Friday, November 17, 2006

Why are some kids so lazy?

In a comment about my last post Ian asked this question: Why do you think it is that some students don't care about their education? Some of the blame can be laid at the feet of parents who don't prioritise education for their kids, but is that the sum of it? Our critics would charge that the majority of students who don't care about learning were disconnected from school at a young age by the same school system. To be fair, there aren't really that many unenthusiastic kindergarten students. So what happens to them that in ten years, they lose their drive to learn, to be a part of a group, and to advance themselves?

This is an important issue, and I told Ian that I'd do a post on it because I'm interested in what other people have to say about it. So here is the post. Coincidentally, this afternoon an excellent young teacher in our school dropped off this article to me because he thought I might be interested in it. The title of it is They're Not Stupid--They're Lazy. The article is actually not as fitting to this post as its title would lead us to believe, and the author does not exactly promote public education. In fact, when talking about American high schools, she says, "all this is not to say that American high schools do a great job of educating kids. They are called the weak link of the U.S. educational system for a reason." Ouch! Nevertheless, the article is in the ball game and the author does make reference to something that I think is a more important factor than most people realize--culture.

As I've said time and time again, I do think the attitudes and actions of parents are enormously important influences on the attitudes and effort of their children. But I have to admit that I have had a number of apathetic students whose parents seemed to care greatly about their school performance and were much more frustrated with their kids' poor effort than I was. This year at my high school, I have all of the sophomores in American history. I don't recall ever having a class of students with more kids who struck me as lazy and irresponsible. Out of 92 sophomores, 21 ended up with Fs in my classes (that doesn't include my basic class). I pride myself in setting up my class in such a way so that students who try hard can be successful even if they don't have great deal of aptitude in social studies, so having so many kids do so poorly bothers me more than most people know. All of these kids failed because they didn't do things that they were perfectly capable of doing. They must all have lousy parents, right? But last week, we had our school conferences, and I've never had so many parents of failing students show up. Every one of them was respectful, every one of them was concerned, and every one of them seemed willing to do anything I suggested to get their kids to do what was necessary to do well in my class. So, although in many cases students' poor effort can be traced back to the home, that's not always the case. And if it's not the parents, what else can it be?

First of all, let me admit that I think part of the problem in Warroad is that our schools (elementary, middle school, high school) are not as good as they used to be. Our district has suffered through a number of years of cuts, and as a result, we've lost some outstanding young teachers because they lacked seniority. Worse than that, however, with the checkerboard bumping system that we have in Minnesota, we now have a number of people teaching in subjects that are not their specialties. For example, in the room next to me, there is an outstanding elementary teacher who is now teaching high school English. It is the third different position she's held in our district in four years. She is certainly a talented young woman, and given time, she may become an outstanding English teacher. But if she was still in our elementary school, she would be an outstanding teacher NOW. Is this problem caused by the public school establishment, specifically unions? You bet, and I cannot deny that.

But the problem definitely runs much deeper than that, and I believe that our culture plays a major role. Right now, I'm reading a biographical book about Abraham Lincoln, who had no formal education, and it's amazing to read about the value that he put in books when he was a boy. I've read Booker T. Washington's biography, Up From Slavery, and he talks about walking for miles and sleeping under porches in order to have the opportunity to go to a school. Can you imagine anyone doing something like that in order to get an education today? The desire for self-improvement that people like Lincoln and Washington had was incredible. Today, our idea of self-improvement would probably best be summed up in the Viagra and penis enlargement advertisements I constantly receive on my email.

As I said in an earlier post, so much of our culture seems based on immediate gratification, and education is not an immediate gratification commodity. It involves work, it involves sacrifice, it involves doing something now that will be rewarded sometime in the future, and although I hate to admit it, it even involves a little boredom and drudgery. What is there in our culture today that encourages those things? The rap music stars kids see on MTV and listen to on the I-pods? The movies they watch on HBO? The sports stars they see who are blown up to incredible proportions on steroids or some other performance enhancing drug?

As much as our culture is an anathema to educational values, I don't think that's the major problem. I believe that what most contributes to the laziness we see in middle and high school kids are the behaviors that those of us in public education are forced to tolerate. Since kids have a "right to an education," and they have due process rights before they can be dismissed from schools, we end up putting up with behavior and effort that we should not have to tolerate. When some students see other students doing nothing, and still being able to come to class day after day, marking period after marking period, they are tempted to do the same. When some students see other students behaving horribly, but still being able to come to class day after day, they are tempted to do the same. I am convinced that all of our students are dragged down by our tolerating the complete lack of effort that some students show and the disruptive behavior of others.

17 Comments:

Blogger rookie teacher said...

