Robert Campbell, Co Antrim deputy grand chaplain, shares a personal viewpoint on the matter of educational underachievement, focusing on the working-class Protestant community
Once you have read the job description, you quickly realise that you have neither the required qualifications nor experience.
Now you stand face to face with the consequences of underachievement! You may finish the form and send it in. You may or may not get a, ‘Dear John’ letter of commiseration thanking you for your interest.
For too many, the story of underachievement amongst nominally Protestant working class boys is little more than an academic exercise in cold stats.
Many children, who have not achieved their full potential, now live with the consequences of underachievement.
This affects them personally and impacts their communities. They may (or may not) come from dysfunctional families, live in areas of high deprivation, or struggle with unrecognised learning difficulties, but whatever the cause, the outcome is the same.
In JD Vance’s seminal book, ‘Hill Billy Elegy’, he recounts his story – one of an American of Scotch-Irish descent, living in the rust belt of Appalachia. This once proud and hard-working people, now on the wrong side of industrial progress, were in a malaise.
Coming from a dysfunctional family where there was substance abuse, Vance stood on the precipice. He was only saved by hard decisions and the loving determination of his grandmother. Too much of the book sounded eerily familiar.
It is hard to be dedicated to education when the majority of male role models do not take education or school seriously. It is hard to be enthused to do something when you see no point. It is hard to sit down and read books when no one else does, or worse still when it is impossible due to your reading level.
We may think this isn’t our problem, or we can do nothing to help, or that is what the schools and social services are for.
Yet the certain path to failure is a failure to try. Consequently, we must create an atmosphere of support, encouragement and example.
We must support our children and young people. We must support our schools and their teachers.
Children get excited about the same things we get excited about. Think about it – boys love the same football teams as their fathers. We didn’t teach them, but showed them by our example what to love!
If we want some inspiration we would do well to watch Sir Ken Robinson’s TEDx talks or read his books.
My interest is personal. Throughout my adult life I have had to live with leaving secondary school with only two GCSEs at grade C. Underachievement has no quick or easy fixes. If we start now it may take a generation to make a difference.
Let us take inspiration from the salmon: they swim against the tide, they face impossible odds, they miraculously achieve their objective by never giving in ... so let us do the same for our children, and let us never, never give in.