The Importance of Effort and Work

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The importance of effort and work


The insistence in recent decades, that teachers take responsibility for students’ performance on tests, while possibly sounding good, has grave moral consequences for the education of our children. Muhammed Ali, Michael Jordan, Roger Bannister, as so many others, worked hard to attain their level of performance, in their respective fields. And while we are at it Newton’s biography written by Westfall is called, significantly, ‘Never at Rest.’ It is what Mrs. Chua, in her book ‘The Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mom,’ seeks to show: how important it is that each child acquires the habit of work, to learn its value, and significance for a life. While it may not always be easy to do, each parent needs to make every attempt, hopefully starting when they are young, to make work a habit of the child’s life. The child must learn the need to work, to make an effort, for it is the engine that, from birth till death, drives each life.  Says Ben Sasse in The Vanishing American Adult, ‘Because very simply, neither our children nor your children will grow up to be free, independent, self-respecting adults if we hand them everything without the expectation of something in return.’  [1]


According to the NCLB schools which fail tests would be punished and closed. With this burden on their shoulders, teachers have pushed to have students pass these standardized tests. To further compel teachers to attend to tests, policy makers dreamt up a particularly repugnant idea; teachers would be graded according to how their students performed on tests. It would be difficult to come up with a worse idea.

While forcing teachers to pay inordinate attention to the passing of tests they say nothing about the need for students to study and prepare themselves, throughout the year. While teachers can help, the student surely needs to develop his or her strategy and methods for test taking.

Sadly, when teachers are compelled, as they are, to do this massive preparation for tests, regular class time is correspondingly decreased; indeed the entire learning environment is thrown off kilter. But it also takes away from students the need to do the work necessary, including learning how to take tests. It weakens them when the responsibility is placed on the teacher. It is then no surprise that many students are not ready for college. They pass, many of them, the standardized test, but cannot function at higher academic levels.

Barbara Oakley in ‘A Mind for Numbers’ [2] offering advice to students says, ‘always work through homework problems in math and science on your own;’ the individual according to her, needs to work on her assignments, on her own in the first instance, to succeed. Yet there is more she has to say on the matter: ‘Befuddlement is a healthy part of the learning process, [3] and she goes on to say, ‘the learning process is all about working your way out of confusion.’ And this is what teaching is about, allowing and helping the child or young person, to learn to work her or his way through confusion. God knows there will be enough of it when she matures.


Many more of our children can be nurses, engineers, surgeons, scientists; however, the earlier we start with the child the better. The discipline and habits of work required to get through college, to become a surgeon, an engineer, or a scientist, is not acquired when the person reaches college; but it is learned over many years. It starts with them doing their homework, night after night, meeting deadlines and asking questions when they are puzzled or stomped by a problem; the practice of diligence.


I have never, not even once, seen a student work hard and fail to achieve her goals; it is nearly a law; success comes with effort and consistent work. The student who goes home and does his homework, who learns that she has to do the research the teacher asked for, and who learns to practice her mathematics on her own, will pass, and do well. The attitudes acquired, such as commitment, managing time, perseverance, self discipline, will be with her for a lifetime, for her professor or her employer and for her community. Most of these people learned to work from an early age. If students fail to learn work habits they may feel they can get through life without effort.

If there is anything which is true is that life takes effort and sometimes can be savagely challenging, for anyone. Our schools cannot build diligence and assiduity by themselves; but the child’s success is nearly guaranteed when parent and teacher work together, not to do the young person’s work but to provide motivation, and help when needed, for the work she needs to do.


Finland has not given much place to standardized testing and yet has done well internationally. Teachers do enough testing, which is as it should be. Ms. Oakland goes on to advise ‘Give Yourself Little Mini-Tests.’  Excellent advice which works for whatever subject the student is working on. If you were instructed by your teacher to study fifteen Spanish words, then this provides one way to check yourself. I used to take them five at a time and test to see if I had them. Test both ways, from English to Spanish and the other way around. In this process, the student is learning how to learn, and how to prepare for her teacher’s test.  Standardized tests should not be given as often as we do, and our insistence that teachers be given the responsibility for students passing them is immoral, unless we wish to deprive our children of the absolutely necessity of learning how to prepare for tests, both teachers’ and the necessary standardized tests. The dependence on the teacher should naturally lessen as the student matures and slowly her responsibility for her life must also grow.

It has been said that it is the horse that must of its own will drink and it is the maturing young person who must commit into doing the daily work that will bring into fruition the fully developed human being. Teachers, parents, community can combine efforts to do this. But at no time should anyone encroach on the sacred territory of the young person’s developing work ethic; to do so can only damage them and create crippling dependence.

Deep within each human being lies the power to achieve the things they wish to be; a nurse, surgeon, a basketball player; but while the teacher can impart ideas, the parent can push and provide the home, it is, in the final analysis his or her own efforts through which the transformation, like the alchemical transmutation from base to gold, brings forth the fully developed human mind, with all its powers of analysis, creativity, and emotion.

Yet there is a troubling matter. Far too many children grow in communities where they are denied the many of the things they need to facilitate studying. This is s topic which will have to be discussed on our blog.


[1] The Vanishing American Adult by Ben Sasse, 2017; loc 2349-50 kindle book.

[2] P 62 A Mind for Numbers, Barbara Oakley.

[3] P 22 A Mind for Numbers, Barbara Oakley.

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