Aspiration can appear to be one of the new buzz words, along with growth mind-set. It seems to be accepted as a universal truth that aspiration is a key to success, and to a large extent, I’d agree, as long as the aspiration is held by the person concerned and not an imposed aspiration. Target setting, in whatever form, is not, to me, the same as internalised aspirations.
Parents have aspirations for their children. Most want their offspring to do well a school, to succeed in exams that allow them to make progress towards the good job, the house, family and so on, achieving better than they did. For many post-war families that was indeed the reality. The baby-boomers did exceed, considerably, in some cases, the achievements of their parents and now have the security of a home, car and a reasonable pension. The generation after is well on the way to achieving that too, but I have concerns for the current 20+ group and the generations afterwards.
The world is in a state of flux. There are national and international issues that pass through our TV screens or through the radio, that talk of financial difficulties, wars, illness, climate change, energy limitations. We have politicians who seem to enjoy talking tough about any issue that passes by them. They can always find something against which to rail. Debate is replaced by sound-bites and occasional sneering at any opposition. This is the world that the reasonably well off are bequeathing to the next generation of decision makers. It would be good if they held the same aspirations as those of us who have passed through the system.
But, I think aspiration, in itself, may be in danger of bypassing many, because they cannot see what the future will bring. At a time where we need problem solvers and solution finders, we may be in danger of creating a risk averse time-bomb, with insecurity, rather than security underpinning the decisions that they make in the future.
Why? Because we have top down models of decision making.
Accountability measures rain down on everyone, like confetti, from successive Governments and interpreted through each subsequent layer. They talk up the bright ideas that they have, then create targets to measure the impact of their decisions and find an external reason why it isn’t their fault when the target is missed. Some ministers are protected from any ire as a result of pseudo-governmental satellite agencies.
Top down models of accountability diminish the potential of those further down the organisational scale to make autonomous decisions, as they wait for decisions from above to filter down through the system. It can be made even worse with a target setting culture, with underlings having to prove their value by hitting ever growing targets. In business offices this can be seen on the ever present whiteboard with target figures. Targets, in these circumstances, can become a control feature; you don’t get a bonus until you get to a certain point. Suitably high targets mean effort, but no cost. However, this can result in diminished effort.
Aspiration, for some parents, is a top down model. It can become a case of “I expect”, with disappointment if the target is not achieved. There might be the incentive or bribery approach. Achieve this and you’ll get… This model can sometimes be seen in work too. It can become the supposed route to promotion.
Aspiration, to work really effectively, has to be internalised, a part of a healthy self-reflective persona. It benefits from the ability to see forward to potential futures and the decisions that might need to be taken. It would appear to me, to be similar strategic thinking, where consideration of facts supports decisions. It embeds processes, which can be refined over time, and is not constrained by short term set-backs, each of which is seen as the basis for self-improvement.
It could appear, from that descriptor that aspiration is not the lot of “us”, but of “them”.
A society where the “top” sets ever higher targets to be achieved, and this is clearly the case in education, risks the focus being on that which has to be achieved, rather than the breadth that enables holistic approaches to personal development.
Children deserve an education system that opens their eyes, minds and hearts to the big, wide world that surrounds them and helps them to make sense of what they experience. Providing ever higher hurdles will only make a few more feel a failure, which, in the end, is no good to anyone.
Let them learn to dream and to see ways to make that dream come true. It is the adults who have the responsibility to ensure that younger generations get that chance.