You are only free to act according to your own will
if you know what you want.
You can’t really say, “I know what I want”,
if you are just conforming to some ideal
or default pattern
you have never questioned.
If you do not know what you want
you need to start researching and experimenting
to find out what works best for you.
If you do not know what you want
and you are not experimenting to find out
then you are probably building someone else’s dream.
We could think of our job as teachers as empowering young people to ask the questions, perform the experiments and make the decisions that will create meaningful and satisfying futures. We could call this their “agency” – their ability to actively participate in the decision-making processes that determine their future.
In this process of exploring and asserting agency one of the critical questions is “What am I prepared to outsource?” We explored this question with Grade 10s at Sacred Heart College. Here follows the gist of our conversation.
I cannot possibly question and recreate every piece of knowledge there is, so I need to choose what am I going to focus on, question, experiment with and work out for myself – and what am I going to outsource. I may be willing to outsource fixing my car to a mechanic if I have no idea how to do that. I could choose to learn how to do that. That would be a useful thing to do, but I may have chosen to focus my learning on other things. I don’t know how to do open heart surgery. If I needed it I would try to find an expert to outsource that to. I would learn as much as I could about it online and I would irritate the surgeon by asking many questions to test his expertise. I would literally make him do an audition to make sure I am confident enough to outsource it to him.
But there are things I do not want to outsource, like what I want to do with my life; who I want to have relationships with; what kind of intimacy I enjoy; what groups I affiliate myself with; the role of technology in my life; how I choose to make a living; what nutrition and substances I consume; and my own ideas of what success means to me.
There are those that will try to convince me what I should be doing: the media, advertising, the brands promoted by big corporations, the neat categories my culture has created, my religion, social media; my parents and even my friends. Often what they are promoting is what we could call the “default pattern.” In other words the way things are done just because that is the way those things have always been done. If I just accept the default pattern, like almost everybody else, I will not have to spend anxious energy and valuable time trying to work things out myself.
But I may decide that I am not outsourcing certain things to the default position and that my success is what I say it is – even if that means questioning authority and tradition and the ones I love, in the process of making an effort to work things out for myself.
A phrase that began repeating itself in our conversation with Grade 10s was, “my success is what I say it is.” We then asked the learners to design concepts for posters using this phrase, promoting their agency. We offered to take the best ideas to one of our design partners, Paper Snap, to implement their concepts. These are some of the posters that were produced as a result.
Your agency depends on your ability to:
- mentally step out of a context and ask metacognitive questions in order to evaluate your role in the bigger picture and to think before you act;
- know what you want, define your own goals (and define what success means to you) and then create a strategy to reach those goals;
- anticipate the future, and project a vision of the future that provides direction, coherence, and meaning to your life;
- monitor and motivate yourself in order to make choices in the present that increase the probability of your vision of the future, managing distractions, and learning from failure;
- deliberately adapt to feedback from others and from your environment, changing your behaviour with as little anxiety as possible;
- persevere in the face of challenges with self-esteem, confidence and resilience.
To download all the posters go to resources