Musings on Teenage Dumbness

I saw this on my weekly trip to Postsecret:

It struck a nerve in me (and it did for Kwizgiver, too; I see she posted this as her weekly “this Postsecret spoke to me” feature).  I’ve been thinking about it all day, and here’s what I’ve come up with (really, this isn’t going to be news to anyone who’s known me more than 10 minutes, but bear with me…):

I’ve been teaching for a number of years now, and I have only a few times come across a kid who can’t learn.  For all the diagnoses of learning disabilities floating around nowadays (trust me; I’ve got a file of IEPs and 504 forms in my desk that would stun you, given we’ve got a population of under 70 students), I’ve only encountered one or two kids who were dealing with genuine issues when it came to their cognitive processes.  Despite the general impression of over-diagnoses and kids using the cry of “learning disability” as an excuse to not work, I have had students in class who really can’t make the connections I ask of them (in fact, I have one student in a class now who has an honest-to-goodness cognitive disability).

I don’t think those are the kids that the author of this secret is talking about, though; I would bet just about anything that the point of this postcard is to lament the fact that the kids in question aren’t disabled, they just don’t give a shit.  The kids who can’t learn aren’t dumb, they’re disadvantaged.  The dumb kids are the ones who simply can’t be bothered.

Here’s the thing; the lament of “kids these days” has been going on for as long as humans have been living in family and community groups.  I’m sure that every generation as far back as the oldest great-grandparents would remember having at least one of their elders tell them that they were lazy good-for-nothings and that the future was doomed for having them come to maturity and inherit the proverbial earth.  I recall my great-grandmother tell me stories about what a hoodlum my grandfather was, and how she worried that he’d never amount to anything.

Of course, none of her dire, mother-of-a-teenager worries came to pass, but isn’t that the point of the story?  I was a dumb teenager, you were a dumb teenager, we were all dumb teenagers.  The important thing to remember is that ALL teenagers, in their own charming, crazy, infuriating way, are dumb; deeply, profoundly, infuriatingly dumb.  They don’t have the mileage behind them to understand that the things we have to teach them are important.  They don’t have the perspective that adults have, so they genuinely don’t see that they’re going to need the skills and the knowledge we’re trying to drill into their heads in the too-short time we have them with us before they’re expected to go out into the world and fend for themselves.  That terrifies those of us who care about our kids.*

I’m expecting that’s what got this secret writer in a twist, and I can’t say that I blame him (or her, as the case may be).  It can be disheartening to put your love and energy into giving kids something they just don’t want, and it can make for many sleepless nights worrying about how those poor, dumb teenagers are ever going to survive in the world on their own.  I do know that at least SOME of what I give them sticks, despite their best efforts at cool detachment, and I take comfort in the fact that I managed to survive pretty well – and so did you.

(*and please don’t listen to the Fox News assholes who tell you that teachers are lazy, good-for-nothing leeches on society, either; but that’s a post for another time.  Suffice to say that I know a lot of talented, dedicated, desperately caring teachers who I’m crazy-proud to call colleagues).

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5 Comments

Filed under colleagues, compassion and cooperation, concerns, critical thinking, dumbassery, ethics, failure, frustrations, General Griping, I love my job, I've got this kid...., out in the real world, student chutzpah, That's your EXCUSE?!, The Job, Yikes!

5 responses to “Musings on Teenage Dumbness

  1. This spoke to me for a lot of the reasons you discuss. Lately what’s been on my mind is the lack of common courtesy my students exhibit. For instance, on Friday we had a guest performance by a jazz ensemble and they talked through the entire performance. It really was what I would describe as a dull roar. And I wondered about how dumb they are to not know enough to be quiet and respectful during a performance. Common courtesy. Common sense. And then I stopped being so hard on them when I realized they don’t get to see performances like that very often and maybe, just maybe, no one has ever told them how to behave.

    And then I just think they’re dumb.

  2. My kids did fine. I always told ’em they needed to figure out what the teacher wanted and deliver it, or I’d put ’em to work on the farm until they found their motivation. They found it pretty fast.

    Dr. B

  3. I love this entry–I’d like to hear you give this talk to a lot of teachers out there 🙂

  4. Sorry… I was a really smart teenager. Blame ‘Head of the Class’ and probably Howard Hesseman (or just maybe Billy Connolly) for some words of wisdom which I’ll paraphrase here: 90% of what you learn in school is stuff you’ll never need… but until you get out in the real world you can’t know which 10% you need to learn.

    Or, the joke about the vending machine repairman. Guy calls a vending machine repairman to fix his Coke machine that won’t dispense the drinks. The repairman stands in front of the machine for five minutes. He then leans forward and runs his hands down each side of the machine while pressing his ear against the front of it. He then nods to himself, pulls a hammer out of his bag, and gives the machine a single sharp whack. It spits out a Coke, and works just fine from that point on. The repairman then scribbles something on his pad, rips off a sheet and hands it to the guy who called him. The guy who called the repairman looks at the bill for $500 and protests: “Hey, I could have whacked it with a hammer myself for $20!”

    The repairman replies: “Sure, but I’m charging you $480 because I know WHERE to whack it with a hammer.”

  5. Oh! Thanks for the reality check. I talk out of both sides of my mouth sometimes. I know they will be fine. Rarely does that teen rebellion and stupidity become permanent. On the other hand, I lament how I worry for the future of our world because of the extreme stupidity. Perhaps I just need a little patience, aye?

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