To thrive in college, become a scapper

In many colleges in the United States, almost half of first-year college students do not make it to graduation. Stop and think about this for a minute. Our current US higher education system is designed in such a way that it kills the dreams, hopes, and aspirations of almost 50% of the students who enter through its gates. As you meditate on this reality, let’s run a related thought experiment. What would you say about an airline company that designs and flies planes that kill 50% of it’s passenger? Would you buy a ticket from that company? Would you support letting that company maintain the status quo?

To me, when I think about how our current policy choices fail to support so many students, I see a need for major reforms. I want to avoid blaming students and faculty for this failure. While I believe each of us has a moral responsibility to challenge current policies and advocate for reform, I also realize that no individual shoulders the entire weight of the injustices that are baked into our current system. Instead, I believe we should learn to focus our collective energies on policy changes to better support our local communities in creating significant learning experiences in college and beyond. Such policy changes will require decades (if not centuries) of sustain activism at the grass-roots level.

In the meantime, if you are part of the current generation of college students, our community here at The Learning Code wants to help you develop and refine system-navigation skills so that you can thrive in an environment that is designed to weed you out. As part of this effort, I want to help you develop a scrapper’s mindset, which is exactly what we explore in this post.

Within the college education system, I define a scrapper (noun) as a rugged learner, someone who is eager to protect their dreams and to improve their skills regardless of how dirty the job is. You might think of a scapper in education as someone who approaches learning with a blue-collar work ethic.

When you develop a scrapper’s mindset, you cultivate an unwavering willingness to work hard, to invest in a community of people who help you manage your growing pains, and to stay focused on long-term goals regardless of how hard the day-to-day struggle may become.

The American actor Will Smith eloquently spoke about this attitude when he said:

“The only thing that I see that is distinctly different about me is I’m not afraid to die on a treadmill. I will not be out-worked. Period. You might have more talent than me, you might be smarter than me, you might be sexier than me, you might be all of those things: you got it on me in nine categories. But if we get on the treadmill together, there’s two things: You’re getting off first, or I’m going to die. It’s really that simple, right?”

This attitude can be extremely helpful when working to navigate college, especially when you bump up against the roadblocks within the current system. Often when we face adversity, we come to doubt ourselves and wonder if we are cut out for the life we’re living. In these moments of confusion, I like to remember a quote from Sonya Sotomayor’s memoir:

“A surplus of effort could overcome a deficit of confidence.”

Sonia Sotomayor, My Beloved World, pp. 115

Of course, developing a scapper’s mindset is only one step in the longer journey towards thriving in college. While hard work is good, working smart is even better. In other words, if you have a choice between working hard and working smart, I suggest that you learn how to work smart.

So much of my writing here on The Learning Code is all about helping you work smart in college by becoming a sophisticated deep learner. One of the reasons I have spent so much time reading about cognitive science and the psychology of learning is because I believe that students deserve free and open-access to learning science that is written specifically for college students. I also believe that when you develop learning strategies that are grounded in research-based principles and community-based practices, you can protect yourself against so many of the harmful policies you’ll face in your college classes and institutions.

But, smart work takes commitment.

When you work smart, you have to develop new, more-effective learning habits. This requires deep thought and reflection. When you work smart, you can’t just grind your way through your learning processes. Instead, you have to search for new strategies, make changes, reflect on your progress, iterate, and improve. One of the reasons that the scapper’s mindset is so helpful during this process is to help you manage self-doubt.

When you begin to doubt yourself or feel overwhelmed by the journey, it is all to easy to give up. In those moments, I want to coach you to repeat the following mantra:

“I am a scrapper. I am a rugged learning. When I dedicate myself to my very best effort each day, I know I can learn anything. The key is to go slow and take it day by day with a commitment to working smart while working hard. I can do this!”

Community Challenge

  1. Think about a time where you developed a scapper’s mindset. What did that feel like? How did that help you?

  2. How would you define a scrapper with in the context of being a student in the US higher education system?

  3. Read the article in this link on a blue-collar work ethic. What is the difference between a blue-collar work ethic and a white-collar work ethic? How might you redefine those terms within the context of being a student in the US higher education system? How can you meld your work here into your ideas about a scrapper’s mindset?

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