A Blog Covering D.C. Education [ABCDE]

Closing the Teach For America Blogging Gap
Sep 29 2009

“Why I Hate School”

MR (not Michelle Rhee) is an older student still taking 10th-grade English.  Part of why he, at age 17, is in the class is that he doesn’t engage in school: he rarely shows up and, when he does, he stares off into space in the back of the room, no matter how often a teacher urges him to participate or pay attention. (Admittedly, MR is a special ed student.)

TFA has us constantly thinking about the students that have been left behind.  I can’t help but think that MR is one of them.  I think this because I took the time to sit down and talk with him about what he sought from life, what he saw in education and, particularly, his evaluation of school.  After talking with him, his outlook became clearer.

He was surprisingly eloquent when we talked.  Furthermore, he spoke to me with the logical skills of a debater; he would make a point, I would rebut, and he would defend with a counterpoint.  I didn’t keep track of the flow of the conversation, but he began by saying, “let me tell you, Mr. K–these are the reasons why I hate school. First…”  I pulled out my pen and notepad and began scribbling down quotes verbatim:

  • “Teachers don’t make learning exciting.”
  • “Teachers got smart mouths–they yapping too much.”
  • “Some teachers are just a-holes. When they teach something they never want to go over it.  They just do it once and be done with it.”
  • “Half of the time they be wasting my time.”
  • “I don’t like school.”
  • “I don’t know anyone at school.”
  • “I’m not racist, but some white teachers getting smart–they think they better than me in their own way.”
  • “See, the thing is, I can try my best and do all my work and I can still get a bad grade–an F.”

These simple words signal a lot of things to me.  I won’t elaborate on every quote, but it is clear that MR does not see school as a welcoming place.  MR doesn’t see teachers as his guides; he sees them as critics there to put him down no matter how hard he tries.  MR sees school and understands the importance of an education (he told me the only reason he ever went to class was because he still wanted to graduate), but can’t connect what he is supposedly gaining from school to what he does off campus.

At some point in his life, MR lost his faith in the school system.  The only reason he is still in it is because he knows he needs a high school diploma to live a “normal” life (he told me about how he wanted to take over his father’s roof contracting business).  In other words, he will study and work in school only insofar as he “gets credit.” A grade of 60% is his only target in school.

How does a teacher convince a student like MR that his attitude is the wrong one to take?  Furthermore, how does a teacher convince him that it is never too late to change an attitude?
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2 Responses

  1. dave

    I had a long comment, but it got eaten because “my tokens timed out”.

    Basically, I’d go with “knowledge is power”. Succeeding in business (and life) is all about competitive advantage: what can you do a little better than your competition? Why should someone hire you instead of ABC Roofers? Why should you get promoted instead of Ralph at the next desk?

    If you’re good with math, you can find opportunities to save money on business expenses. Then you can lower prices to get more customers, or you can just keep that money for yourself as business owner…but you’ll need math to know which will get you more money in the long run!

    If you learn about weather in science, you’ll know better about whether you have time to replace a roof before it rains, and what seasons are best for roof work. If you share that knowledge with customers, they’ll trust you more and be more likely to refer their friends and neighbors.

    Even random bits of knowledge can be useful so you can build connections with people. Even if you are 100% sure you’re not going to use all this information at work (you’re wrong, btw), other people are. What if you’re checking out a potential customer’s roof, and she wants to talk about her work on computers, or Shakespeare, or basketball, or current events? If you know enough that you can keep up a conversation, you’ll build a connection that will almost certainly get her to hire you.

    And it’s not just business — knowing more lets you connect with more people, help in more ways, and keep yourself from being taken advantage of.

    Knowledge is power! :)

  2. abcde

    “Scientia potentia est.” Thanks for the advice. BTW, MR has not shown up once this week, so I haven’t had any chance to follow up…

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Really, "A Blog Covering Dilemmas in Education": A (former) English teacher's reflections…

D.C. Region
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