THE MYTH OF LAZINESS Reconsidered
A couple of weeks ago, I did a post on The Myth of Laziness by Dr. Mel Levine. I wrote the post while I was reading the first part of the book, and as I said in the post, I was not approaching it with an open mind. Although I said this would be a good book for teachers to read, overall I was very hard on it. I finished the book two or three days after that, and today I have to say, "Dr. Mel, I done you wrong!"
I meant to write this one early last week, but Education Wonks and Ms. Cornelius had posts that got me all fired up, and they sent me spinning off in a different direction. So the fact that it took me that long is all their fault! In any case, the title of the book, The Myth of Laziness, led me to take a very negative approach to the book. I thought, here we go again. Another expert who wants to take away any of the responsibility for poor performance from students and parents and lay it right in the lap of the school. As I read through the early part of the book, I thought my suspicions were being confirmed, but as I read on, I began to change my mind. Dr. Levine expressed real appreciation for teachers and schools who consistently were willing to cooperate with him and try different strategies, and he also showed that he recognized how difficult it is for schools to be able to diagnose and deal with every problem that every student has.
There was one statement I made in my original post that was flat-out wrong. I said, " I shudder at the thought of parents reading this book." I wanted to eat those words when I read Levine's section on family life in Chapter 9. He begins that section by saying, "It is my stubborn contention that schools are supposed to teach kids how to learn and parents are responsible for teaching them how to work." (My emphasis) He then supported that statement with wonderful success stories from families that had done just that.
I still can't buy his basic thesis that laziness is always a myth. Levine discusses internal factors that cause kids to be unwilling to work: lack of motivation, lack of initiative, giving up easily, being easily distracted, and low mental energy. I think it's fair to say that most people associate those things with being lazy. If a student told you that she didn't do the work because she wasn't motivated and had low mental energy, what would you call it?
I also think that Levine's contention that being called lazy is a major blow to a student's self-esteem is questionable. It sure makes him sound like he hasn't been in too many high school classrooms. High school kids see two reasons for not performing well: being dumb or being lazy. I have had very few students who wouldn't prefer being considered lazy, and many kids go out of their way to court that perception. I can't even begin to count the number of kids I've had who have announced before or after a test that "I never even studied!" I want to wring the neck of every student who says this, but they want to make sure that everyone knows that if they do poorly on the test, it's because they're lazy; not because they are dumb, or worse yet (gasp!), that they don't learn "normally."
Overall, though, my disagreements with Levine are minor. After reading the ENTIRE book, I would say without hesitation that it is a great book for teachers AND parents. At least I've learned a lesson from this experience. Never again will I review a book until I've read the whole thing. I promise!