I picked up my son’s (Grade 6) school bag this morning and nearly pulled my arm out of its socket.
I said something along these lines: “Flipping ‘ek. That’s a heavy bag. What on earth is in there?”
He said something along these lines: “Yeah, it’s heavy, but I’ve been training since Grade 1 and I’m used to it now. You are out of shape”
I thought about what he had said. Each year we have been putting more and more in his school bag: more books, bigger books, more PE kit, an iPad, a laptop, more packed lunch (he’s a growing lad, after all), and then all the extras like phones, keys, and wallets (just in case). We keep adding a little bit more, which he then gets used to, and then we add some more. It all adds up. So whatever else we think school might prepare our kids for, we can be reassured that our kids will at least be highly trained bag carriers. Nice one.
However, what actually came to my head after dropping the bag back on the floor was 1. how out of shape I am and 2. The old story of Milo of Croton…
Milo of Croton
Milo of Croton was one of the most famous (perhaps the most) wrestlers in antiquity. He won at the Ancient Olympic games six times in a row as well as countless other wrestling titles, had an illustrious military career, was mentored by none other than Pythagoras, and was reportedly so strong he could carry a fully-grown bull. How did he grow so strong?
The story goes that Milo intentionally set out to grow his strength. His plan did not start by picking up the bull. He started by picking up a baby calf. Milo then woke up each morning and started each new day by picking up that same calf and then carrying it around all day. Each day the calf grew progressively bigger, and so did Milo’s strength. People came to watch Milo and they laughed and mocked him, but he persevered and stuck to his task. Finally, after four long years, Milo was able to lift the fully-grown bull. The rest is, quite literally, history.
I’ve pulled out 4 basic life principles which resonate with the work I do:
- Have a clear aim. Milo wanted to be the strongest athlete in the world. When we have clear aims in our work, it is so much easier to sustain our focus and motivation.
- Start small. Milo did not achieve success because he went big early. He started small and made improvements over time. Committing to such a method is challenging as it is difficult to see what the end result will be. We have to trust that we will improve if we keep at it.
- Keep it simple. Milo’s method was so simple. Pick up a growing cow each day. How often do we over-complicate what needs to be done?
- Believe. When people saw what Milo was doing, they laughed and mocked him. It would have been easy to give up, but he believed in himself and stayed the course.
Do it like Milo?
Firstly, regardless of whether kids will get used to the weight of their school bags, I remain very uncomfortable with the fact that we subject young people’s physiology to such stress, particularly when we are not in the business of producing weight-bearing athletes. I guess the situation endures because we remember that we went through the same thing at school (cultural reproduction) or because everyone does it (bandwagon effect)…
So what might we do about reducing the weight of school bags? As with all things, it’s not that simple I guess. Let me try…
- Have a clear aim: Reduce the weight of school bags so that they do not cause physiological stress to children still developing?
- Start small: Can we take steps to substitute an exercise book for each lesson, towards the use of a single exercise book, or to the use of a computer? To ditching textbooks? To shift the way that we approach learning and teaching?
- Keep it simple: Is there stuff we can leave at school or home? Can we do more with digital technology?
- Believe: Do we truly believe that the steps we might take to reduce the stress justify the means?
I am sure that I can apply these principles to so much of my work at school. I need to give it some more thought. Right now though, I need to start getting down to the gym. My son is right, I am way out of shape!