The Mighty Achievatron

Posted: January 14, 2012 in Uncategorized

David Brooks actually coined this term to talk about the professionalization of childhood. “From the earliest years, an alliance of parents and schools creates a pressure cooker of competition, designed to produce students who excel in everything. Brooks call this ‘a massive organic apparatus….a mighty Achievatron.’ The family is no longer what Christopher Lasch once called a “haven in a heartless world,’ a counterbalance to the dog-eat-dog areas of life. Instead the family has become the nursery where the craving for success is first cultivated.” (This quote is from a great little book called Counterfeit Gods by Timothy Keller)

Do you see this as true? Have you been a victim…or an unintending accomplice…to the Mighty Achievatron?

My family has been a part of a number of school systems. I grew up in academia. We have homeschooled, we have been in two public school systems, we have participated in some level with four very different home school groups, and we have participated in a limited way in three private school systems. Our older children have been a part of five college systems, both private and public. I have been an adjunct. We have been grateful for each one as we annually seek what is best for each one at that time in their life. We have also known a few thousand youth in the past 25 years of youth ministry. And I know there is almost no hot button like the education of one’s children. Yet, it is from this vantage point that I take the risk of making every reader angry at the same time and say that I think Tim Keller is understated in his analysis.

But that’s just me….what do you think? Is four to five hours of homework a night effective? To what end? Is the parade of limelights healthy? Has the removal of roles in our society created such individualism that we can no longer feel worthy unless we are the best…or at least better than most of the rest!?

Am I just a cranky or ill-informed grownup…or is the current education system overvalued and rapidly becoming less sustainable than the housing bubble? And more importantly, if the Mighty Achievatron is in fact seducing our children (and us), what is a Kingdom response?

  1. Lisa Allison says:

    Interesting, but too short! You need to expand on these ideas.

  2. Sarah D. says:

    Thanks for this post on the very day that I looked around the living room at my kids playing, and thought, “I don’t think my kids DO enough. I think that many parents of toddlers have a ton more structured time for their kids than I do.” It was great to read this later, and be reminded that our home is a haven for our family and even for others sometimes, and it’s ok that my 3-year-old has only been on one or two official “playdates” (I know that makes us sound like hermits, but the truth is that we see people of all ages in many different contexts every week, I just forget to make dates for Ciaran and Lucy).

    People have been asking–I kid you not–for the last 2+ years what we plan on doing for school, where we plan to enroll Ciaran. The answer is short and easy: we don’t know yet. There’s a public elementary school practically on our doorstep. LA Unified school district has a full-day kindergarten, and that idea is just laughable to me. I have an even harder time with the idea that kids come home from a full day of school (at the age of 5) with at least an hour of homework each night (at the age of 5?!). Unfortunately, I don’t resonate very much with the idea of homeschooling for the purpose of having children who are high achievers or whose educations are shaped solely by us as their parents rather than teachers or peers. I want them to be people of good character, and part of good character is wisely using God’s gifts, using their minds, sharpening their intellects, becoming skilled and learned, but I’m not sure how that intersects with our formal educational options here and now. And so I sigh. And ask: anyone out there have a magic, perfect solution?

    • halhamilton says:

      Sarah, I don’t. But I have some thoughts.

      I think education in this country has reached a crossroads, and the early adaptors are bivouacking and pioneering even as we speak. The explosive growth of home schooling over the last twenty years, the closing of many small colleges, the federal policies guaranteed to increase college tuition, the growth of technical schools are all flags. If economic policy will allow, the stage is ripe for the emergence of a great generation of innovators and entrepreneurs. But the jury is definitely still out on that. We have grown accustomed to convenience and conformity….as well as high performance within a system that is self-perpetuating. We may sedate them yet!

      I don’t have confidence in knowing how to navigate all this….except to take my stewardship of each one to whom the Lord gives me influence seriously and to seek His face. If I am to “train up in the way he/she should go,” what is that way for this one? And in this season? It gets complicated sometimes….and we are certainly misunderstood by friends on all sides.

      I totally reject homeschooling out of fear or out of ambition for our children. Those are destructive behaviors that we believe are antithetical to the Kingdom. Try speaking prophetically on that one! 😉 And I am not convinced that there is a template for any part of parenting. But we embrace the opportunity to take seriously our stewardship for each child …and rejoice when that appears to point toward opportunities for us to have extended seasons together. Beyond that, we want to cultivate wonder, inter-generational relationships, articulate expression, humility, problem-solving and a great sense of humor.

      Having said all that, we still feel humbled and inadequate to be parents….especially in such a rapidly changing world. I look forward to reading what others will answer!

  3. scottywad says:

    Probably an unintentional accomplice myself; but is there a balance with wanting your children to succeed? Coaching off and on my entire life I see this same thing in sports. I’ve seen kids literally abandon some great God given talent because of parents who pushed them too hard to be better. I know one dad who would put up a mattress in the hallway of their house on rainy days and make his daughter pitch a softball to a specific numbered spot he had painted on the mattress. Kids need time to just be kids too. We are currently debating spending the 3500.00 to send our daughter to DC for the Washington Journalism and Media Conference she just this week received a nomination for. Is it worth the money? Would the nomination alone look good enough on a college or job resume? Do I send my 16 year old baby girl to DC? Just some of our own household debate.

  4. halhamilton says:

    Good issues, Scott. The key for me in your first question is what is the definition of success? I worked for 12 years at a church as youth pastor that defined success as young people regularly coming to Christ, being filled with the Holy Spirit, and being called into ministry. Using that definition meant discarding others.

    I love WORLD magazine’s journalism by the way. They break stories, do old-fashioned reporting, cover national/international and cultural news and are faithful to a Christian worldview. It is a little different than mine, but that doesn’t threaten me.

    Marvin Olasky, their editor, wrote the book on Compassionate Conservatism (coined later by George W. Bush) which exposed the research dispelling the myth of liberal generosity and demonstrating by the numbers of conservatives being much more philanthropic and generous than liberals. I wonder if they might have a cheaper alternative. Just a thought to muddy the waters for you!

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