Motivation Matters

I had the opportunity to compare notes with the leader of a high school in Boston which educates a high number of non-English-speaking students – more than any other public school in that diverse metropolitan area.  My interest flows from my work with mid-Michigan’s Refugee Development Center, which provides English classes and other services for newcomers to our community.

We both have observed that, almost without exception, these students who are seeking to learn English are highly motivated – considerably more so than most other students we observe.  They come early to class and stay after class; and if class is ever cancelled, they come anyway!

We agreed that those who are attempting to revolutionize education with one overhaul or innovation or another may be missing what’s really wrong.  We don’t have a structural or systemic problem at school, we have a motivational problem at home. 

It may be fashionable for the pundits and politicians to beat up public education in the U.S., but from all around the world people are beating a path to our schools for the quality of education they cannot find elsewhere.  And displaced populations – most immigrants and refugees – arrive with motivation to learn and assimilate that puts U.S.-born students to shame.

Really, whose fault is this?  It can’t be the schools.  But schools must try to respond to the problem they are being presented.

And extracurricular activities and athletics are among the tried, tested and proven tools available to schools to help reach, motivate and educate our young people to stay in school, like school and do better in school than they otherwise would.


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About the Author

Jack Roberts

Jack Roberts has been at the helm of the MHSAA as its Executive Director since 1986, implementing programs and overseeing tournament administration and regulations for the Association which boasts 1,500 member schools, 10,000 registered officials and 13,000 head coaches.

During the last 44 years, Roberts has spoken to educator and athletic groups, business leaders and civic groups in almost every state and five Canadian provinces. He is one of the nation's most articulate advocates for educational athletics.

Roberts has served on the board of directors of the National Association of Sports Officials (NASO), is in his second term on the board of the National Federation of State High School Associations, and is the first chairman of the NFHS Network board of directors. He has been board president for the Refugee Development Center for seven years, and is a past-chair of the board of directors of the Michigan Society of Association Executives. He is vice chair and secretary of the board of trustees for the Capital Region Community Foundation.

He is a 1970 graduate of Dartmouth College, where he played defensive safety for the Ivy League's winningest football team during that span, and he sang in Dartmouth's close harmony vocal group.

His wife, Peggy, has retired from a 30-year career in social services, and is serving as president of the board of the Fenner Nature Conservancy in Lansing.