Two ubiquitous postings float the internet nowadays: one is a paraphrasing of Churchill’s famous saying-paraphrased into “Keep calm and – ______________ ” fill in the blank here. Some make me smile ( “Keep Calm and Mother on” ) others make me wonder what the former head of State would be thinking if he were to read them all. I hope that he would have smiled at all of them, being glad that the central point- “keep calm” was circulating.
The other saying is not so easily reduced to actionable advice. Attributed to Henry Ford, it runs (again, paraphrased) “if you think you can, you can; if you think you can’t, you can’t.” Recently I considered having students write a mock letter to Mr. Ford, along the lines of the famous “Dear Editor, is there a Santa Claus?” only changed to: Dear Mr. H. Ford, is there a job awaiting? because knowing one can and being given the opportunity to demonstrate as much, is not the same thing. There is much more involved than a simple change of mindset.
When I first saw the Henry Ford quotes popping up all over, I thought of The Little Blue Engine that Could- managing to bring those toys to the children on the other side of the mountain while chanting “I think I can” all the way up the hill 🙂 I wish it were that straight forward, work hard, keep believing, and at the very least “try”. The reality is success breeds success; in school and elsewhere, people discover an aptitude for one thing over another, sometimes in a deliberate fashion – trying a number of sports (or courses) and seeing which one seems to best suit- and at other times in a much more random way. And “success” is not only a motivating factor, success opens doors. Be it in Canada or the States, or in classrooms across the globe, students are told that some subjects are necessary before they can move forward and try their hand at other subjects. While I do agree that a positive mindset is more likely to instill an attitude of not giving up – individuals do need to receive the bare minimum of reinforcement and to perceive opportunity “out there”. It is good then, that in Ontario, there is a gradual recognition of how hard it may be for a student to know at the end of grade 8 which classes will provide further options, and which will channel the student into a difficult to extricate from, pigeon-hole.
Applied versus academic; that is the question. Having worked with students who were shuttled into applied and helped said students move towards higher education with “success” I know first hand it was an uphill battle. I was in the fortunate position of providing support; demonstrating how academics demands certain operations to be performed, and I know that it involved the joint participation of student, parent, school, and administration- Churchill’s famous “Keep Calm” repeated like a mantra by all in spite of many, some major, setbacks. The question of How can I help – a question that as Tutor often has kept me up at nights; often the best way was to show which doors needed to be pushed, and which ones to be pulled. At times, the academics of it all appeared to be disappearing behind the necessary focus on a student’s options.
However I also have had the pleasure of teaching adults- University students- and heard first hand how many have changed direction once at a campus, where timetables may be filled with courses that suited the hour rather than the original “plan”- and the joy students began to feel as learning took hold in a manner that offered both the possibility of long-term commitment and the chance to feel challenged. When possible, if a student is in doubt, keeping doors open = future access to opportunity.
And for the students who really want to quickly join the work force and leave academics behind? They too need to be aware of which programs offer degrees in the trades, which programs provide the hands-on learning experiences of co-ops, and which programs may mean having to begin all over again, rather than permitting a movement forward. Summer is a time to reflect, a chance to plan and to dream- and if you are selecting summer school- it goes by very quickly… “Get Excited!”, flip that saying of Churchill’s, and think how by mid August you will have one more task to remove from your to-do list. “Carry on”…