My computer crashed towards the end of the school year and I panicked. Yes, I know I’m supposed to back it up to the server. Yes, I know that I give that advice to others. Yes, I know that I can perform some regular functions to make the calamity less likely or less devastating. All those truths can be explored at another time because knowledge doesn’t transfer to action and I don’t always take my own advice.
When I got my desktop back (much sooner than I feared, so thanks IT!) one of the suggestions was to do some purging and cleaning. Sounds like a good summer project, right? Today was one of those days and I unearthed an assignment that I created for my Student Leadership elective course I taught more than a decade ago. This was actually a prompt that I assigned in October of 2007. Here is it:
“These are the times that try men’s souls: The summer soldier and the sunshine patriot will, in this crisis, shrink from the service of his country; but he that stands it NOW, deserves the love and thanks of man and woman. Tyranny, like hell, is not easily conquered; yet we have this consolation with us, that the harder the conflict, the more glorious the triumph. What we obtain too cheap, we esteem too lightly: ‘Tis dearness only that gives every thing its value. Heaven knows how to put a proper price upon its goods; and it would be strange indeed, if so celestial an article as FREEDOM should not be highly rated…”
Thomas Paine – The Crisis, Number 1 – December 23, 1776
This quote is from Thomas Paine’s famous propaganda series before the Revolutionary War. He is trying to motivate colonists to stand up to tyranny and to demonstrate courage in the face of adversity and overwhelming odds, but he says there is a payoff. What do you think of the passage which says, “…the harder the conflict, the more glorious the triumph. What we obtain too cheap, we esteem too lightly…” ? Have you ever had a time in your life where the conflict was difficult, but the glory was greater? Think about obstacles you have overcome in your own life. Maybe these challenges were academic or athletic or even in your personal life. Maybe you set very high goals for yourself and worked hard to achieve them. In a well-written paper, tell about a time when you overcame challenges or “learned the value” of something because of hard work and struggle. Explain what that did for you as a person and how it impacts the way you face challenges today. Try to think of just one example and explain the full context including the time in your life when you faced this challenge, others who helped you along the way, if others hindered you or held you back, what enabled you to accomplish your goal or make it through the difficulty, etc. Give enough detail that the reader can see the movie as it unfolds. Who, knows, you might be writing the next Hoosiers or October Sky.
So, the reference to Hoosiers and October Sky may seem dated, but I forgot how much I loved this assignment. It gave me such great insight into my students and their stories. It also gave them an opportunity to reflect on their accomplishments. I remember students who wrote about overcoming injuries, doubt, illness, tragedy or even what later generations of students would call “the haters” by doing what others thought might not be possible, by selling out to a big dream and working to make it come true and recognizing the importance of determination and perseverance. This is important for educators as well as students. Perhaps it is also a good quote for us to reflect upon as we approach our Independence Day celebrations next week. Sacrifices were made and continue to be made for the freedom and opportunities we enjoy. We should be mindful and inspired by those sacrifices to work to continue to make things better for ourselves and others that come after us. There is value in reflection, sacrifice, commitment and hardship. There was value in thinking about these words and personal experiences in 2007. I think there is still a need for this examination in 2018.
We are blessed by the sacrifices of those who came before us to create a nation that is far from perfect, and we obviously have more work to do to create as our framers said “a more perfect Union.” I also feel blessed to engage in that work through an investment in the lives of students. The rewards in working with young people are great and their dearness to me personally gives them great value as Paine stated.
I hope you have a great opportunity to rest, reflect and appreciate over the upcoming holiday and to resolve to continue to make this a more perfect Union. It’s critical that we do it for them — our past and our future.