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Santiago Álvarez de Mon, Professor, IESE, University of Navarra

What do we do with the kids?

Wed, 26 May 2010 08:25:40 +0000 Published in Expansion (Madrid)

"If people knew how hard I had to work to achieve my mastery and mastery, it would not seem so wonderful and miraculous my work." Words of the young Michelangelo, 24 years old, referring to his masterpiece, the Pieta. Often, dazzled by great artists, we forget that their spell and imagination is the product of many hours of effort and sacrifice.

Genius intuition is often preceded by work, willpower and perseverance. Vladimir Horowitz, virtuoso pianist, humbly shares a secret: "If I skip a day of internship, I notice it. If I skip two days, my wife notices it. If I skip three days, grade the world notices"! Coincidentally, if he skips three days, his inspiration evaporates. Spontaneity, naturalness and dazzling mastery are a consequence of training and repetition. A universal truth in any learning process, it is unwisely silenced or undervalued in this country of rogues, buck-passing and haste.

I say this because this very week many families will have found to their surprise that some of their members, students of the distinguished and demanding Spanish university, are finishing their academic year. We are still in May, some will return to the classroom in September, and others in October. 4 months off! In my family, curiously, the youngest finishes last and starts first. Logically, the more mature and restless youngsters design an alternative plan, a summer of sun and drinks alone can be too much. Stays abroad to improve languages and soak up other cultures, minor and dignified jobs to get a good job and fill empty pockets, collaborations with NGOs ... the possibilities are varied and complementary.

I have nothing against the leisure and rest of students who have earned it. It is a award that, preceded by the previous care, seems fair to me. I simply object to the dose of it. William James fondly warned, "If the young knew how soon they would become bundles of habits, they would pay more attention to their conduct while they still have plasticity."

Years prone to stretch muscles and neurons, if they are not taken advantage of, life takes its toll in later passages. Much easier to train an inexperienced youngster than to straighten out a resentful adult. Another imbalance. At more than one School students manage to negotiate a Monday-Thursday week, with the indifference or tacit support of academic staff. The nighttime leisure offer, happy, the botellón wins one more day for such a noble cause.

Why are students given so much leeway in the design of the academic curriculum? Participation, engagement, or abdication of the academic community? A student has to participate in class, even embarrassing professors who hear themselves preaching outdated theories. From there to cooking himself what he has to eat, brandishing rights and shirking duties, average is a long way. Then we are surprised if the elders drag the same tics and neglect. In the midst of a long and deep crisis, within a hyper-competitive international competition , is our absenteeism rate tolerable? What is behind the international expansion of our large companies? How can we explain the survival capacity of many SMEs? Talent? Undoubtedly, but above all work, a lot work.

One of our great artists, Jesús López Cobos, gratefully recalls his childhood years: "I have to admit that the 6 years I spent at seminar were decisive for my training. There I learned Latin, Greek, Humanities, Philosophy and music. They gave you a score and to read, as children learn to speak or to read. This daily internship was for me a great luck, I learned music by synthesis. What will our children say in the future: will their organism suffer from strains and stiffness disproportionate to their wear and tear? Will they have a willful, hard-working and concentrated intelligence? Questions for the Spanish society, I process them and try to answer as a father of several university students. I am going home, to see what we can come up with together to get to autumn in top shape, physically, intellectually, emotionally, spiritually and playfully.