Sunday, January 06, 2008

I didn't study!

Joanne Jacobs had an interesting little blurb the other day called Respect for Nerds. Her post dealt with a book by David Anderegg, and he complains about America's anti-intellectualism. In other words, we tend to portray smart people in the most negative possible light.

I certainly see Anderegg's point, but as a teacher, I see it as more than just anti-intellectualism. It's contempt for anyone who consistently tries to do the right thing. Although I haven't heard the term for a few years, the term kids in our school used to use for it was "preppy." For some, the greatest insult you could give other students was to say that they were preppy. "Preppy" referred to any students who tried hard in school, did their homework, studied for class, or just dressed nicely. Not surprisingly, the students who were most likely to call other kids preppy were those who never did anything positive.

I haven't heard the word "preppy" for awhile, but the attitude that brought that term about hasn't gone away. And that attitude is reflected by something that some students are anxious to say every time I give a test: "I didn't study." It always boggles my mind when I hear it, because the kids who say it always do it with pride. Students--at least the mediocre ones--can't wait to tell each other that they didn't study. And this is definitely not anti-intellectualism. In fact, their big fear is that if they studied--especially if other kids know they studied--there is the possibility that they might not do well on the test. And if that happens, well, that must mean that they are dumb. They'd much rather be viewed as not trying, because there's nothing wrong with that. Heck, being lazy is downright cool.

That is something I would to change.


Blogger Liz Ditz said...

Dennis, I'd love to hear your response to this presentation from Evan Thomas at the recent AHA national convention:

I don't see kids who are interested in history. I also do not see kids who know anything about history. It is amazing, the gaps in their knowledge. It is not just me. It is standard issue commentary among faculty at these colleges.

Thomas goes on to point out the risk to the future of democracy, if even our best young people do not understand the meaning of the rule of law, the value of freedom, and the characteristic underpinning of American democracy

Agree? Disagree?

1/06/2008 7:47 PM  
Blogger CrypticLife said...

Incidentally, one of my better history teachers in high school had a quiz every day, at the beginning of class for about five minutes. It was about ten questions long, and mind-bogglingly simple -- essentially, all it tested was that you opened the book to the right pages each night. I think the results made up about 20% of the grade. It also encouraged people to get to class on time.

It tended to allay fears of not doing well, also, and likely diminished protestations of "I didn't study", which I'll agree are partially motivated by fear.

1/07/2008 11:52 AM  
Anonymous Zeke said...

Not surprisingly, it isn't only high school students who 'don't study.' A few years ago, Princeton Prof. Jim McPherson, arguably our best current Civil War historian, told me that he had begun giving short quizzes before each 'tutorial' in his Princeton classes, because it was the way he could ensure that students read the material.

1/07/2008 3:21 PM  
Blogger Dennis Fermoyle said...

Liz, thank you for great posting material! I'm always looking for that, and you've set up my next post.

Crypticlife and Zeke, I also start most of my classes with a short quiz. I feel like I've got to evaluate everything, because as soon as kids see that something isn't being evaluated, very few of them will do it. As I said in my post, what drives me nuts about kids not studying is how proud so many kids are of it. Wouldn't it be wonderful if we could develop a culture in our schools where kids took pride in trying hard?

1/07/2008 5:58 PM  
Anonymous Jude said...

As a librarian, the most frustrating comment I hear are the proud declarations from many students who let me know that they never read books and they never use the library. Let me know if you have some good comebacks for that one.

1/07/2008 9:19 PM  
Blogger "Ms. Cornelius" said...

Speak, Dennis!

Zeke has just depressed me.

And Richard Hofstadter wrote a book many years ago entitled Anti-Intellectualism In American Life. I highly recommend it.

And as an example, look how hard our politicians work not to be viewed as too smart. I'm saying this even as I anticipate the snappy comebacks.

1/10/2008 3:23 PM  
Blogger Doc Brown said...

My personal experience support you. I am a first year teacher and even after only 2 weeks of school I have heard the comment "I didn't even study" used several times in a bragging tone. What is more disturbing is that I just Graduated with my degree in education in December. Supprisingly, I also heard this comment many times through my college career and suprisingly often in education classes. It's a little scary.
I no longer allow such talk in the classroom. We only have one rule. Rule #1: You are not allowed to fail this class. Every day I remind them of that and ask them what they are going to do each day to pass. It seems to be working so far. They are slowly becoming more positive.

1/15/2008 6:49 AM  
Blogger EHT said...

This culture of being proud of not studying or simply not participating at all begins early. I see it everyday.

Dennis, I'm glad you're back. I've missed you.

1/16/2008 3:52 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Liz Ditz, they surely will not learn about the value of freedom in government run schools!

1/16/2008 4:13 PM  
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3/25/2008 8:38 AM  
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