Walter Russell Mead has some good advice for college students, but I would suggest it applies to younger students as well. And in my mind it's a great endorsement for homeschooling, which often can foster the kind of creativity and flexibility Mead has in mind. "The real world does not work like school," he writes.
Life in school is life in bureaucracy. You follow the rules, do what you are told, and rewards follow.
The real world was never very much like that, but the parts of the real world that look most like school (like for example law firms, universities and government, and private sector bureaucracies) have their heads on the chopping block. By the time today’s students are in their forties (and that is MUCH closer than you think, kids), most of those organizations are going to morph into something very different. Or they will die.
Inmates who spend a long time in prison become institutionalized; they adapt so well to the conditions of prison that they can no longer function in the free world. Something similar can happen to students. From age six or even younger, students are immersed in a predictable world that runs by the rules. Then you get out of school—and expect that this pattern will continue. If you go to a good law school and do well, you will become an associate at a successful firm. Do your job well, work hard, obey the rules and wash behind your ears and in due time you will make partner.
That’s the old system; the new one won’t work that way. Creativity, integrity, and entrepreneurial initiative will pay off; following the old rules and hoping for the old rewards is a road to frustration. You have to fight the tendency of the educational system to turn you into a timeserving baby bureaucrat, following the rules and waiting for the inevitable promotion.
"Most of your elders know very little about the world into which you are headed," Mead continues. Read the whole thing.