So my son and I found ourselves sitting in the well-appointed office of a man asking what my son wanted to do with his life. "I have no idea," my son sighed, in the same tone I used when I was that age to answer annoying aunts. How could anyone know? Albert Einstein had no idea he would one day become Albert Einstein.
"Well, what are your interests?" the counselor asked.
His interests range from learning more about the stars to studying card tricks, from a fascination with the idea of infinity to playing Xbox. Afterward, the consultant said: "Your son has to learn to focus more. He is just drifting through life."
But what's wrong with a bit of drifting?
So much of the American college admissions process seems to be about checking the right boxes - and knowing the right boxes to check. On Sundays, my son plays sports with special-needs kids. When I asked if we could do something special for a boy he was assigned to work with, he looked at me, puzzled. "It would be nice," he said, "but I would look totally stupid. Nobody does things like that. You have to have this done before 11th grade starts." I have no doubt that my son enjoys those Sundays. But I worry that this system, which seems to value gamesmanship over anything else, is sapping his idealism and diminishing the enchantment of his adolescence.
And what do we take from the knowledge that two of the most successful entrepreneurs, Bill Gates and Mark Zuckerberg, dropped out of Harvard? The world is waiting for people who are fully alive, who are proud of their individuality, who are not afraid to be creative. We shouldn't deny kids the chance to mess around, to make mistakes, to inhale life in big gulps.