American students are lazy….
This is one statement I do not like, or even a teacher stating that “My kids are lazy.” When we use the word lazy, we are making comparisons- and typically those comparisons are made against standards we hold (or held by the person making the statement). Now I know what you’re thinking, “but I have expectations and rules for my class.” I’m not talking about those, I’m talking about us having unjust conceptions of what is “normal” for our students. The culture of the American student has drastically changed over the past years. Trying to compare that culture to other countries’ teen culture is also unjust, and this is why (or, my takes on it at least).
American students are material, and its gradually getting worse. This materialism is coupled with immediate satisfaction, which compounds the problem. This is what I mean: Students want their “toys”, and will work extremely hard to attain them. The modes of attainment are vast; some have jobs, some are extrinsic rewards, and some are attained by illegal means.
When students have jobs, they start them immediately after school. When they are done with work, typically one of four things happen. The first is that they go hang out with friends, fulfilling a social need. The second is that they are too tired from work and go home and go to sleep (or they get home too late and have to go to bed). The third is that they come home and attempt to do their homework in whatever time they have before turning in. The last is that they purposefully do not do any homework (and I have yet to find a large percentage who truly fits into this last category). In any of these cases, homework is not a priority and is hastily done without a lot of conscious effort (although there are a few exceptions- your top 5% students). Does having and maintaining a job imply laziness? I will go out on a limb and say no.
When students earn things extrinsically, they also are not being lazy. In fact, most of these students are extremely clever. They know how to work within the system of rules their parents constructed for them, and how to use those rules to produce results that are desirable to them. They know what they are doing, know how to push those limits- and how to act when an external award is proposed for them to attain. Is this lazy? Once again I would say it’s far from it, they are constantly working to maintain a reality that produces outcomes that are favorable to themselves. (This is my least favorite subject, I truly dislike external rewards.)
When students have no other option, they attain their toys through illegal means. These are the students I typically deal with on a daily basis. They case the target, devise/review/revise a plan and execute that plan. Once they attain the object they desire, they have to constantly be alert to not draw unwanted attention to the possession for fear of being caught. Of the three possibilities, this is the one that actually requires the most mental load. These students are on a 24/7 “fight or flight” status- causing them to be wired and hyper-alert. These students are constantly balancing the status of their objects and what new objects are needed, they actually have no time to be lazy and let down their guard.
When we talk about being lazy students, we need to better define what that means. Lazy to most teachers means not participating in class, completing assignments or showing any interest in the subject. This is all comparisons that the TEACHER makes and reflects upon the student. Teachers compare how these students act against the norm they have created, that norm typically follows what was expected of them as a student. Times have changed, and those rules no longer apply- just as the rules for being a good educator no longer transcend both generations.
When foreign countries think of being lazy, once again they are viewing American students and holding them against their standard of achievement. I am not sure how we can rationally do this when we all recognize that each student is a unique individual and has different needs. The biggest issue here is the value that students across the world hold for education, and for American students that value is not immediate. Instead of attacking our students, we should compare the ideals our countries and cultures hold for education, jobs, material possessions and social status.
Most of my students say they want to have a college degree, but most of them say that school has no impact on what they want to do once they get out. They try to directly tie courses to jobs, a pitfall that many teachers have fallen into in the past decade. As such, learning is not deemed important- while having cars, a job, cell phones, electronics, etc are important. These things define a student’s social standing and status among their peers.
Teachers are well aware of student thoughts on the value of their education. We plan and try to instill questioning, wonder and a need for learning. There are many students we connect with, and many who just fill space in their chair. The students we do push this year may or may not continue that growth dependent on their instructors next year. We can’t do this alone. We need help, and that help has to come from this country as a whole, our communities, families, parents. We must make a statement that education is important, demand excellence (academic, personal and social) every day and hold ourselves accountable for those same standards.
Personally, when I see a student who I feel is being lazy in class I rarely blame them. The reason they are being lazy in my class is that I haven’t created a need for knowledge- which is my job. Identify why those actions are occurring, don’t lay blame solely upon the student. Change your classroom environment, fix the “lazy” problem and get back to why you started this job in the first place- the passion for learning.