Carolyn Chute wrote a letter for James Harmon’s book, Take My Advice, which is a collection of letters from creative artists, independent film actors, and writers and poets. In her letter Chute writes about coming together and finding true value in everyone. Chute writes, “Another nice thing to try is forgetting everything you learned in public school. Especially the competition part — the “there are winners and losers” part. try to think in terms of working together. EVERYBODY has an A+.” What she is explaining with this quote is that public schools get us in a mindset of constantly comparing ourselves to others and competing in certain situations to see who can have the best grades and prove themselves to be special. The problem with this style of competition and proving our self worth through school work is that it excludes some students based on their personality or skills. Chute continues, “Everyone’s A+ isn’t visible or marketable or reflected in their possessions, appearance, or social graces.” What she is speaking of is true from grade school through college, into the business world, and all the way to parenting.
The school situation that Chute referenced is a reflection of how we judge people in our society, and how we chose to evaluate the successes and failures of others. In society we tend to judge people based on their financial success, how big their home is, and what type of car they drive. We assume that the greater they are in these areas, the happier they must be, and the more successful their relationships and health must also be. The school system builds this in by putting us in situations where everyone hides their failures, and hangs their A+s above their desk for all to see. And what is worse according to Chute, “School recognizes only those things you can WIN at. or at the things you can do quietly at a desk.” In much the same way, society only judges people based on an individual’s financial “wins”.
Judging a student as successful based solely on their ability to complete their multiplication tables or score well on a vocabulary test misses out on what makes that student unique, and does not reveal the student’s personality, character, or interpersonal skills. Judging them on a few categories that are easily visible and simple to compare against others does not give us a full understanding of the value of the student. What Chute does in her brief paragraph is help us realize that we fall into the same pitfall in society when we judge others based on their financial status and material gains. Comparing outward financial projections is an easy way to compare our value against others, but it certainly is not the right way, accurate way, or meaningful way to determine who has been successful or lived a valuable life. What Chute explains is that we can not approach the world from such an individualistic perspective because we must all be connected in order to build a better planet and establish society together. Each one of us has special skills and abilities, and we should all be working to highlight the strengths of others as opposed to working to make our own skills stand out.