Against Well-Rounded Education

Food for Thought @ Clinton St. Baking Company

My daughter turned fifteen this week. As she is still transitioning into full adulthood, she wanted to have dinner with her close friends at a trendy restaurant Saturday night, and, on her actual birthday, separate dinner with her parents at the restaurant she practically grew up in, Clinton Street Baking Company. She even has a full-page photo of her in their cookbook, with a big smile, holding a cookie as big as her face.

As she got older, I began thinking more about what I was doing at her age. At fifteen, I was in the second semester of my freshman year of high school in Tokyo. A year later, I went off to California to live with a host family; my life in Japan ended at that point, as I finished high school in California and moved to New York for college.

In Japan, we were told that we had to join athletic clubs because colleges considered it an important part of their admissions criteria. It’s similar in the US, but the pressure was much greater in Japan. My daughter’s high school, being a STEM school, does not seem to care about anything athletic. I often feel envious of her situation.

It seems that educators universally believe that they should produce “well-rounded” kids. I never understood why, and I’ve always resented it. The way I see it, it’s a prejudice. The idea is to produce kids who are ready for a wide range of opportunities. They do not want to eliminate any possibilities, so they play it safe.

Americans are more open to producing skewed individuals. From what my daughter tells me, there are plenty of them at her school. Although my daughter is well-rounded, she likes to be around them. Skewed individuals like Steve Jobs, Bobby Fischer, and Andy Warhol are America’s greatest strengths.

In Japan, I was increasingly feeling suffocated. The admissions process for high school was hard enough (practically studying every waking hour), doing anything athletic for the sake of being well-rounded was a torture for me. Coming to America was a way to escape it all.

At my daughter’s school, weirdos like me are the majority, and it’s great to see that even the well-rounded kids like my daughter are happy there. It’s the best of both worlds.