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A thing with thons

File pic: Cyclathon

Over the years marathons have become hugely popular, judging by the number of entrants for them all, all around the world. Indeed, people are not simply satisfied with marathons but now have ultra marathons.

Further to that though, we delight in declaring any event that may be grueling and take a long time as being a ‘-thon’ of some sort. 

With great creativity, we now have Cyclathons, Readathons as well as Primary Spellathons, Singathons — there are ‘-thons’ sprouting out everywhere!   

Of course, they all stem from the concept of a marathon. Marathons are tough, even with all the training. 

They are a long distance — they last a long time — they are a long haul. But for those who have done one (or more) they are worth it.

They often involve the runner ‘hitting the wall’, whereby they have to dig deep into their will power to continue but the feeling when it has been overcome is totally immeasurable and deeply pleasurable. They might even become a fun-athon!

A character in a film described their wedding celebrations as a marathon not a sprint — and certainly those of us in Africa can relate to that! 

It all served to remind the viewer, and now we the reader, that in fact much in life is actually a marathon, not a sprint — especially those things in life that are valuable and worthwhile. Like education. Like parenting.

We maybe have not realised it before but those of us with children are involved in a parent-athon – a mum-athon or a dad-athon. We are in it for the long haul. 

We will “hit the wall” at some stage, that stage in a marathon where we feel we cannot go any further (the theory of parent-athon continues to work when you consider the “hitting the wall” tends to happen around the time the runner reaches the sixteen to eighteen mile point, just as with parents it is when their child reaches the sixteen to eighteen year old stage…).

We as parents have to dig deep then, to remember what we are striving to achieve, to reflect how far we have come, to focus on just the next step and then the one after.

We need stamina, not speed, in our parent-athon – we need a steady pace, not intermittent spurts. We have to work hard — but it is worth it in the end. We must finish well.

By the time children reach secondary school they too feel they are in a marathon – school just seems to go on and on and on.  Each day seems like a marathon, lesson after lesson, like kilometre after kilometre, year after year.

 There is no instant glory or relief or weariness, like a quick sprint could bring.  School-athon for many becomes a nightmare-athon.  They are in it for the long haul and they do not like it. Indeed, it is not just a marathon, more like an Iron Man triathlon (indeed pentathlon), including several aspects to the education — academic, social, sporting, cultural, spiritual.

But education is indeed a marathon, not a sprint.  There are no quick fixes, just the long haul. In our instant, comfort-seeking, labour-saving, credit-giving world, that comes as a massive disappointment to many, most of whom only see the destination not the journey, only want the stamp in the passport as opposed to the experience in the memory.

Yes, it is hard, but that is where the value lies. We must not cut corners, catch lifts or give up. That is the thing about thons.

And finally, each school is involved in a marathon, not a sprint.  What schools are trying to achieve for each child is not something that happens overnight — a baobab tree takes years and years and years to grow, putting roots down deep. 

Changing attitudes, as well as habits or prejudices or perception can take a long time and be a lonely process. 

There are times when we might feel we have hit the wall, when it is tough and rough and enough.  Yet we go on, remembering what we are striving to achieve, reflecting how far we have come, recognising what needs to be done, step by step by step. This is a school-athon. School-athon is a mighty thing.

Someone (who clearly would not try a marathon) once joked that “If God had wanted me to touch my toes he would have put them on my knees”.

Many people are like that with regard to education (and even parenting) – they want it easy, something to be achieved without being stretched. Education, however, is hard but it is worth it; it is a marathon. Quite a thing a thon!

  • Tim Middleton is the executive director of the Association of Trust Schools [ATS]. The views expressed in this article, however, are solely those of the author in his private capacity and do not necessarily represent the views of the ATS. 
  • email: ceo@atschisz.co.zw
  • website: www.atschisz

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