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Fragments II: micro stories about the learning business

Teaching Students to Live An Extraordinary Ordinary Life

End of year Commencement Ceremonies for 2024 may still be a little way off, but some of you out there may already be starting to draft your speech.

And, if past ceremonies are anything to go by, there will likely be references to the many opportunities that lie ahead, how the school has prepared the Class of 2024 to be future leaders of tomorrow, and maybe even an occasional reference to the world being your oyster.

Despite our optimistic and triumphant proclamations, however, the experience of many students post-school is sometimes very different. 

According to a recent report by the BBC, Data from the Student Loans Company in the UK recently suggested a 28% rise over five years in students dropping out of university. Analysis from the Policy Institute at King's College London and the Centre for Transforming Access and Student Outcomes in Higher Education, they say, similarly cites financial distress and mental health as the primary reasons for dropping out.

Post university, the picture is the same. In a survey dating back to 2021, 7,000 students and graduates were asked about how prepared they were for getting a job or apprenticeship. Nearly half of university students said they felt unprepared and the majority (96%) said they faced barriers when looking for jobs or apprenticeships. 

This is not to say, of course, that our schools aren't opening up opportunities each year for our students to go out into the world to live happy, successful, and ethical lives. All of us know students, whose lives have literally been transformed by our endeavours and by teachers who have successfully mentored them towards adulthood. The point is that most of the students that will graduate each year will go on to live very ordinary lives. They will not be leaders, but followers. They will not win a Nobel prize, but reap the benefits from those that do. They will not become a famous actor or sports celebrity, but enjoy going to the theatre and cheering on their favourite team on a Saturday afternoon.

A crowd cheering at a sporting event

"The reality is", to paraphrase a conversation I once had with one of my son's former classmates, "we are the 98%. We are the ordinary ones, the often silent majority who don't get the attention. We aren't in the school's Hall of Fame, but our voice is still important.”

To quote someone who did get into the world's Hall of Fame, Einstein once famously said,

"Everything is determined by forces over which we have no control. It is determined for the insect as well as for the star. Human beings, vegetables, or cosmic dust - we all dance to a mystery tune, intoned in the distance by an invisible piper."

And while we might not wish to make such a fatalistic statement at this year's Commencement, it might be worth us considering the story that we will tell our students about life beyond school. Yes, they are the fortunate ones, compared to the world's population of young people. They will have far more opportunities than almost any other generation before them.

And yet, as promising a future as they will have in front of them, the reality is that their path will be dictated, to a large extent, by forces over which they will have no control. Some of them will drop out of college. Some of them will struggle with their health. Some of them will struggle with relationships or have financial difficulties along the way. Some of them will feel like they have fewer opportunities in their 20s than they did at school; fewer still in their 30s.

And yet, many of them will find love, pursue a career, see their favourite team actually win, enjoy long evenings with friends, and travel to different parts of this planet.

And that, in the end, will mean that they will live an extraordinary ordinary life.

We just need to teach them that being ordinary really is ok.

Photo by Nicholas Green on Unsplash.


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