by the Albatross
Part I in the series, “How Public Education is Ruining America”
They are called “Reluctant Learners.”
The term has been around for thirty years, and it is not endemic to Hamden Public Schools. This problem involves the country as a whole.
The kids who shirk their schoolwork. The kids who refrain from doing anything academic. The kids who come to school and do as they please.
Whenever an assignment is given, these kids are disinclined to do it. They disavow study and willfully fail. They dither and they dally, over putting personal belongings away, make-up and body spray, cell phones. Some girls do their make-up in class. If you dare tell them to put the eye liner away, make sure to say “honey” and “please” or they will run to their administrators with tales of woe. They are at best indifferent to the routines of school, milling outside the classroom before the bell rings, waiting to be told to get into the room and take school materials out of their bags. Then, they have neither their books nor their laptops. If they have the laptop, it is not charged. Or they lost the charger. They give no thought either to school property or the morrow even when reminded daily. They do not even pretend to listen. “I wasn’t paying attention” they say, not looking up, careless of how rude they sound. They do not care.
For all their refusal to do schoolwork, they come to school and settle right in. For some, class is a place to catch up on sleep. Chronically exhausted, because they stay up until 3:00 a.m. playing video games or immersing themselves in social media, heads go straight down on the desks. Some of them snore.
These teenagers who come to school and refuse to do assignments are not students. Students do their work. These kids are slackers.
It is impossible to make a judgment about the academic capability of a slacker. No one knows for how long slackers have been slacking, to what point they have academically declined, and if they are capable of doing a high school curriculum at all, but it is mortifying to be their teacher. It is mortifying to see slackers edge over the horizon and into the classroom, pushing and swearing. It is mortifying to see nothing but zeroes in a gradebook. It is normal and yet extraordinary that someone will come to class and refuse to do anything academic. Hence, the limitations of a public school cannot be emphasized enough.
It is gospel that slacking is a problem that teachers have to fix. That appears entirely contradictory, a mighty odd way of fixing the problem, but when students shrink from completing their assignments, teachers must rally themselves to the slacker’s cause. The website TruthforTeachers even says, “That’s your job. That’s why you became a teacher.” Although those sentences are not in the job description, this means that no sacrifice is too great to make on a slacker’s behalf.
Crank websites and charlatans from education schools cook up techniques for teachers to use with slackers. They offer copious amounts of advice, turning teachers into supernatural beings, even exorcists, driving out the demons that prevent slackers from completing assignments through positive energy. Websites amount to nothing more than a propaganda campaign that absolves the slacker of responsibilities and puts them on the teacher. “Be reflective,” advises PathwayToSuccess.com. “Consider what you might be doing to trigger the student’s refusal to work.” (Nothing. Teachers suffer more at the hands of slackers than slackers do at teachers.)
No strategy wins the day. A slacker with a cell phone and a bunch of friends cannot be motivated to open a book. Every strategy is thankless. The slacker will shun the tricks from “Mrs. D’s Corner.com” (break the work into chunks five minutes for one sentence, ten minutes for the next two), and scoff at the “subtle and positive affirmations” that TeamTomEducation.com recommends.
Slackers are going to slack. They will demonstrate to you how futile strategies are, how little they earn a teacher, aside from stress and exasperation. No matter how many tricks a teacher tries, the outcome is the same. The ceaseless effort has no point.
For administrators, slackers are holy people. They aren’t to blame for slacking. These walking miracles saunter into class, earbuds in, doughnuts out, phone in hand, videos on, but for administration, it smacks of cruelty to insist that slackers work, maybe even in a timely fashion. Opposition to this position is a sign of intolerance. After all, it can’t be easy, sitting around all day, fooling with your friends.
So the administration puts the onus on the teachers. Administrators turn to teachers and say, “What could you be doing better? Do you need resources?” It is always assumed that teachers can change slackers, sometimes in limitless ways, but what slackers need, perhaps a sense of purpose in their lives, can’t be given to them by a teacher.
The administration preaches to staff about how vulnerable slackers are, the trauma that they have experienced, as though whatever they have experienced is on the scale and intensity of war. The word ‘trauma’ legitimizes the slacking. Slackers can wear the mantle proudly.
Every slacker, every student, every single human life has problems. Teachers can spend ages trying to figure them all out, but then the curriculum does not get covered.
No doubt some slackers are psychologically troubled. No doubt they have moments of emotional suffering, just as we all do, but those moments need to be transcended if they are to come day in and out to a classroom.
From Central Office’s standpoint, slackers are holy people, too. The school will need a plentiful supply of tutors to get all those assignments done. The fewer students work, the more people have to be hired to “support ” them, and they have to be supervised, and so the budget grows and grows. Of course, the more people Central Office hires, the less incentive slackers have to do anything except breathe.
What does slacking say about the society and the school system that allows it?
It says that the absolutely insupportable must be supported. It says that if a student is so hopelessly recalcitrant that they will not do assignments, if they need so much comforting that they cannot do schoolwork, a public school is a great fit for them.
Slackers let society down. They let the school system down. They let our very generous tax payers down. They have been allowed to succumb to the very grand temptation of laziness. The zeroes in the gradebook provide an insight into the character of the slacker. They do not care enough to try.
A practical appraisal of slackers is needed. Schools suffer when hard questions are avoided, and topics such as value are not discussed. Soon, there will be another generation of slackers to succeed this one. What is all of this worth? Nothing is more noxious than someone sitting around doing nothing. Surely a slacker would be better off mixing tar and shingling a roof.
Kids cannot be allowed to practice slacking. Teachers cannot be allowed to tolerate it. Administrators must stop condoning it.
We need the better way to handle slacking. Getting slackers to do their schoolwork would require a transformation, something of a revolution. Work is the necessary corrective to slacking. Let these kids join the workforce without a high school diploma. Let slackers spend time loading goods onto trucks. They will be grateful to get back to the classroom and learn something.