper. Even something like “having good leadership skills” leaves a lot to the imagination. Alexander the Great, Rosa Parks, the Dalai Lama, and Cleopatra were all considered great leaders, but none of them is anything like the others.


— Janet Sasson Edgette