At Roeper, students are encouraged to value learning and achievement for their own sake and not for the secondary rewards of grades, test scores, and athletic statistics. Consequently, Roeper students are less inclined to compute their worth to their parents, teachers, friends, and community according to a numerical formula. Every student at Roeper is equally worthwhile to the community – and every student’s worth is unique. No one’s worth in quantifiable. Because, at Roeper, self-worth does not rest on external measures of success, students are not afraid to experiment, ask questions, collaborate, take risks, and experience the failure that is often a pre-requisite of success. Roeper students are therefore much better prepared to deal with the competitive situations they eventually encounter than students schooled in an ethos of competition.
Roeper students bring an edge to competitive situations because they are less likely than most students to suffer from performance anxiety. Performance anxiety, the scourge of both over and under-achievers, can cripple children with the fear that to fail is to lose the good part of the self that commands the love, respect, and admiration of the people whose support they need most. The cooperative atmosphere at Roeper reduces these fears and frees children to learn more and better and to function less anxiously in competitive situations.
In the absence of authoritarianism and competition, what motivates Roeper students to achieve? When asked this question, a group of Roeper teachers and upper school students at first answered, “They’re born that way. They’re self-motivated.” While this certainly seems to be true of many Roeper students, everyone agreed, upon reflection, that the environment at Roeper nurtures self-motivation.
A lower school teacher argues convincingly that there is an art to stimulating self-directedness. As she sees it, the process begins with a good rapport between teacher and student. This good rapport inspires the student to identify with the teacher. The second part of the process is the teacher’s enthusiasm for learning, which the student adopts through identification and incorporates as a part of her own approach to learning.
Another lower school teacher observes that the cooperative, non-competitive atmosphere at Roeper nurtures exchange among the students. “They catalyze each other,” she says. “One child gets excited about something, and the other children pick up on his/her excitement. It’s only imitation at first, but, in time, it becomes identification. Personal interests often evolve from the interests of other children.” Other teachers comment that, at Roeper, children respect the achievements of other children and often feel inspired by them. The atmosphere makes it okay to be smart, to try, to achieve. Kids are held in esteem, not ostracized, for being talented writers, mathematicians, artists, and athletes.
Another teacher points out that Roeper students are self-motivated because they feel the constant support of their teachers who are there to help them and not just to give orders. At Roeper, self-motivation does not mean being alone or being unable to ask for help.
An upper school student reports that he found himself to be motivated to do far more work at Roeper than he had done at the public school he used to attend, “Because,” he said, “I feel like I’m doing it for myself and not for someone else. When someone else set the requirements, I never did a page more than I had to.”