326. The Will to Succeed

There are many factors that combine to make it possible for people to learn, and when it doesn’t
happen, there are also many possible reasons. I don’t mean alibis; I dealt with those in my last article. We can honestly and meticulously study people’s success or failure, and get pretty good ideas about what are the possible causes. Ideally, whatever we find out is used to make success more likely.
But that’s not always the way it is. Children (and, of course, adults) who want to succeed are often able to learn what they “theoretically” can’t. That is, obstacles that have been identified by expert obstacle-identifiers may not prove to be as formidable as the experts think. That’s because some experts can get so caught up in their diagnostic procedures that they forget to think about the power of determination. Determination can be pretty formidable, too.
I’ve worked with children who have been able to meet challenges they weren’t supposed to be able to meet, because they really wanted to. I don’t mean to imply that children who don’t succeed don’t want to. But for some children, difficulties are seen as exciting challenges, not insurmountable obstacles. Child A may have as much difficulty learning to read as child B does, but child A may learn faster, because child A may have a more intense will to learn to read.
As teachers, we try to unleash the power of the will to learn. Some children clearly have strong wills, but they don’t necessarily use these wills for purposes the teachers have in mind. Teachers have wills, too, and when wills clash, bad things sometimes happen to good people. If this keeps happening, willful children can be their own worst enemies (assuming, for now, that willful teachers really are doing all they can).
We try to find ways to motivate children to learn. If, as I’ve written before, learning is fun, then all we have to do is make sure that children see what fun it is. But if children have already had experiences that contradict that view of learning, it may not be so easy to change their minds. Those previous experiences may have been planned by teachers who were also trying to emphasize the joy of learning, but such attempts aren’t always successful, and each failure makes subsequent success more difficult.
But when a child’s will is on our side, great things – sometimes seemingly impossible things – can happen. So one of the many important jobs teachers have is to find ways to get children to see that there really is something in it for them – that whatever we are trying to teach them will be pleasant to learn and/or pleasant to know. It’s not enough for teachers to be determined to teach; they have to get children to be determined to learn.

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