HomeOpinion & AnalysisThe champion in the arena

The champion in the arena

by Tim Middleton

Theodore Roosevelt, the twenty-sixth President of the United States, is well-known for his 1910 speech entitled The Man in the Arena and in particular for the passage on those who “spend themselves in a worthy cause”.

Let us remind ourselves of this passage: “It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better.

The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.”

We all come across parents who seem to find it easier to criticise, complain about and contend with the school. In that regard, perhaps we might re-write Roosevelt’s speech for parents in schools, in the following manner.

“It is not the car park critic who counts; not the parent who points out how the school has disciplined their child unjustly or how the teacher could have done so much better with teaching the subject. The credit belongs to the parent who is actually to be found in the school, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood from cooking hamburgers beside the hockey field; who is present at every event at the school; who is in trouble, who comes late again and again, because there is no fuel without waiting and shortages; but who does actually make a big effort to do fund-raising; who knows great enthusiasms for the school, the great devotion to the school of his child; who gives of his time for the school’s cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of money raised, and who, at the worst, if he struggles, at least struggles while trying hard, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid parents who only know victory or defeat.”

Strong parental support, as we have noted again and again, is vital in order for a school to provide high-quality education.

Parents certainly need to support the school personally, as we saw previously, but they can also crucially support the school practically.

Firstly, parents will typically support the school by Fund-raising, though in these difficult and demanding economic times, this is extremely hard.

Parents should note that the Board of Governors is responsible for the Development of the school, for the long-term (six figure plus sum) projects while the

Parent group is responsible for the Improvement of the school, for the short-term, (five figure or below sum) projects.

Such is a valuable means of practically supporting the school.

Secondly, parents can equally support the school by Fun-raising, by raising the profile of the school as being a good place to be, by being in that place and doing things there.

Parents are the best ambassadors and marketers of school by practically supporting the school in arranging events that will help the community to be excited about the school.

Thirdly, parents should unequivocally support the school by Friend-raising, by bringing like-minded parents together and including them in activities that will unite them behind the school.

Parents need to volunteer their services to the school, be it by giving their backing, assistance or specific expertise as support to the school so the school can focus on the education of the children without having to think about other aspects.

Furthermore, children will learn valuable lessons about service by parents volunteering to help out at school.

Flipping hamburgers need not be beneath us. As Brené Brown put it, “The willingness to show up changes us, it makes us a little braver each time.”

So, two key words stand out in this article — “practically” and “actually”.

Both contain the word “act” and that is what a parent can do — put into action their support for the school.

Everyone seems to be able to determine what is wrong in the school from a distance, from the sidelines, from the car park, from the golf course, from the braai stand.

However, as Tony Fahkry wrote in The Mission: “Critics are everywhere voicing their disapproval while the champion is committed to progress and achievement.”  Parents can and must be the champions of the school.

Tim Middleton is the executive director of the Association of Trust Schools [ATS]. The views expressed in this article, however, are solely those of the author in his private capacity and do not necessarily represent the views of the ATS.

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