Think about the organized activities in which children participate. At band practice, for example, musicians understand why they need to rehearse. They know that practicing is important because at a later date the group will perform its songs to a live audience. The connection between today’s preparation and tomorrow’s performance is straightforward. Young actors in a drama club are also aware of this relationship. So are players on a Little League baseball team. The leaders of these activities generally do not need to spend much time explaining the purpose of practicing because kids can figure it out for themselves.
Interestingly, the organized activity that occupies more of a child’s waking hours than any other - school - is the one where the purposes of attending each day are typically the least well understood by its participants. What are the purposes of attending school? Most students answer that they come to school to learn. But when pressed further, they are often unable to articulate compelling reasons why learning is important. The larger purposes of education are not as obvious as those of Little League, band, or drama club. As a result, children have greater difficulty discovering on their own what these purposes are.
As parents and teachers, if we want children to work with a sense of purpose in school, we must communicate with them to establish a sense of purpose. There is no more fundamental question an adult can pose to a child than, “Why is it important to do a good job in school?” We can’t assume that they already know.
In this article I share ten important reasons why it matters to work hard, value education, and take school seriously. Children who understand the many purposes of education will be more motivated to learn, more committed to their studies, more likely to persevere during challenging times, more willing to delay gratification, better able to find meaning in their work, and better able to connect today’s learning to tomorrow’s opportunities.
1) Learning adds quality to our lives. The development of the mind is a joy and benefit in and of itself. Learning is interesting and fun, and it should feel good. When kids work hard in school, they learn knowledge and develop skills. That builds confidence and self-esteem.
2) Working hard prepares kids for higher levels of education. Doing well in elementary school generally leads to good grades in middle and high school. It also opens the door to honors classes and other important opportunities. In addition, consistent academic success increases the likelihood of earning admission into selective colleges and universities.
3) Working hard in school helps children develop lasting habits. In my classroom I emphasize two important sets: “habits of mind” that predispose us to think and act in certain ways and “habits of character” that focus on study habits, social skills, and attitudes about our work. In Horace’s Hope, educator Theodore Sizer once said that, “Knowing stuff is nice. Being able to use that stuff makes sense. Being disposed to use it always, as a matter of habit, is the brass ring, the ultimate standard.”
4) Working hard can help children find their passion. Many well-known individuals discovered their future careers and areas of intense interest in school. Books, videos, and other curricular material can expose kids to people, music, languages, endeavors, and ideas that they might not have come across any other way.
5) Doing well in school helps people establish themselves as individuals. The classroom is one of the primary places in which we determine our personal standards of quality. Students who work hard and do well in school learn to establish a high expectation level and expect great things from themselves. They decide that they want to strive to become the best of the best and will settle for nothing less. They will carry these standards with them as they get older. Children need teachers and parents who hold high expectations, but ultimately, what matters most is whether they make the personal commitment to aim high.
6) Education helps us get the jobs we want. It is a simple fact that people who graduate high school earn more money than people who don’t, and people who graduate college earn even more. Over the course of a lifetime, this difference in earning power is significant. Making money is certainly not the only reason to do well in school, but it is an important one.
7) Doing well in school maximizes our options in life. Education opens doors. Not only does it help us obtain higher-paying jobs, but also it enables us to access a wider variety of jobs that offer challenge, interest, and the opportunity to contribute to our communities. Education also opens doors that are unrelated to our careers. A track record of school success, for example, can help us earn worthwhile volunteer opportunities.
8) Working hard in school empowers us to become more effective consumers. In school, of course, we learn the arithmetic skills that help us make correct change, balance our checkbooks, and manage a household budget. Beyond that, we also learn the higher-level thinking skills that empower us to be consumers in the larger sense - consumers of news and information who have the ability to analyze issues critically and make intelligent judgments.
9) Education empowers us to make a difference in the world. The more we know, the more we can contribute to the lives of others. Working hard in school enables us to help people, both through our formal roles, such as doctors and nurses, and through informal roles, such as when we tutor a neighbor or assist a younger sibling with reading.
10) Education empowers people to participate fully in civic life. Healthy communities need involved citizens. Voting, attending city council meetings, writing letters to the editor, and taking action on important issues are necessary to preserve and strengthen our democracy. By working hard in school, we learn the history of our country and the responsibilites that we all have as citizens.
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Teaching Tip of the Week
Teaching Kids How to Get "Unstuck" While Writing (Teaching Tip #106)In this Teaching Tip I provide a link to a short YouTube video I created. The video features two effective strategies that help children become “unstuck” while they are writing. The first of these strategies is a familiar one, while the second is less well-known and a bit more novel. Try these ideas in class with your students or at home with your children.
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