I'm probably going to get some flack for this, but ce la vie. I want to know how we've helped our kids--boys in particular--by taking the stigma out of looking stupid. I come from an era where people at least wanted to act like they had some sense...and certainly expected their kids to. We now live in such a "compassionate", PC, "sensitive" culture that it's now cushy to look ignorant. And it's SO indelicate to recognize when a kid acts like he's dumber than a box of rocks. But that's just it--when he's ACTING that way (by choice) why isn't he embarrassed?
I'm a high school teacher, and before you crucify me, I need to make it clear that I'm only too happy to help kids who honestly are struggling to understand something. I'm not talking about a kid having trouble understanding algebra concepts or needing help figuring out his grammar assignment. I would never call a kid "dumb" just because he needed some extra help with academics. Sometimes facing the challenge and having to work through it (even with help) is the essence of the learning process. What I'm really talking about is kids who come to school and act like they can't figure out what they're supposed to be doing---and then don't have sense enough to be ashamed of themselves.
Let me give you some examples from my classroom:
I'll have instructions on the board detailing exactly what the kids need to start on in class: some will still sit there and say, "now, what do we do?" Sometimes I just look at the board and point, inviting them to see what's on the board--but that requires reading and following the instructions, which is quite beyond the scope of some of them. But then when you realize that frequently, I've already READ these instructions to the entire class, and they were too "out-to-lunch" to notice that I was even giving the instructions, uh, he-LLO!?!?!
Others will listen to detailed directions spelling everything out in dumbed-down, basic English, complete with lots of hand gestures (just so they can understand the instructions that are both on the board and in the book) and will say when it's all finished, "I still don't get what we're supposed to do" (note carefully---not HOW to do it, but even just WHAT to do). Sometimes you'll see the blank look in their eyes and think, "use your head!"
Countless times in one day, I hear myself saying "follow your model" (meaning the example in the book). You'd think that the concept of looking at the example that shows how to do something was a secret that only comes to a select few through an act of divine revelation. But when you're in the middle of an activity and realize that the person you're saying this to is the FIFTH or SIXTH person to be called upon---and he STILL hasn't figured out what's going on (or even what page we're on in some cases), it goes from exasperating to ominous. That's when you wonder how some of them are going to grow up and figure out how to do their own shopping, pay their own bills, and generally have sense enough to come in out of the rain. It's a times like these that I wonder if Obama-care will have group home coverage.
Then, when it's all said and done, there will be kids sitting there who didn't do the activity at at all and have nothing to show for it when it's time to collect the work. They'll say "I didn't have a pencil" or "I didn't have a piece of paper" or "I didn't know what page we were on". When you say something like "wouldn't it have been better to borrow a pencil (or a piece of paper, etc.) rather than just not doing the activity and taking a zero on it?" They're like "Oh...."
Then there's my favorite excuse, "I didn't understand it". I have to curb my urge to be very sarcastic at this point and ask in a very teacherly fashion what better strategies they might have employed when they didn't understand something, rather than just not doing the work? (It's not like I haven't been there the whole time, available to help). And for me to assume that they'd think to use their glossary, flip back a couple of pages and look at the lesson that led up to the activity, or open their notebooks to yesterday's class notes (assuming they took any) and figure out that the activity is just rehashing the concept that has just been taught, my Heavens...was I expecting Einstein? It's not that these kids really are stupid--they may have an above average IQ--but they act like they don't have enough common sense to come in out of the rain, because it's no longer chic to EXPECT them to. And Heaven forfend lest they should feel ashamed of themselves.
The point of all of this is, we've de-stigmatized looking stupid. We've made it easy and comfortable to look like you're too ignorant to figure out what you're supposed to be doing. I can't write on papers the comments that the kids really need to hear--that's "being negative" or "using shame", and some bleeding-heart mommy might complain that her little darling was made to feel bad. Meanwhile, who's challenging her "little darling" to step up to the plate and act like a MAN who's got something going ON? And if he's never challenged to act like he has any sense, when, pray tell, is he going to acquire any?
I worry about what this all portends for the future. In the same way that we, as a society, have destigmatized laziness, irresponsibility, and immorality, we have now made it acceptable to not use your head. Well, we see where laziness, irresponsibility, and immorality have got us--what will our social acceptance of voluntary ignorance bring? Personally, I see a lot of dark clouds on the horizon---oh, nevermind...it's already raining.