“I Don’t Care”

Short piece from Edutopia today about Strategies for Reaching Apathetic Students.

This could be my daughter. I’m sure she looked like the stereotypical apathetic student. I know she was on her phone quite a bit. She didn’t take notes. She hated group work. She rarely did homework in the last two years of high school. She failed many tests. She hated writing papers. She was, I am sure, quite sassy in class. (She did, however, actively participate in class discussions. I regularly heard from teachers about how well she did in discussions, about how she had very astute observations and offered critical analysis.)

While her behavior may indicate that she didn’t care about school or anything, I can guarantee you that she did care. She cared so deeply that her struggles and difficulty meeting everyone’s expectations – difficulties that are not her fault, and are not because she’s not intelligent or talented – triggered serious anxiety and depression. Honestly, the “disabilities” are only disabilities in an academic setting like her high school. Look at the things she didn’t do: homework, tests,  writing. Hmmmmm — does that suggest a text based disability? YES! And, as she is a strong introvert, group work in class was excruciating.

As the article said, it became easier to say “I don’t care” than “I need help.”

In her case, the “I don’t care” came from hidden learning disabilities that she masked well that eventually manifested themselves in mental illness. It came from a school environment (both physical and pedagogical) that did not fit her needs. It came from a system that meant teachers had way too many kids to track. She switched teachers every trimester, so few teachers ever really go to know her to get below the “I don’t care.” It came from a learning environment that valued rote memorization and testing over creativity and critical thinking. The huge school and large classes meant that teachers had to do the easy-to-grade assessments, like multiple choice tests, as opposed to projects or more creative ways to express learning.

So, next time you see a student that doesn’t seem to care, don’t immediately blame them. Take a closer look. I bet there’s something else going on.

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