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Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Essentials for Educational Success

Complete this sentence: “In school I learned that the secret of success is __________.” What does your composite essay say about success? (Serendipity Bible 10th Anniversary Edition, p.342-3).

Sometimes it helps in discussing a topic—like scholastic success—to address its opposite—here, scholastic mediocrity and even failure. There are several contributors to mediocrity. First, the student sees no great value in education. Second a failing student lacks self-confidence that he is up to the task, and more troubling, may have a profound sense of unworthiness. A failing student does not see education as an exciting adventure but rather intolerably boring. Because of the factors just mentioned, the failing students exercises no persistence in learning essential fundamentals. Let us turn the focus off the student and towards the instructors, teachers, or coaches. We must look full-on at an unpleasant fact; if the instructor doesn't like a student and evaluates him as least-favorite, then this significantly impacts a student's ability to succeed. A related consideration, in most any subject area there are “schools of thought.” Instructors have biases regarding them (not to mention educationally unrelated prejudices). There are in almost all fields accepted norms. If a student criticizes them or propounds other options, despite nods to academic freedom, professors can react negatively—in human nature objectivity and subjectivity are inescapably blended. The last consideration in academic failure is intelligence. I put it last because it is so difficult to define. Intelligence is also a blend of objectivity and subjectivity—of logic, insight, and creativity all related to perception and greatly influenced by experience. Mother told me that when I was a toddler, I once asked for a banana. She reached in the refrigerator and brought out a brown one. I said, “But mother, I want one with daylight on it.” Obviously a toddler doesn't have the IQ of an adult. So what about my comment did mother find memorable? Was it plain stupid, silly, insightful, creative, or intelligent? Intelligence is hard to define and identify, so its relationship to academic success is uncertain.

Really, what applies to formal education applies to learning almost any task—say that of learning to ride a bike. To succeed the student must (1) find great value in bike riding, (2) have almost a blind self-confidence coupled with a reliable sense of worthiness, (3) see the task as an exciting adventure, (4) maintain persistence in learning, (5) have a coach that likes the student and enjoys doing training, (5) does not repel the coach with criticism perceived as unfair or bizarre, (6) displays required intelligence—whatever that is. Whether on a street corner learning to ride a bike or matriculating at Harvard, these characteristics serve one well.

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