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I had mediocre grades, but I'm not a mediocre student


Photo Credit: Amazon

"Ask yourself, suppose they were high-pressure parents with regard to grades. So there I am with my own sort of photography business, right? And I’m in the astronomy club, and this sort of thing. And if I had high-pressure parents saying we don’t want Bs, we want As. Then I have to cut away those other activities to spend more time in the books to get As. Then I would have had As and then nothing else in my life would have developed. And that’s an interesting trade-off one is making of their kids as a parent. If you’re going to demand certain grades, it means giving up on how they could have grown in other ways that are not measured by grades."

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In an interview with Tim Ferriss, Neil Degrasse Tyson took offence to a feature of him by the New Yorker. In one part of the article, it writes that "Tyson was not a distinguished student, and teachers criticised him for being inattentive."

Tyson shared that it was true that his grades were not great. He averaged "Bs" throughout his education. But while his grades were mediocre, he disagreed that he was a mediocre student (no doubt his disagreement is also boosted a healthy ego). 

Having developed a deep interest in astrophysics, Tyson went all out to develop himself in this area. He was part of the astronomy club. He took extra classes at museums. He won scholarships to go on field trips in South Africa and England. And he forayed in photography (quite an integral part of being an astronomer), setting up his own darkroom to develop photos, some which he even sold to the local newspaper. 

In other words, while the traditional and simplest definition of a great student is simply one that got good grades, Tyson subscribed to an alternate definition:

"It said that I was a mediocre student. Okay. I had mediocre grades, but I was anything but a mediocre student. I had all these other pursuits (as mentioned above) - it means I’m a doer. It means I have ambitions, it means I have a mission statement for myself and what I want to accomplish in life. And if you just want to go into the classroom and take a test, get a grade and have that be the sole assessment of whether you think someone is going to succeed, fine. But if you also recognize that there are people out there who get stuff done in their lives, then that gives you access to a whole other category of person who is out there."

This brings us back to Tyson's point at the top of this page. He was able to be a do-er, to pursue his goals and life mission because his parents gave him the space to do so. They allowed him, as long as he was doing ok in school, to commit to his interest. (Remember, this was a continuation of his parents helping him and his siblings find their interests in life in the first place). 

Parents naturally want the best for their kids. And it's a tough balance, it really is. Every child is different, every context is different, and every relationship is different. Besides, not all kids develop such a strong interest so early and distinctly. And there might be some "interests" which parents might disapprove of.


So one question to always consider is, what is "the best" that you want for your kid? Are you, the parent, defining this for your child? Why are you doing so? Why makes you better qualified to do so? Does your child have his/her own definition of "the best" - and why should his/her definition not be the better one?

We'll end with what Jack Ma, the founder of Ali-Baba, told his son:

“You don’t need to be in the top three in your class, being in the middle is fine, so long as your grades aren’t too bad. Only this kind of person [a middle-of-the-road student] has enough free time to learn other skills.”


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