The way for a young man to rise, is to improve himself every way he can, never suspecting that any body wishes to hinder him. Abraham Lincoln
Mr. Lincoln made these comments many years ago, before we experienced such phenomena as global warming, sushi bars, satellites, HOV lanes and juvenile delinquency. Yet, in twenty-five words, he succeeds at identifying two critical paths, for young and not-so-young.
One of my favorite exercises in the classroom is asking students what they want to be when they grow up. Happily, I rarely hear such qualifiers as, “If I have the money,” or “If I am smart enough to get into college” or “If I can.” Whenever I hear these qualifiers, I automatically remind my students that the only ceilings they have over their heads are the ones that they put there. Self-improvement is self-fulfilling and can never end.
The other concept to which Abe refers is the omission of suspicion that someone wants to prevent successes. While I don’t believe that anyone ever attempted to deter me from achieving academic goals, I see the potential for that happening with many of my students.
This situation is slightly more difficult to address and correct. Mom says that homework isn’t important. No-one at home can help me with my spelling. I left my homework folder at home. Dad says they’re too busy to go to Parent Night. No-one in my family has ever gone to college. As subtle as this attitude may be, our job as educators and role models is to increase the intrinsic value of knowledge and education.
We can’t disrespect family members but we can remind students that our world has room for everybody to do what they want and excel at it, no matter what it takes. If we believe that the world is conscientiously working to prevent our successes, perhaps we have other problems to address. Mr. Lincoln and I, however, believe that the world is neither hostile nor prohibitive. Ultimately, we have the power and initiative to be what we will be. Shalom.