August 31, 2009
Our students are back to school and the rhythms of family and school life have once again reverted to the hustle and bustle of a much busier daily routine. For some, this has been long awaited while for others summer was much too short. Like all things in life, this change too is inevitable. I sometimes wonder what happens as children age because it appears that the more years in education a child has, the less likely they are to be bored and ready to return to school. Ask most elementary children and they’re ready to return to school; ask the average high school student and they’ll be much more ambivalent about returning to their academic labors. Is it that our children’s lives become busier, that school becomes more like work, or that so many other items take precedence over school as our children age?
I know that for some of our older students, the challenge of succeeding academically is a strong motivating factor and, as the pressure or college acceptance mounts in their Junior and Senior years, the stress factor increases. For some of our teenage students, school doesn’t seem to have much relevance to their lives: they’re bored, often disruptive and sometimes can’t seem to challenge themselves to become motivated and involved, but have no trouble imagining how great life will be when they’ve finally finished school and are working and on their own.
What most people determine after graduation and a number of years in the workforce is that, while formal education may have ended, learning continues throughout life. While a formal education is no guarantee of personal and financial success, the odds of being financially successful increase dramatically with the amount of formal education one accumulates. One also realizes fairly quickly that immense success in high school seems to matter much less after a few years. At this time your work experience or and/or college degrees become more important and your prior success must continue to be built upon, as it won’t carry you forever. Other individuals just manage to get by and graduate from high school, but then really blossom and work hard in college or the workplace; the realization that your lack of earlier success can be overcome with time and effort is a pleasant eye-opening experience. Reggie Leach’s words seem to sum it up best “Success is not the result of spontaneous combustion. You must set yourself on fire.”
The trick is how to help students become self-motivated and to internalize that drive rather than count on extrinsic factors that must continually be upgraded to maintain their power to motivate. A successful life can’t simply be measured by financial success, and happiness and satisfaction in life doesn’t simply come from material possessions, although it may appear that way in much of our mass media. Thus developing, especially in the young, a level of intrinsic motivation that overcomes, or at least begins to supplant extrinsic material factors, is essential but certainly not easy—for the schools, for parents, or even for society. Yet it appears that the most successful people, young or old, seem to be primarily intrinsically motivated so it behooves us to continue to explore this issue and try to make it a part of our goal of educating the whole child.