August Turak

Author Consultant Speaker

Education and Achievement

I was a sophomore in college and I was strolling across campus with a graduate student in engineering who I had just met. He asked me my major and when I told him that it was Russian history he said disdainfully,

"What are you going to DO with it?" ...

I didn't like the question or his attitude but I played along.

"I don't know. I'll probably be a Russian history professor."

"Do you know how many jobs open up each year in this country for Russian history professors? Maybe three."

"That's great," I said. "That's two more than I need."

Every so often I remember that incident, and I always wonder where I got such self confidence at such an early age. I am an optimist. Like my father and grandfather before me I believe in the American Dream. I believe that if anyone works hard and learns self control they can be successful.

People often say or imply that it is easy for me to have such notions since I and my siblings, though we came from very humble origins, have been successful. This line of reasoning argues that the proverbial "can do" spirit is a by-product of success.

I would counter that instead it was my can-do attitude that made me successful in the first place.

So, setting aside genetics, where does a can-do spirit come from? The mantra in our society is that it can be fostered through education.  But I remember reading a number of studies years ago on what was called "achievement motivation."  The studies found that education does not produce achievement motivation. Rather it is achievement motivated people who value education.

My answer to where me and my siblings got our achievement motivation is from our parents and especially my Dad. My Dad could be a relentless nag; pushing and driving us (and me especially) to "Bigger, Better, More." But though I rebelled at times when I look back I am so grateful.

So in my opinion it is families (and yes more often fathers) that create achievers not education. Especially in light of the fact that our educational establishment is rife with people telling our kids that America is a rigged game where the rich just get richer and the poor poorer. What's the use of having a can-do attitude in a game you cannot win?