Every school talks about developing attributes in their kids and this is a good thing. It becomes an even better thing when learners are put into situations which help them recognise the challenges, see how their developing attributes (like resilience) help them move forward and reflect on how they might further develop aforementioned attributes. This is good.
But let us hone in for a moment on one of the most often promoted attributes in the development of our young humans; resilience. What does it really mean to be resilient? Literally and etymologically it means to jump back or recoil back (resalire - to leap back). Figuratively, it means that we can bounce back from problems and difficulties and is often conflated into meaning that we can keep fighting on (in fact having a conversation with my 9 year old son and wonderful wife in the car we discussed whether resilience and persistence were often conflated and decided that I have indeed done so in this post). If you ask a learner would they say "no matter how hard, you just keep trying." Maybe something like that? Is that really what it boils down to? Something as simple as not giving up? Well I have a problem with that. Does this encourage learners to keep on keeping on, chipping away in the same way at the difficulty they are facing? Does a highly resilient learner keep bouncing back from the same failure? Maybe they should just give up.
There is undoubtedly a sisyphean dignity in continually rolling a stone up a hill to simply watch it roll back down again, but should we be promoting this type of resilience over something more useful, like cunning or abandonment? If a learner is really struggling with something in their learning, maybe they should abandon this failure and find a better failure or maybe they should try and be cunning. Now that is a great attribute (assuming that we are using the original meaning of the word meaning highly skilled and knowledgeable).
Great learners are cunning. They see a problem and try to overcome it. They fail. They try again and they fail (well done on being resilient, have a sticker!). They then stop trying in the same way. They step back. They observe and immerse themselves in the problem and use age old cunning to see whether or not they can overcome the problem in a different, perhaps novel way. They ideate their way out of the problem if the problem is worth solving (see below). So although resilience is a really positive attribute, it should not be blind and should have at least an equal measure of cunning.
The whole issue of abandonment is fascinating and I will explore it in another post but to sum it up; a learner figures out the simple equation "is the value of this learning equal to or greater than the effort put in to attain it? IF = yes THEN proceed IF = no THEN abandon." Learners who can really focus their energy where it matters are perhaps more successful than those who are blindly resilient.
So a cunning learner who is ready to abandon may not seem as noble as Sisyphus and his rock'n'roll, but they may indeed be a lot more effective.
Feature photo used under Creative Commons by Pascal (Source: Flickr)