Friday, June 17, 2011

Steady Study

My step-father had interesting ways of saying things and he mispronounced many words. Soon after he married Mother when I was about six, I noticed that he referred to coffee dregs as drugs, as in, “Ain’t nothing left of this coffee but the drugs.” A slice was a slaish, concrete was con-creek and a plumb bob was a plumb barb. I enjoyed the linguistic variety, but Mother didn’t. She spent 40 years “correcting” him to no avail.

Pop pronounced the word “steady” as if it were “study.” I first noticed it when we were out quail hunting together when I was about eight. Pop was training a bird dog puppy named Bess and when she went into point, he would say, “Study, girl, study.” I actually thought for awhile that Pop was telling the dog to study the situation until it dawned on me that he was trying to keep the dog at steady point so she wouldn‘t flush the covey.

Of further interest was the fact that the reverse pronunciation was true: Pop said “steady” when he meant “study,” as in, “Boy, go to your room and steady.” (I would only partially obey--I would go to my room and draw or daydream, but I would seldom study.)

And my grades reflected this academic neglect all the way through school. So much so that near the end of my senior year in high school, my acid-tongued history teacher called Mother and told her that if I didn’t make at least a “B” on the history final, I would not graduate. When Mother marched me to the teacher’s room after school the next day, the teacher gave me an outline with page references to passages in the text book (which I had never bothered to open), so I stayed up the next night or two steadily studying. To my amazement, what I studied was interesting and even pleasant. I made a “B” and proudly received my high school diploma later in the week.

But I didn’t learn how much easier life would be with just a little steady studying until after Uncle Sam got through with me and I started to college. I think the military matured me a bit because I found that if I treated school like an 8-5 job, studying before, between and after classes, I made good grades, and had some free time at night and on weekends. What really surprised me was that I could actually learn and enjoy things like math and physics if I took the time to puzzle the problems out on my own directly after class.

So, Pop may have had something. Steady study makes for success. I eventually earned a Ph. D. degree in English and became a professor and dean. My half-century of involvement in the teaching-learning enterprise has convinced me that perseverance is much more important than intelligence. My advice to struggling students is always this: develop a schedule for concentrated steady study and stay with it. Steady study equals success.

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