Cars, Kids, and Report Cards
Report cards are a big deal to many people and it is important to use them properly and positively. Proper use of report cards as they currently are requires starting out with correct answers to two questions: “Does God ever make a mistake?” and “Is everything God does good?” In connection with these questions the parable of the talents (Matthew 25:14-30) is helpful.
The first thing to note is the context of the parable. It is in the middle of a section about the second coming of Christ. This gives the parable an eschatological direction. The basic message is that we have been entrusted with some of God’s riches and when He returns we will be required to give account for what we did with the riches He entrusted to our care. God expects his blessings to be used and multiplied.
An easy to miss but key phrase in this parable is that the servants were each given talents in accordance with their abilities. I will come back to this later. It is important to realize that the talents in this parable are not like talents in a person. A person’s talents are referred to in this parable as one’s abilities. The talents represent opportunities for service; they are the call to obey God by doing the good works He created for us to do.
So what makes for a positive report card experience? Typical answers include high marks, good effort marks, or comments from your teacher that indicate that you did your best. But what about those children who do not get high marks? Does that mean report card time can only be a negative experience for them and their parents? Can you have a good report card experience if you have marks like fifty-seven percent or forty-two percent? I would say yes if you have the proper understanding of who we are and if the forty-two percent was the result of the child doing their best. A forty-two percent only looks bad when the mark is the result of poor effort or if it is compared to another person’s higher marks.
Talents and Abilities
When we look at the servants in the parable we might be inclined to think that the servant given five talents is somehow better than the servants given the two or one talent. This is quite opposed to the parable’s message, though. In the parable it is striking how the master responds to the first two servants in an identical manner. Word for word, expression for expression, his response and reward is identical. Both servants are seen in exactly the same way by the master. The master, knowing their abilities, gave each a certain number of talents. This is why the master was so angry with the servant who buried the talent in the ground. The master had taken each servant’s abilities into account. To God what matters is not what you have but what you have done with what you have. This means that a forty-two percent or even a fifteen percent in school is something you can be proud of if it represents the best possible use of the opportunities God created for you to use. In the context of schooling that means doing the best you possibly can.
The servant who received one talent had the gall to not only make excuses but to even blame his master. The bottom line was he rejected his master and refused to obey and serve Him. The master’s answer was terrifying and noteworthy. This servant was thrown into hell.
So to sum up this section, we are to trust that God created us exactly as He wished us to be. If that means school is difficult for us God is aware of that. He does not make mistakes and all He does is good! It is not an excuse to do less than our best. When we look at our marks we need to make sure we do not compare to others and we are to ask, did I do my best? Then we are freed to properly use the report card.
I would now like to try and apply this by pursuing a fairly lengthy analogy. As with many analogies it is not going to work if stretched too far. I hope that I do not and I hope that you will not stretch it too far.
A One-Ton Dodge Van and a Toyota Yaris
Do any of you expect to be able to get comparable fuel efficiency and performance when driving a Toyota Yaris versus a one-ton Dodge van? I am sure you do not. The reasons why are clear. One is a small capacity light-weight car intended primarily for urban environments. The other is a heavy-duty, large scale people mover, a work horse. It has the clearance to go down rough roads, the capacity to tow heavy trailers. To buy the one and expect it do what the other can do is foolishness.
Do we sometimes apply the logic described in the previous paragraph to the covenant children God has given us? As we receive each report card we have a chance to stop and think about what impressions we give and what purposes we use or misuse the report card for. We could ask ourselves and our spouses or friends, “Do we treat our children as though they are all one kind of car capable of the achieving the same things?” When report cards come home do we expect all the students to have marks that are closer to A than to D or F? Do our children think we expect that?
As an owner of a one-ton Dodge van I confess that I look longingly at the fuel efficiency of a Yaris. However, I know that to get that level of fuel efficiency I have to give up what I bought my van for. The Yaris simply cannot do what I need and want my vehicle to be able to do. Therefore I continue to own a one-ton van and to be glad about owning it. I could choose to say my van is no good at fuel efficiency and be unhappy about the gas bills or accept them as part of the package. The only logical choice is to accept the consequence of my needs and wants, make adjustments to my lifestyle, and make the best of it.
When we look at the covenant children God has entrusted to each of us we need to think about our expectations of them. Do we accept them as they have been given to us by God, or do we covet from them something they are not able to do? Do we expect our children to be as good at each of the various courses or skills as the other children are? Or do we recognize that God equips each child with the talents and the challenges that He has ordained for them?
Just as the government puts out fuel efficiency “report cards” for all vehicles, so a school is required to put out report cards for all students. We know what the fuel efficiency report card is measuring but do we know what the report card our child brings home is measuring?
The fuel efficiency report cards are indicators. For vehicles fuel efficiency can be established under optimum conditions to provide a benchmark number. Your own vehicle may never match up to those numbers exactly but it should be close. The report card gives a number for city and highway driving because the vehicle’s performance varies based on the amount of stopping and starting that takes place. The numbers for the vehicles vary widely from twenty-five or more litres per 100 km to seven or eight litres per 100 km. What cannot be factored in are things like driving conditions, driving style, inflation level of the tires, etc. Each of these will affect the actual performance of the vehicle.