I thoroughly enjoyed reading this piece that you wrote. You brought up a lot of great points!

I teach grade 1 and it's funny how you say that the students are not enthusiastic after a short period of time. I see kids not trying their best NOW and it bugs me to no end! I feel like a lot of it has to do with laziness. I have kids who would rather play with their pokemon cards more than anything. And they get so upset when I take it away from them because it's journal time.

I do believe to some extent that parent involvement is key. Perhaps these parents of failing students that are coming to the conference are finally realizing that high school will soon be over and their child is not passing ... how will they move on to higher education?

A parent's involvement needs to start at a young age, especially for a child who doesn't show enthusiasm. If they don't then it's just downhill from there and by the time high school rolls around it's just too late.

I've had parents of failing students who decline an interview. And parents of students who are doing really well want to see me. Go figure that one out for me!

11/19/2006 8:29 PM  
Anonymous Jude said...

I am a parent of two kids who are high achievers. They work hard, but because they're smart, in general, they can get by in most classes without extensive work, and still get the highest grades in the class. That's the way I've always been, too. I have a third child, however, a son, who isn't like us. He is just as brilliant as my other kids, but he doesn't want to work for things--or sometimes he doesn't hand things in because they aren't perfect enough for him. I've had a lot of trouble understanding him, and figuring out how to deal with the situation. His latest excuse? I couldn't turn in those math assignments because my book is falling apart. I pointed out that I'm a librarian, so I immediately ordered the supplies I'd need to repair his book--end of excuse. This year I started a point system. He gets points if he gets all "As" and "Bs" in a week and loses points for each assignment he fails to turn in. He was given a TV, and since I'm not excited about him having a TV, I made it so that if he loses 100 points, he loses the TV. He can easily earn points by doing chores. At first, the 100 points were for both of my sons, but the other son asked that they be separated. My underachiever lost the TV within a week. Then he continued to lose points for missing assignments, not going to bed on time, and so on. Today, I guess it finally dawned on him that he will have to do some work to get the TV back, and he earned 40 points in one day. It is truly exhausting to parent him because it requires a level of consistency that I don't always have the energy for as a single working parent.

One interesting thing to me was that we took tests at www.authentichappiness.org to find out our signature strengths. For my two achievers and me, "love of learning" makes us happy. For my underachiever, "Love of learning" isn't on the list of 5 things, but "curiosity about the world" is.

I met lots of these lazy students when I worked at a high school. I lectured one boy repeatedly about his bad grades (I was the librarian, so I could get away with it). This year, I subbed at the school and asked him about his grades. "I'm getting straight As now" he said. "Wow, that's great" I replied. "Why the change?" "I found out you were right. I have to repeat some classes, and I just got tired of it. So I'm hoping to still be able to graduate with my class by taking some college classes this summer and I'm not going to get any more bad grades." I was so happy that he learned the hard way that he'd might as well do his work--that it's actually less work in the long-run to just do what you're supposed to do, to do your best, and get on with it.

11/19/2006 10:41 PM  
Blogger CaliforniaTeacherGuy said...

Responding to Jude's comment:

I guess I have a hard time understanding why ANY child "needs" a TV. One would think that a single TV for the entire family would be more than enough. I married into a family where every child has a TV and the results are predictable: The kids zone out in front of the TV instead of doing their homework. One child is so addicted to the tube that she sleeps with it on all night--and she's the one who can least afford to do that. She's barely passing her classes, almost constant exposure to TV having rendered her insensate to thought.

11/20/2006 6:53 AM  
Blogger CrypticLife said...

Hi Jude,

I understand, or likely could understand, your son to a certain extent. I was one of those bright but unmotivated students myself. For me, a lot of schoolwork was intensely boring and I simply wouldn't do it. I didn't dislike work per se, but once home with all its competing activities I would be completely uninterested in any homework.

Kudos to you on your overall setup. Your behavioral modification program is a good idea, though I'd suggest some changes. I don't know if it's chores you're concerned with, but if not I'd consider dropping the ability to get points through chores. Ditto for bedtime.

You might find it helpful to add more carrot to the stick in your equation. The trick is, you need to find out what he really wants (that you can also deliver). I don't know how old your son is, but keep in mind that they might not be tangible things. I might add a level of permanence as well. Perhaps, if he loses the tv the third time, it's permanent until the end of the year or school year (whichever is longer), and if he loses it four times it's to the end of high school (though this is obviously a pretty obvious limitation on the extent of your authority, make it explicit so he knows you're serious. Give the date of his expected graduation if you need to).

