Robin Booth
Robin Booth

Who’s an ‘under’ or ‘over’ achiever?

I think it’s really important to begin by saying that we create categories and labels as part of the way our brain functions. This allows us to process information.

Judging, evaluating and categorising are some of the ways we process information around us. So what’s really important is not the concept of “not labelling” but being aware of the risks of labelling and possible pitfalls. In other words it’s not important that we judge, but the actions we take on the basis of our judgement.

Taking away the concept of “labelling” means we no longer have a way to sort and categorise information. We then pretend we’re not labelling (because it seems as if people believe “labelling” is wrong) when in fact we do. So perhaps what’s more important than telling parents not to label is to support them in the actions they take in spite of the labelling.

What’s important when it comes to the word “underachievement” is to define what that term means. And to then understand what the word means in the greater context of children and education. “Underachieving” implies children should be achieving a certain norm at a certain age or time and they’re currently not. And more importantly that if you are not achieving these norms then there’s the belief that something is “wrong”.

This concept of “wrong” perhaps does more damage than the label of “underachiever”. It gives a sense that if the child is “behind” at a given point in time then they will always be behind and we therefore have to intervene to support the child’s development. It also works on the premise that the child wants to achieve some goal but can’t and this now demands adult intervention.

In my definition an underachiever is someone who is not personally motivated and driven to explore and apply themselves to some project or task. If you apply the same assessment criteria to a child who is passionate about something they would not be rated as an achiever. So then we should also not be surprised if a child is an underachiever if they themselves have not been involved in agreeing to the goals that need to be achieved in the first place.

Achievement should only be personally rated against what a child or learner has set for themselves and the degree to which they rated themselves against those expectations ahead of that goal.

  • Gerry

    “if they themselves have not been involved in agreeing to the goals that need to be achieved in the first place”

    Thank you, Robin!

    But this applies as much to us old guys as it does to pupils at school level.

  • mundundu

    that last paragraph is the best one.

    people call me an underachiever — out of my social group in high school, i’m the only person without a doctorate of some sort or a high-flying tech job.

    however, i’ve spent the last 20 years travelling around the world. while i’ve seen how rich all of my friends are, i’ve seen their wives look at me like “wow, i wish i could have done that.” me: “but i’m broke.” them: “so.”

    i’m teaching my son that he should be able to do whatever he wants, but i do point out that the more book-learnin’ he has, the easier it would be to do whatever he wants. his recent rugby injury has underscored my nagging about his grades.

    i’ve seen many alleged overachievers from my high-powered high school completely crash and burn when they got into the real world. it’s a major reason i embraced my slacker lifestyle. there’s no point killing yourself in trying to show you’re the alpha [fe]male.

  • brigs

    I believe achievement has a great deal to with ones passion for a subject, or task. A child not seeing the superpose or reason to do something is very likely to under achieve. Further, one must also consider that our means of measuring achievement may in fact be flawed in the first place especial at school level where any creative bent is by and large discouraged in favor of measurable out comes.

  • Old, female, paleface

    Like our President, I have Primary Schooling.
    In Colonial 30’s it was world standard, and it nurtured a passion for knowledge, (which I learned was “power!”)
    Most relevant, it engendered an inquiring, “WHY” mind set. See the effects so establish the cause !
    No one has conned me – I check first – my source was libraries which lent free non-ficition books, freely available in suburbs.
    I am uneducated but have knowledge.
    Decades of watching people was my best education.
    Books gave answers to my curiosity – not adults who chased me away with warningsg of what it did to cats.
    Killed them!
    So why do they have 9 lives, I argued in vain !
    I sought the answer – it is their agility, turning body to fall feet first, and climbed trees to get away !

    Touching 8 decades later, I am still a student with a fountain of ‘useless information.’
    I know a little of everything, which my educated children reprimand – is very dangerous, (and boring.)
    So what – dangerous is fun.
    I have used up 8 lives with one more to go.

    Youth denied education through poverty should be taught to read and ask endless questions.
    PCs are an endless source of learning cause and effect.
    Searching info on the website is also learning on how to focus.
    The older you get the more you realise how little you know.

  • Gerry

    “where any creative bent is by and large discouraged in favor of measurable out comes”

    And even creativity is subjective. I’ve had the same art projects failed by some and given distinction by others.

  • Carol Stamos

    I grew up in a poor town where gangs and death were always in the air.

    People expected nothing from us and only one made it out. Diane Garnick. Her edge was that no one thought she would live past 20.