By USPA Site Director & Science Teacher, Craig Roderick

The technology of online course delivery has certainly come a long way since the first “distant” learning option almost three hundred years ago, in Boston, Massachusetts. According to godistancelearning.com, “the first record of a systematic distance learning program by mail dates to 1728, when Caleb Phillips advertised a correspondence course for shorthand in the Boston Gazette”. Imagine this for a moment; upon completion of your cumulative final in 1728, you walked, or, if fortunate enough, took a ride on the back of a horse in order to deliver your final project to the post office for forwarding to Mr. Phillips.  What environmental, political, societal, or technical conditions existed then which could possibly lead to a damaged, destroyed, or lost final project?   Certainly a myriad of risks applied to the overall percentage of success or failure of a student’s ultimate goal of completing the course with certification.  For example, the horse upon you were riding could lose a shoe and refuse to walk or ride any further.  Or, perhaps a heavy rain began as you were well into your journey-certainly no apps to check weather back then!  As the rain seeps into your knapsack containing that very coveted final project, you unknowingly arrive at the post office with a wet-soaked lump of pulp and running ink.  After the initial disappointment and overall malice towards all things which seemed to have ruined your life for the time being, perhaps a personal assessment of your experience would accompany your thoughts as you, and your horse, tails tucked under, prodded your way back home. One might ask, “is this an opportunity lost”?  “Would the entire semester’s work be ruined”?  “Why did it have to rain so hard”?  Today of all days!?  Or, “how did the shoe come off-it wasn’t meant to be changed for at least another day, maybe two”?   

As your inner thoughts begin to shift from blame, as human nature tends to do, a more constructive approach may begin to formulate.  Slightly more refined ideas and conclusions may set in.  Certainly I am not leaning entirely on the basic premise of psychological rationalization based on negative circumstances which lead to unintended poor results.  That would be called an “excuse”.  An excuse will shift blame of an incident away from responsibility for it.  Meeting our thoughts using the example above, perhaps the downtrodden student who lost their final project in this case may decide to make the next moment “right”.  Perhaps, this student can shift a negative thought to a positive one by acknowledging the process which led to this one, single, failure.  A failure representing a simple moment in time, not to define him or her, but to assist as a step up in the long journey over the course of an academic career.  In this process, this student can then admit, “I should have changed that shoe at least two days ago!”. In this process, a person can deduce “I was in a rush, and didn’t take care of my schoolwork as I should have, rain or no rain”.  Or, even better, conclude that “wait-my relationship with Mr. Phillips (or Mr. Kuiper, Mrs. Dalke, Mr. Roderick, Mrs. Richard, Ms. Rhoss, Mrs. Eoll, Ms. McElroy….you get the point, right?) is strong enough to overcome this”!  In 1728, this student would write a new letter immediately to his instructor and explain the situation with complete honesty, openness, and a recognition of some personal responsibility which led to this one incident.  

Old postage stamps carried the technology of the day

Now we are getting somewhere!  In 2020 and beyond, the capacity to fail is perhaps equal to it was even in 1728.  Assuming “failure” is equally attainable and arguably less dangerous today at least as it applies to online, or “distance” education, let’s also assume some other concepts which, if acknowledged, will ultimately lead you in the right direction;   

  • Delays, false starts and interruptions are part of life-we must march on and challenge ourselves to overcome our obstacles
  • USPA faculty and staff understand success due to the experiences we have had in our own lives-including the opportunity not only to fail, but to re engage in another way in order to achieve goals
  • USPA faculty and staff support your drive as athletes and as scholars. You have demonstrated intrinsic motivation that catapults humans to succeed.    Keep that up!
  • You can be proud of your accomplishments but maintain a sense of responsibility to yourself.  Do what you love for you.  
  • Be honest in your academic life.  Working hard is often fruitful, and real learning is truly a gift that provides power
  • Building your academic relationship with teachers, learning coaches, and mentors will translate into an incredibly diverse experience, if you allow it

Let’s finish by taking our 1728 student and simply replacing him or her with you, in June of 2020.  On the cusp of, or completing your academic year, there are many emotions and thoughts to sift through.  Joy (I am done!).  Fear (What’s next??).  Success (All my goals were met!).  Failure (Some or none of my goals were met).  All of these and more most likely pass through your mind depending on the day, the moment of the day, or will between now and your next academic or athletic new beginning.  These and many more human thoughts will continue to do so throughout your life, and things will always be in a state of change.  It’s all ok.  As we get better at all things, so will you develop the skills and relationships which will propel your life forward with great momentum.  Reach out to us often and with great genuine curiosity, and suddenly a name in text evolves into one of your human allies, assisting you in the journey.  This summer and particularly next fall, come back to USPA faculty and staff, accept our mentorship, and lean on us.  It’s what we live for, as I am sure Mr. Phillips would have appreciated greatly back then, even if it was only by mail.  Have a great summer vacation!

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