Saturday, September 1, 2007

What's a "High Pay-off" Kid?

Recently, my husband and I sought help for one of our kids from a professional who specializes in evaluating children's academic and behavioral skills. During the "results meeting" we heard very little that was surprising - our kid was bright, our kid had this or that personality trait, our kid would benefit from this type of parenting style and that type of external aid, etc. After some suggestions which we generally found helpful - the evaluator was an experienced, caring professional whom we liked and respected - I was struck by the way the evaluator phrased one observation, said almost in passing: "Your child's got a lot of talents and will probably be on the honor roll in school, so I wouldn't worry about academics - your kid's going to be a pretty high-payoff kid."

"High pay-off" kid? What is that?

Am I supposed to feel rewarded if my kid aces grammar school, or gets the state trophy in knot-tying, or something? What kind of parent has kids to get a kind of pride "pay-off?"

I honestly don't think this lovely psychologist meant any harm by the way he phrased his statement, but it hit a nerve. It reminded me of an ad I heard on the radio for an Ivy League summer program for high school students, inviting young people who were intelligent, talented, motivated, with "good leadership" qualities, etc. etc.: all the superficial characteristics this society sees as gifts that make people valuable, and "worthy" of attention, and which turn this culture into the meritocracy and beauty contest that it so often is.

Let me state here and now, just to get my opinion off my tachycardic chest, even if no one really cares to know it:


They could be "above average," "average," "below average," whatever, but as long as they were doing their best to be kind and to work hard, we would delight in their efforts. We find deep joy in their presence, and loving them is the most fulfilling experience of our lives.

My entire life has been a stream of lessons about human worth. The older I get, the more I realize that most of what we're often told about human worth is completely wrong. I may not be what many Christians in the U.S. would consider a real Christian, but I do try to contemplate and act on the teachings of Jesus. One of the reasons I appreciate those teachings is his frequent attempts to speak out against and overturn some of this faulty thinking about the value of human beings, sometimes quietly like a gardener turning earth over in his hands, and sometimes with the force of pushing money-changers' tables to the ground. I love the passages in the New Testament in which Jesus tells the arrogant, self-important Pharisees to their faces that the poorest wretches might reach the "Kingdom of Heaven" before they do. That must have really stuck in their craws somethin' awful, and good for them, and for any of the "high and mighty" in any society who fancy themselves to be worth the world but their neighbors not.

I think Jesus lived, and probably also died, for the conviction that people are worth the world but their trappings - achievement, social status, talent, wealth, beauty, and the like - are immaterial. I think if we as a society had the kind of faith in our own intrinsic dignity that he had, there would be much less unrest in our hearts. I hope my husband and I can transmit to our children this genuine and profound sense of peace, and thus set them totally free.


Sew Chic said...


Well said! Good post!

I started reading your blog because of the oboe content, but now I read it because I enjoy it.

Ruth, another adult who is learning to play the oboe.

T. said...

Thanks, Ruth! How long have you been playing oboe? Any favorite pieces, instrument makers?

This summer has been a bit of a hiatus for my music pursuits, for various reasons, but I'm hangin' on by a thread and hoping to get some more lesson time this fall.

Thanks very much for stopping by!