You can’t have anything you want.

“You can have anything you want if you want it badly enough. You can be anything you want to be, do anything you set out to accomplish if you hold to that desire with singleness of purpose.”

So said Abraham Lincoln, presumably whilst sharpening an ax. He also appeared in the video for Gay Bar by Electric 6, remember, so he was a man of many and diverse talents. But he’s wrong of course, because talent, luck and hard work all matter more than the nebulous ‘want’. You cannot have a yacht unless you have the money to purchase one and you cannot play cricket for England unless you have Stokes-like talent.

Teddy Roosevelt was closer to the mark with this one:

“Nothing in the world is worth having or worth doing unless it means effort, pain, difficulty… I have never in my life envied a human being who led an easy life. I have envied a great many people who led difficult lives and led them well.”

The effort. The struggle. The time invested. The desire to succeed and achieve that is so great that we can overcome obstacles that litter the path.

Then we come to this article in today’s Australian, showing that despite increased investment in education, performance in NAPLAN has flatlined since its inception in 2008. The NAPLAN tests are far from perfect, but to blame NAPLAN (as some choose to do) is odd. Don’t blame the messenger because you don’t like the message.

Now look at the comments in the article; from educators, research fellows and academics, highlighting what needs to be done (and what is being done in Schools that show good outcomes/improvement):

‘Explicit teaching methods and targeted interventions for students who needed it…’

‘We need to focus on explicit, whole-class teaching, set high ­expectations and reintroduce memorisation and rote learning…’

See how far we have moved away from sound principles of education, such that the statements above are seen as necessary solutions, rather than just stuff everyone should be doing as a matter of course. The more we listen to futurists, tech-salesmen and Sir Ken, the more we move away from what’s necessary when it comes to mastering English and Mathematics. Unlocking and harnessing creativity comes from a solid grasp of the basics – a second-nature fluency that allows creative thought to be articulated and number problems to be solved with elegant solutions.

But amidst all the hand-wringing about what Schools should be doing to improve reading, writing and doing sums, there’s another oft-unmentioned group with a significant responsibility: parents.

We all want our children to read and write fluently, but do we (as parents) want it badly enough? Encouraging, (nay, forcing,) your children to read; setting an example by reading yourself; discussing the books with your children; making them feel clever by reading clever books; helping them when they trip over words; taking them to the library on a Saturday morning as well as to footy. You can do this.

If we’re serious as a country about improving standards in Maths and (especially) English, we cannot afford to outsource everything to teachers and Schools.

I interviewed a boy for a place at School recently, and I asked the young chap what book he had enjoyed recently. His mother leant across, put her hand on his, looked me in the eye and said ‘he doesn’t read’. ‘He will when he comes here’, I said, and then we talked about dinosaurs for a while.


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