I'd also tighten the cycle for gaining points -- if it's all A's and B's in a week that gets him points, he needs to wait until the end of the week before he sees the results of his efforts. It might work, but I might start it with points for every assignment he turns in on time, a few more for those he turns in ahead of time, and then additional points once he gets an acceptable grade back (or potentially minuses if it's an unacceptable grade).

I'm not sure what system you have for monitoring what assignments are given. Just be aware that there could be issues there as well.

Obviously your other children know about this system, and are doubtless aware of why it's been applied. This is likely crushing to the self-esteem of your underachiever. If you haven't, make it clear that you won't discuss the system with anyone else -- grandparents, friends, teachers, etc. Being compared to others will hurt, and he'll resent it. If you ever decide that he no longer needs the system, don't drop it. Modify it and check the results. If he's in, say, elementary school now, don't even consider dropping it until he's past 9th grade or so.

Also, don't forget to praise him, along with the points. Besides reassuring him that you do really love him, it will keep him more straightforward in his approach.

I sympathize with your plight as a working parent. I have three sons and a wife (who doesn't work outside the home, and does a brilliant job with the children), and it's exhausting.

Good luck

11/20/2006 9:07 AM  
Blogger Dennis Fermoyle said...

I always feel like I should respond to comments on my posts, but it looks like you guys are doing just fine without me. Rookie Teacher, I was interested in what you said about unmotivated first graders. Since I teach high school, it's hard for me to speak for what goes on in elementary schools. Thanks for chiming in.

CTG and Jude, there is no question that TV can rot brains. And today that's just one of many distractions for kids. You also have video games, computer games, My Space, etc. And then if you do a great job in the home, you still might have to worry about the influence of "friends." It all makes me glad that my kids are grown.

And Crypticlife, I think you're fortunate to have a family in which one parent stays home. I know that it doesn't necessarily have to be the woman, but I still think it's a definite advantage in raising a family--especially if, as you said, your wife is really good at it. I have no idea if this involves a big financial sacrifice for you, but if it does, I hope it pays off for you in the end. My guess is that it will.

Wow--for starting out by saying it wasn't really necessary for me to comment, that sure ended up being a long comment!

11/20/2006 5:48 PM  
Anonymous Jude said...

The TV was a gift to my sons. Then their dad got them a video game system to go with it. It isn't hooked up to cable, but they can watch videos or DVDs and play games on it. By making them work to earn the right to have it, I've tried to make the TV work for me instead of against them. Yesterday, my son worked hard and earned his TV back. However, he also handed me his midterm report where he now has two "Fs", so he lost points. The school has Powerschool, so I know instantly when he misses an assignment, but I don't know about assignments ahead of time. I appreciate the suggestions on tweaking the point system. By the way, my underachiever was just formally identified as gifted and talented, thereby joining his brother and sister.

11/22/2006 4:42 PM  
Blogger elementaryhistoryteacher said...

I have to agree with Rookie Teacher....they unmotivated student begins at the elementary level. I see them in all grade levels in our district with many of the same parent issues RT wrote about.

Dennis, I do agree with you about the lack of authority we have in the classroom to deal with students who don't do and the students who disrupt. The bad behavior and lack of initiative does begin to wear off on many of the other students.

11/25/2006 5:44 PM  
Blogger justasmalltowngirl28 said...

I am a parent of an almost 8 year old boy in grade 3. He is a very smart kid. When he is given work to do at school, he fools around and waste time till the end. Last 5 minutes to finish, and he normally get them all right. He will sit there and do nothing, or he says he doesn't know what to do. When he does put his mind to it, he is a very capable student.

I as a parent am at the end of my rope on what to do. I have made deals with my sons that if he does good in school for the week, he can get a book at the book store...(he is really into new books) or order a new book out of the school book order. Last year, I remember my son coming home from school and asking me if he broke his arms and legs if he would have to go to school....Shocked this was even asked by a 7 year old, I said yes, we would have to carry him in....

Gets gets notes sent home, stating that he didn't listen after being told something several times, or doesn't make goos use of class time.

I have explained to him that we need education so we can get a good job when we grow up....he comes across like he does't care.

I need advice what to do...I have also been to serveral dr's and am awiting another appointment to see if maybe there is something wrong, ADD/ADHD......

10/21/2007 3:16 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I am a teacher and a child of "old school parents." As an adult, I have gone to my parents and thanked them for the way in which they punished me and for the way in which they raised me. Basically, they instilled in me that we often have to do things that we don't like or interest us and that in the real world we will often have to do things that we do not want to do or that we find exciting.....and that is just the way it was. So, if I didn't complete school-work or misbehaved in school, I received a "spankin." No excuses, "ifs and buts" about it. As an adult and teacher, I get so frustrated listening to all of the excuses parents make for why their children fail to complete or turn in assignments on time. Also, I have never had a job that would allow me endless opportunities to complete a task or job nor, would my supervisor sit and even entertain listening to all of my excuses as to why something was completed. However, it has been my experience that we are raising (parents and teacher's...not always their choice) a generation of children who are irresponsible and lazy. I know times have changed and that technology has created an instant gratification society but, work is work, whether you like it or not. The workfoce is not going to create plans specifically designed to meet the needs of each one of their employees. They are simply going to give you an assignment and expect you to complete it!

