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grandmaOld Sayings Lend New Life to Your Learning


by Flora Brown, Ph.D.
Copyright 2000
All rights reserved

Millennium celebrations are marked with discussions of milestones.


While others are recounting major events and discoveries, I am reminded of the endless list of everyday sayings that punctuated daily life this century cushioning and encouraging us. There was a saying for every occasion.

  • When someone felt discouraged, a friend would offer “It’s always darkest before the dawn.”
  • Or to encourage patience another would say “Good things come to those who wait.”
  • Contradictions abounded, of course: “He who hesitates is lost.”

The old timers had an endless supply of aphorisms, many of which seem so out of place in our new millennium: “You can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make it drink.” “Hitch your wagon to a star.”

But as I reminisce over my teaching and learning experiences, there are some sayings that warrant a closer look because they still apply, especially to ensuring college success.

The smallest deed is better than the greatest intention!” The few students who managed to flunk my Critical Thinking class last semester perhaps had good intentions, but didn’t heed the importance of small deeds such as turning in daily homework assignments. Several students didn’t even show up for the final. Attendance and participation in a college class are small deeds that when added to your best efforts on assignments can lead to happy results. If you’re unable to keep up with a class you can avoid failure by carrying out the small deed of dropping the class before the deadline.

“You are the seed that decides the harvest around you.” Many years ago I began requiring that students keep track of their graded assignments and compute their grades periodically. Students who don’t see that grades are derived from their weekly assignments and tests often blame their failure on bad luck, on the teacher’s preferences, or other people. They bring to mind the Hindu proverb “He who cannot dance puts the blame on the floor.”

Students’ grades are also a reflection of the attitudes they nurture and the kinds of friends that surround them.

A man’s errors are his portals of discovery.” This quote attributed to James Joyce reminds us of the importance of learning from your errors--whether on tests, assignments, or behavior. Never throw away graded tests for example, until after the semester is well over. Study your missed test items to learn what you did wrong so you can strengthen your skills. Many items, once missed on a test, will be remembered forever. (Because he missed it on a test in high school, my son now has embedded in his brain that Van Buren is the eighth President of the U.S.)

The journey of a thousand miles begins with one step.” Procrastination is a deadly habit that stems from perfectionism. If you wait until everything is right, you’ll never start (and consequently finish) anything. Most dangerous is when you have tied your identity and self-esteem to your academic achievement. While making all A’s is touted as the ideal, it’s not worth being unbalanced and depressed when you fall short of your own (or your parent’s) pressure for excellence. Start your projects immediately, reward yourself after each accomplishment, and keep a middle course so that you can enjoy the exhilaration of the journey through college. Learn some ways to avoid procrastination. Then to reward yourself for achievements.

I’ll leave you with one of my favorite adages: “I’m a great believer in luck, and I find the harder I work the more I have of it” by Stephen Leacock.









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