BATH — I respect America’s fearless heritage, but we are a nation of wimps when it comes to our educational system. We’ve endured over 50 years of meaningless “reform” while student performance and problems grow steadily worse and inequality runs rampant throughout our schools.

I’d been a lousy student myself, so I spent 10 years working and studying hard to become a first-rate teacher and coach. Then I had a crisis of conscience once I took a hard look at just what we were really teaching kids.

In my calculus class, for example, I told an arrogant and self-centered 14-year-old genius that his attitude would crucify him in life. Yet I gave him my highest grade! I also told a dedicated but discouraged farm boy to ignore his feelings (“I work twice as hard as everyone else and get half as much out of it”) and trust that his strong character would ensure his goal of becoming a top engineer. Yet I gave him my lowest grade!

Years later, the farm boy did become a highly respected engineer, while the genius became unemployed, though he had graduated from MIT at 18 with an A average.

My crisis occurred 52 years ago. Since then I founded a network of seven public and private schools that are devoted to developing the unique potential of each student, by valuing effort over ability, attitude over aptitude and character over achievement, while also focusing parental growth and family issues on a regular basis.

I say that the purpose of American education should be to prepare children for life by helping them develop their unique potential.

The present educational system’s purpose is basically limited to preparing each child for college, and doing so with a pathetic “one-size-fits-all” approach, which simply doesn’t work.

I saw this clearly when I was introducing a Hyde program into a traditional high school English class in the 1980s. The teacher had six students in the back row with whom she had difficulty maintaining interest and discipline. When I took the class to a ropes course experience, these six students led the entire class through the group challenges.

To me, it was another example that IQ in school intelligence doesn’t embody practical or creative intelligence.

It exemplifies why American schools should be devoted to seeking the best in our children, not just their best in academic skills.

Take a hard look at education today. It has no heart and no soul. It is cold and materialistic – everyone in for himself or herself, competing against each other. This piece of the youth culture has become so powerful that we are helpless against the cheating, bullying and school shootings that occur with disturbing frequency.

To transform all this, simply focus on helping each student discover and develop his or her unique potential in a preparation for life, which boils down to finding one’s true best.

Such a commitment will start a chain reaction: The student begins to feel a new confidence and energy; this leads to the beginnings of gratitude, trust and a desire to help others as he or she had been helped. Growth from the students inside the school begins. Ultimately, the students become a powerful force for improving both education and American culture.

The present purpose of education is focused not on the individual student, but on the needs of the college and corporate industries, who want workers to build the American marketplace. The end does not justify the means.

But if we change the focus of education, the means justify the end. If we do right for each individual student, we will produce not only far better college students, but also a much stronger America.

Watching 48 years of Hyde graduates and families in life leaves me no doubt of this outcome.