In a recent article I wrote for Independent Schools’ Magazine I was asked to reflect on something written by Mark – the former BBC India veteran reporter. Tully maintains that “success at school is too often ascribed solely to one’s own efforts, and take little account of gifts given at birth or circumstances of family life…if we exaggerate the role of free will in our lives we become either arrogant, attributing all our achievements to our own efforts and abilities, or depressed, attributing all apparent failures to our weaknesses”.
This was my response:
In my view Mark Tully’s viewpoint is a little simplistic. Both Matthew Syed in his recent book Bounce and Malcolm Gladwell in his book Outliers make reference to the ten thousand hour rule in which they contend to become world-class at anything one has to practise the skills required for 10,000 hours. However, to say that if we attribute such success to our own efforts then we are arrogant is unfair on all those who strive for success and work hard to achieve it. Seeing the fruits of your labours does not make you arrogant. Both of these writers also look at the role of being in the right place at the right time in order to be successful and there is no doubt that luck and circumstance are other important factors.
Schools though play an important part in all this. Schools need to provide the range of opportunities so that each individual student can find those areas in which they can succeed or equally important those areas in which they can find real enjoyment. Yes, students in independent schools are fortunate to have such a range of opportunities but through such activities students learn how to deal with both success and failure and the lessons learnt are very much part of how we develop their characters over the years. Not everyone can be in the First XV or main orchestra but I would contend that those important life skills are taught just as much for those in the 3rd XV, a house team or a training band and so whilst we cannot guarantee success for every student we can ensure that all develop through a variety of different experiences to ensure that they leave us neither arrogant nor depressed. We aim to turn out well-rounded, quietly confident students who are academically strong but also equipped with the life skills to thrive beyond school, you can’t achieve this just by wanting it, nor by being born with these skills but through the care of those who teach them and the range of opportunities on offer we are able to ensure that their inner potential is developed and that they leave us both happy and successful.