Sunday, September 19, 2010

School Pride

This is Mr. Weber's address to JPII students on Monday, September 20, 2011

It may sound counter-intuitive, but watching the football game on Friday night made me realize what tremendous pride I have in Pope John Paul II High School.

I am proud of our football team and our players. They competed, especially in the second half when it was no longer a question of winning or losing—it was a question of pride. If you talk to our team, they don’t make excuses, they just go back to work—and on Saturday morning, less than 12 hours later, they were back lifting and practicing, just as they did all summer.

Vince Lombardi, legendary coach of the Green Bay Packers, once said: “It’s not whether you get knocked down, it’s whether you get up.” This team stands back up again and again—a tribute to them and their coaches. Watch this team, be patient. They have a winning attitude, and over time this winning attitude will begin to produce victories.

While I’m at it, I was proud of our student body on Friday night. The crowd was amazing—we literally ran out of parking on campus, and you were there until the end supporting your team. I was proud of our fantastic cheerleaders—they put on a good fund-raiser, and their cheering and stunting is always amazing. I was proud of our jazz band’s first time ever fully amplified performance with our new stage and sound equipment, so much so that I went to Mr. Suska and said “Turn them up”, which he did. Having a real band performing at our games is going to be a lot of fun as we move forward.

I am proud of this school. I am proud of you students, who do some pretty amazing things. Last week the College Board announced “A.P. Scholar” awards based on last May’s testing, and JPII students received an amazing 73 awards, including 3 “National A.P. Scholar” awards, the highest honor possible. I am equally proud of those of you who are NOT A.P. students: It’s easy to be motivated when working hard automatically yields A’s or A.P. awards. It takes guts to keep working hard when those things don’t happen. Your hard work is inspirational—you inspire your teachers, and we’re proud of you.

Work hard this week. Treat each other kindly. Make yourself a better person. My God bless all of you.

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Intelligence, Attitudes and Altitudes

This is Mr. Weber's address to JPII students on September 13, 2010.

The idea that our I.Q is fixed, that our genes alone determine how smart we are, has been long disproven by science, but remains a popular myth that shapes our attitudes, the way we tackle our school work, and often the way we spend our time.

When I was a senior in high school, there was a Korean kid in my Advanced Math class that became a good friend of mine. He always out-scored me on tests—he’d typically get a 98 or 99, I’d typically get an 88 or 89. Since I was competitive, this bothered me, so one day, I told him, half kiddingly, “You Asians are just better than us in Math.” I remember he became serious and asked me, “How long did you study for this test?” “I dunno”, I said, “maybe 30 or 45 minutes.” He went into his bag and pulled out a notebook and showed it to me. He had worked through every problem in that chapter, over 100 questions, on his own. It must have taken him 4 or 5 hours. “I’m not smarter than you” he told me. “I just work harder.” I remember getting defensive, probably because I knew deep down he was right.

In 1995, they began giving international tests to 4th graders and 8th graders in science and math to see how countries stacked up against each other. Out of 36 countries taking the tests, we generally come in somewhere around 10th. Hong Kong, Singapore, Japan, Korea and Chinese Tapei come in #’s 1-5. They ask the participants on this test what they believe is the most important ingredient for success in Math and Science. The #1 most common American answer? Ability, or in-born talent. The most common answer among the Asian countries? Practice, or hard work.

It's common to hear in American high schools, even at JPII, “I’m no good in Math or Science.” Unfortunately, that’s often used as an excuse not to work very hard. If I am no good at Math, we might unconsciously think, it’s the way God made me, so it’s his fault, not mine, if I don’t do well in this class. And since it’s the way God made me, there’s really no point in killing myself to try and do well. It’s just who I am.

But that’s hogwash. Yes, it’s true that some people have a greater affinity for math than others. But where ever our starting position, whatever our intelligence in a particular area, we have the capacity, with practice, with hard work, to improve our intelligence in that area. At the risk of over-simplifying brain research, the brain is a muscle that improves its “strength” through exercise, similar to arm muscles and leg muscles. When we exercise our brain, it makes more neural connections. When we don’t, it atrophies, similar to what happens when we put our arm in a cast and don’t use it for several months.

In the end, the people who are most successful in life are not the ones who are the most naturally gifted or talented, but the ones who tackle the challenges of life with the right attitude and who work the hardest.

Your attitude, and not your aptitude, will determine your altitude.