Indeed, as anyone who has attended college will tell you, there are a plethora of factors that determine a student’s success or struggle in college. And my own experiences as a parent have taught me that, when children are “outmatched,” they often grow the most both in confidence and ability.
Recently, my 10-year-old daughter reminded me of this very point when she engaged in actions that demonstrated exactly why Sander’s mismatch theory fails in many instances. Unlike most girls, my daughter has maintained an interest in math, robotics, and numerous other things that her physics professor father is geekily proud of and, more important, that boys seem to dominate even at the tender age of 10.
This year, my daughter joined the chess club. Having never played chess before and having parents who were not chess players, she was initially “outmatched” by her peers, most of whom had been playing for years. However, over time and with training and the constant challenge of being “outmatched,” she has become one of the stronger players in her group.
Like thousands of college students who have benefited from affirmative action programs over the past three decades, my daughter possessed the native intelligence and skill for the program she was joining. Having the additional challenge of being outmatched brought out the best in her and pushed her to excel. As my former colleague Alan Brownstein from the University of California, Davis School of Law once said to me, “Mismatch is what we want for our kids.”
Indeed, those of us who are parents tell our children to seek mismatches all the time. When our children want to improve their basketball skills, we do not tell them, “Play basketball with kids who play just at your level or lower.” Instead, we say, “Find the best players because playing with them will improve your skills. It will make you better, stronger, wiser.”