“Today we give our thanks, most of all, for the ideals of honor and faith we inherit from our forefathers–for the decency of purpose, steadfastness of resolve and strength of will, for the courage and the humility, which they possessed and which we must seek every day to emulate. As we express our gratitude, we must never forget that the highest appreciation is not to utter words but to live by them.”
John F Kennedy had just 17 days to live when he uttered those words on Thanksgiving Day, 1963. This is a powerful paragraph, rich in sense, not in sentimentality. Learn from the very best the past can offer, says JFK – our present is the reaping of what was sown by our forefathers.
Our arrow of time is fixed – we are borne ceaselessly into the future. We must be respectful of the past but never hamstrung by it. We have never had it so good – technology, communication, entertainment, diet, living standard – 2016 is a great time to be alive. When one is tired of 2016, one is tired of life.
Why, therefore, I wonder, does the modern day appear such a difficult time to be a School pupil? Exam stress and the pressure of testing; rising diagnoses of mental health issues; stress, anxiety, depression and concerns over gender.
We talk of building character, resilience, independence and perseverance – words that are often uttered, to reflect on Kennedy, but rarely developed. We lack the courage to see them through, being too quick to cite issues of well-being and damaged self-esteem before pupils have much of a chance to develop those qualities. How can one develop resilience without being challenged with something hard? If we remove the obstacle at the first sign of struggle, how can anyone demonstrate perseverance, or independence? In my experience, the greatest way to build self-esteem is through conquering challenge. Whether this is a fear of flying or speaking in public, or simply a subject or concept with which one needs to struggle in order to be ultimately successful, the feeling of achievement gained from having conquered the difficult and unfamiliar (even the scary and unenjoyable) is worth a thousand times more than plodding around in one’s comfort zone, perpetually completing tasks of relative simplicity.
Sometimes School and learning need to be hard, challenging, lengthy and boring. Not everything needs to be about engagement and entertainment. Keeping pupils engaged is relatively easy – teaching them something tough but worthwhile can be far harder. Giving them what they want is straightforward, but it’s also not always the best thing to do if you *really* do care.
“We choose to go to the moon. We choose to go to the moon in this decade and do the other things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard…”
Do you want an easy question or a hard question? Do you want an easy catch or a hard catch? Do you want to challenge yourself in the knowledge that the journey will be tougher but the ultimate reward will be much more satisfying, and by the end, you’ll know much more about yourself, your independence, your resilience and your character? Or do you want to be wrapped in cotton wool, protected from those who may disagree with you, challenge you, bore you or make you think hard?
We should always support pupils in our care. They should know that we’re in their corner, and they can trust us to be consistent, hard-working and to want what is best for their education. But we do them no favours by shielding them from boring things, difficult things and the need to struggle. Saying you care is easy, but if your version of care is to remove all obstacles from the path, you may be setting them up for a big fall.