Tuesday, June 16, 2015

Confidence to Set Sail

I have always taken great former-English-major satisfaction in the fact that the final moment of our students' academic careers--at both the high school and post-secondary levels--is called "Commencement."  As most people know, "Commencement" means "Beginning." Though many students, and their parents, no doubt see graduation as an ending, paradoxically it is a time of starting, of launching, of embarking. The ceremony is meant to raise the sails, not drop anchor. No doubt many Commencement speeches make this point.

QISA's 8th Condition is Confidence to Take Action. It is associated with the Guiding Principle of Purpose. Our Framework connects the notion of a young person's belief that they can be successful with the level of intention, commitment, and concern for others that marks a life lived with Purpose. But QISA's survey results have consistently revealed a troubling gap: While 93% of students believe they can be successful, just 71% of students believe they can make a difference in this world. This means there are a significant number of students who see no connection between their own success and a positive impact for others. So what is this confidence a confidence in or for? If students feel confident in their sailing forth, where do they think they are headed if not to the world's betterment?

There may be a clue in another Confidence to Take Action indicator: On average 7 out of 10 (69%) 6th-12th graders agree with the statement "School is preparing me well for my future", but only 56% of high school seniors agree. Apparently the longer students are in school, the less they feel they are being prepared for their future--school being a merely academic set of exercises that students hope end upon graduation. Consider: Service Learning notwithstanding, how does a more or less traditional education (learning in disciplined silos, desks in rows, etc.) prepare a student not just to be confident, but to act. Not just to sit down and pay attention, but to get up and do something. In fact to get up and change something for the better. Perhaps some students see no connection between their success and the world being improved because making a difference in the world requires action, not just confidence. And while school has given them confidence, it has definitely not given them permission to be disruptive.

Dreaming is great, it provides students with a destination. And confidence can be a self-generated wind, propelling students toward their goals. But a destination and a strong wind are useless, unless one undertakes the hard work of raising the sails. Action is required to commence with the world's improvement. If we have not taught that this year, how will we start doing it next year?

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