A student’s report card is in some ways similar to these fuel efficiency report cards. School report cards are in many ways only an indicator. They vary widely from a failing mark to an A+. There are marks for academic subjects and marks for less academic subjects (highway and city driving). However, unlike for vehicles, we cannot really establish a benchmark number for what each “model” of person should achieve. We have far too many variables to be able to do so. A student’s abilities, motivation, interests, having a job or not having a job, involvement in extra-curricular activities or not, family support, family priorities, etc. all affect the mark that shows up on the report card. Many of these are beyond the school’s control and should be.
To be able to use a report card correctly we need to have a clear idea of what we are after. If I want to be able to move more than five people around I know I cannot look at the Yaris. I need to look at something bigger. To know how to use the report card appropriately you need to know what you are after. This may mean redefining success. Success is often defined in comparative terms such as doing at least as good as most people do. If I define my vehicle choice as having a fuel efficiency that is at least as good as those of the typical car but need and want the power and performance of a large Dodge I am setting myself up for failure. It is clearly unrealistic to expect that.
The same applies to people. Very few students are meant by God to be A+ students just like not all students are equipped by God to be good at sports or drawing, singing or hands-on activities. Every student’s abilities are different. Some students need to work much harder than others to learn certain concepts, pieces of information, or wisdom. Some seem to be natural athletes while others have to work very hard to be able to compete well enough to not mess up every time. Some students need to work much harder to be able to draw well or to be able to serve powerful overhand serves in volleyball or run five kilometres in under twenty minutes. This is all a reflection of the differing gifts that God has given to each of his covenant children.
Does all this mean I think that any report card result is a good one? No. While there is lots of variety, there is also commonality. Just like all vehicles have a similar function and task, namely to transport people, all students have a similar task to develop their abilities and learn and train themselves to be prophets, priests, and kings. All have to aim to do their best. Some small cars have better mileage than other small cars because the manufacturer worked to maximize that aspect of the car’s performance while another manufacturer worked to minimize the price. Some large vehicles are more capable of performing the tasks I need than others because the manufacturer worked at power and capacity rather than appearance or quality of ride. Each person has a particular set of God-given abilities because God chose to equip them for a particular task.
The Whole Child
To make the report card useful more information is needed. Fuel efficiency is not the only factor just as the letter grade or percent is not the only factor. The report card may contain comments and effort indicators. These are helpful in seeing if the student has worked to maximize their performance. This helps the parent decide how to respond to the child. Maximizing performance has to be defined and it is crucial that it is not defined in comparison to any other student. It must be defined relative to the child God gave you and their particular God-given abilities. To maximize the child’s performance parents may need to restrain other aspects of their being. Maybe a child is very social or very inclined to sports. To properly develop their abilities you need to know what their aptitudes are, which should be prioritized (prophet, priest, and king), what is realistic, and what impact their environment or culture is having on them.
The bottom line question is what does the report card do? Does it assign a value to the child? As parents we all probably wish, with varying degrees of intensity, that our children would come home with straight A report cards. Why is that? Is it because we measure using a standard that is wrong? Have we started with an improper conception of who this covenant child is?
Most people see a mark of fifty-seven percent and think, “Yikes, you barely passed!” However, if you define success as whatever the child’s maximum effort allows them to achieve, fifty-seven percent might be a fantastic mark. For instance, let’s say a child really struggles to memorize things. They work really hard at it but it is simply very, very difficult for them to memorize information. When they get a test back that emphasized memory and score fifty-seven percent, then jump in the air and shout “Yahoo! Way to go! Fantastic!” Don’t say, “Oh, good try, too bad you did not get a bit higher mark.” Don’t respond as though some shameful deed has just been done and talking about it needs to be avoided. The reason to celebrate is because they did well! They worked hard and got a fantastic mark. Sure, a one hundred percent is a higher number, but is it a better mark? Only if you like comparing apples and oranges or a one-ton Dodge van and a Toyota Yaris and pretending they are the same.
So to sum things up, when the report card comes home, please look at it in light of who God created your child to be. What abilities did He give and not give to each of your children? Celebrate the successes that that reflection brings out. The only cause to not celebrate is if the report card reflects a lack of effort on the part of your child.
Fuel Efficiency Tips
If I want to achieve maximum fuel efficiency from my vehicle I need to maintain it well. I can affect the fuel efficiency by keeping tire pressures at the proper level. By keeping the engine properly tuned I can improve my mileage. By avoiding a heavy foot on the gas I can improve my mileage. Each of these steps and others help bit by bit to maximize the fuel efficiency of any vehicle. How do I learn about these things though? I need to study up on it and think in terms of solutions not problems. So when we look at God’s covenant children sitting around our table or coming home happily waving their report card or gloomily handing over their report card let us ask ourselves questions like: