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José Benigno Freire Pérez,, Professor of School of Education and Psychology at the University of Navarra, Spain

A possible core topic of school success

Sun, 21 Feb 2016 21:18:00 +0000 Published in Navarra Newspaper

I was young too, but that was some years ago. The time between my youth and my gray hair was filled, professionally, with educational tasks and functions. I have handled, with pleasure and fluency, terms and concepts used in the psychological and pedagogical jargon: motivation, self-esteem, assessment, meaningful learning, strategies, seven intelligences, transversal objectives, emotional intelligence, tic's... I have even been arrogant and explained them to the parents of students, and to other colleagues.  

I have nothing against such pedagogical modernities, of course. However, with the moderation of the years, one acquires serenity and calmness; one contemplates reality from unsuspected and unnoticed angles in the hustle and bustle of everyday life. In such a way that, on a day of special lucidity, a known and proven fact was illuminated to me; although without digesting it, in spite of my long experience. The ancients called these sudden births inspiration. Now it is frowned upon; now they prefer a research, or a survey.

My finding is simple and substantial, at least that's what I think; and of simple common observation. I will say it...: students with excellent grades tend to obtain them in all subjects, with any teacher subject and with all systems of assessment... And, paradoxically, it also happens the other way around: students who are not very fond of studying tend to fail quite a few subjects, with any teacher or system of assessment...

With this enlightenment I sensed that study, the effort staff, may represent a previous and more solid factor in school success. It is good to adjust the assessment, to adapt the contents to their abilities, to teach them instrumental skills, to keep them motivated... But what if they studied more, with more constancy, what if they studied even when they were not motivated? Even so, would their school grades improve?

 It seemed to me a suggestive hypothesis, worth considering. That is to say, without detracting from the enormous pedagogical arsenal and the current psychological advances, study, the effort staff, surely constitutes a primordial factor, sometimes determining, of learning, especially of meaningful learning; it could even become a fundamental element to make profitable the effectiveness of the strategies and weapons handled by the professionals of teaching.

However, once I had overcome the initial confusion that accompanies any dazzlement, it began to sound like a familiar refrain. Indeed, a multitude of teachers, with more enthusiasm than success, emphatically claim that student effort is the main - though not exclusive - vector of school performance. But I am afraid that parents do not usually listen to this judicious committee and allow themselves to be duped by siren songs that reduce or distract from their children's responsibility in school grades. 

In any case, I was not discouraged with my hypothesis, since the problem goes back to ancient times. Just look at Socrates! Socrates did not write on his Facebook wall, nor did he support his classes with PowerPoint, but he had... ideas! He claimed that we teachers should act like midwives. Midwives help ladies to give birth, but the child, obviously, nests in the womb. If the midwife were to give the mother a child that is not in her womb, she would not be attending a birth, but an adoption process. The same thing happens in learning. The teacher can and must help the disciple to understand the concepts or to assimilate the contents; however, the light bulb of knowledge (learning) must be turned on in the mind of student. An inexorable law: until the disciple does not internalize the contents, knowledge is not conceived. The student cannot be spared the effort inherent to any learning process.

Here a pause is well deserved. I must remember that knowledge is not synonymous with information, although knowledge requires information. Knowing is not speed when surfing the Internet, or resorting to the lazy corner, or succumbing to the Wikipedia syndrome, or composing exercises with the tool cut/paste, or a simple approve (even at the cost of employment of bad habits); nor is it simple rote answers. That is why school grades do not always guarantee knowledge, but knowledge does guarantee good school grades.

I will not now confuse you with the concept of knowledge, or knowledge. I will only point out that knowledge inevitably requires thinking; analyzing, reflecting. And thinking implies submitting thoughts to the laws of logic, and handling data and events with the rigor of scientific protocols; that is to say, discipline. And discipline is always accompanied by effort. So it is... 

I think my intuition is on the right track. I will wait for another day of lucidity to argue it with a research or a survey. While waiting, maybe some parents will want to trust their experience and will take care of their children's studies...: it won't be bad for them!