3/03/2009 5:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I found this website while searching the web in the hope that I would come to a better understanding of what afflicts the young of today. I have a 22 year old daughter and her boyfriend living with my wife and I and am completly baffeled by how how lazy the two of them are. The plan was that they would move home and use it as an opportuinity to save money like crazy and upgrade skills to allow them to enjoy a better life further down the road. My daughter works a full time job but when she's off will do nothing at all untill her next shift. Her boyfriend may put in 8 hours a week on his homework and after 4 months of living here they have $1,200 saved. As I type this its 1130 Am and they've both just woke up.
I'm sorry, but I doubt that this affliction is an educational or geographic thing. Probably more a result of the youth worship that the western corperate/parental world embraces.
For decades, up here in Canada at least, Schools, parents and the courts have have taught kids that they can do no wrong and now we are faced with the task of attempting to correct this.

And to end where I started, I just don't know how to do that.

3/31/2009 10:37 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I am a former high school teacher and a parent of a child who could easily be placed in the gifted class except for one major factor, he is lazy!! It makes me want to cry. My son is finishing kindergarten this year and he, his personality, has been as such since he was 2.5 years old. I have to constantly work with him to ensure that he stays ahead of the game, but many teachers would never know it given his attitude and performance at school.
I limit television to almost nil. Games may be played only if he completes a certain amount of tasks (assignments) and then he is only allowed 30 minutes max of play time.
I am not a parent who simply assumes I have a bright child, I know because he does first and second grade work at home with some guidance. Another example, my son told me on the way home on a walk from the park that he was going to be "bored" when he got home. A word not normally used at this age and when I asked him to clarify what he meant by the word bored, he stated in a round-a-bout way that he would not be able to play games as he did prior to the park and would have to come up with something else to entertain himself.

4/28/2009 3:40 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

When I was in school,if you were the type of student who put effort into school work, turned in assignments on time,enthusically partipated in class, then you labled and treated as if you were an outcast. The term "nerd" resonates into my mind, and students who care often have to endure the ridicule and torment if they display thier intellectual abilies.
America is historically an anti-intellectual culture. You've mentioned this a bit in your post,social status and how one is percieved,is utterly important in a teens mind. Think of how the jocks and cheerleaders are glorfied and the "nerds" are protrayed in the medias eyes.

6/20/2009 12:06 PM  
Anonymous ceveni said...

its all because of Computer kids even dont Playoutside anymore thats weird and making them still lazy and computer buffs

8/20/2009 6:38 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I'm currently in high school, finishing up my last year as a senior. During my schooling experience I attained a 4.0 GPA all throughout junior high and high school. During my elementary phase I was put up a grade due to "vast learning capabilities". I scored a 33 on my ACT test, which isn't amazing, but I think it's rather an eagle before par. I do not claim these things in an egotistical way, but rather to prove my point. I do not consider myself smart, nor patient, and I think I now understand the laziness put off by 90% of the student nation. School is an utter joke to me, it is not about learning, it is about attending. Assignments follow the same concept. Show up, do the work, 4.0. I refuse to believe that this does not apply to everyone. In every aspect imaginable I agree that household activities outnumber homework three to one. But here, ladies and gentlemen, is the rub; when you limit something (i.e tv, xbox, computer, etc) you inspire a longing for it. This longing inspires impatience. Which inspires anger. Which inspires hate. Which will eventually cause a total meltdown. Growing up, I oft thought that if only my parents would get off my back, oh the wonders I could achieve. Teenagers rebel, when you tell us to do something, that is why we don't want to do it. I don't know, it doesn't even make sense to me. But we've all been there right? A nagging parent's wishes are dirt to me. Selfish? I know. But that's how it is.

-17 yrs, male, high school student

11/15/2009 10:37 AM  
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4/22/2011 7:03 AM  
Anonymous Parent like me said...

I have been wondering why my child is showing laziness. Is it because they are not motivated to do things or they are just simply lazy? It is really hard to go through their laziness; they don’t even help in home chores. So I tried to enroll them in a boarding school to be disciplined. I am waiting for their return and I hope that they will show improvement. How I wish they will.

10/19/2011 7:48 AM  

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