27 September 2008

Chosen Stupidity

It’s not all that often that I have an experience in school that I just can’t shake. As a secondary teacher, the average, day-to-day lunacy of a mass of teenaged minds leaves little to wonder at, from a negatively connotative point of view. But some time ago, I had a conversation with a former student that has required me to consider the root cause of the stark change in the student. Some background is in order. (Note: My continual reference to “the student” is simply to remove any sort of identification from the student, including gender. The student’s attitude is all that is relevant.)

When the student was in my class, the student was quiet and reserved, but also bright and insightful. The student would make interesting comments about literature, seemingly out of nowhere at times, and generally made good grades. Then the student chose a different path. The student “thugged out” (my term).

A telling interaction with the student came as the student sat waiting for punishment, the result of some misdeed. As our conversation progressed, the student told me that things easily confuse him/her. I told the student that I knew, knew, that this is not the case. The student is bright, insightful, and thoughtful. The student said something akin to, “You don’t know me anymore.” Indeed.

That student had chosen stupidity. Without detailing the entire conversation, it is clear to me that the student had embraced a set of principles which necessitates abandoning his/her previous intellectual curiosity. The student’s ethic had become that of a thug, and the student had such distaste for any intellectual pursuit that he/she had managed to wash any and all academically ambitious attitudes away cleanly. The student may never make the turn back to his/her former self, now left long behind. The transition back to academic achievement would entail too much work, too much mental effort. Another student lost.

And who is at fault here? The student for choosing the clearly wrong road? The parent, or parents, for not reining in the student? The school for not creating after-school programs to keep the kid away from bad influences? The thug culture, which is seemingly so seductive? What needs to be added? What needs to be removed?

Call me heartless, but endless safety nets need to be removed. This student, along with many of the same cut, will receive endless opportunities to “succeed” regardless of their desire to accomplish anything of worth – even a simple day of not acting out. The never-ending safety net tends to encourage a sense of entitlement coupled with irresponsibility. At some point, the safety net has to be removed; the student has to touch the burning hot stovetop. Sometimes more than once, or twice. Then, perhaps, learning will occur and the student will choose to take the paradoxically easier road of working hard.


KKB said...

Maybe this is too touchy-feely, but the first thing I thought when I read this was "What happened to that kid?" Generally kids who are going along on one path and then suddenly "choose" another path aren't "choosing" at all, but possibly being forced into another circumstance, or finding themselves in a situation (physical, metal or emotional) that makes them feel to be between a rock and a hard place. When the basics aren't met (food, shelter, safety), things like intellectual curiosity and academic achievement go right out the window.

I don't know your student. But I was struck by his/her comment "You don't know me anymore." What kind of circumstances arise in a young person's life that leaves them feeling that the only option is the destructive path of "thuggery?"

It seems to me that when people change dramatically and for the worse, there is usually a fairly compelling cause for it. And you know as well as I do that the teenage years are ones where life IS especially confusing.

You and I are priveledged. We had hardships growing up; and life-changing events that could very well derail a lot of teenagers. However, we lived in rural communities and were surrounded by supportive families. This is the exception, sadly, and not the rule anymore.

I guess all I mean to say is that perhaps there is more to this story than a bright and motivated young person suddenly turning lazy and stupid. There may well be compelling factors that you know nothing about. I have come to learn that there is always another story, always more detail, behind every interaction.

None of this is to minimize what must be very frustrating for you. You work hard to make a difference for your students and to see many of them fall along the roadside must be a real challenge. I commend your efforts, as always, and I appreciate that you keep trying, even in the midst of the challenges you face daily.

leany said...

The recognition of a right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness and the mandate of government to secure these rights are too tepid, they argue, for a morally worthy society. This impoverished vision has only led to anomie, hedonism, and rampant immoral behavior such as illegitimacy, pornography, and abortion.
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