That’s Just How I Am!

My students seem to think that ignorance and incapacity are immanent characteristics like height, eye color, or the shape of one’s ears and have to be accepted by everybody with no criticism or comment.

Time and again this semester I have tried to guide them towards improving their performance only to hear an indifferent, “Well, I’m just not good at spelling,” “I’m not good at interpreting poetry,” “I’m not good at remembering instructions,” “I’m not good at writing essays.”

They seem to believe that once they said this phrase, all further discussion of their performance should immediately stop. Capacity and incapacity are God-given qualities that a mere mortal can in no way modify.

I tried suggesting that the purpose of a college education is precisely to enrich one’s set of skills and store of knowledge but I’m not getting through. Students seem convinced that college exists so that they can come here, display the skills they already have, receive praise, and move on to another sphere of life. There, they will exhibit the same skills they had before coming to college, receive praise, etc. Existence is not about learning and improving but, rather, about exhibiting your pre-fabricated and unchanging uniqueness to as many people as possible in order to get the greatest number of accolades.

The concept of a self-made American has been substituted by the idea of a God-given one.

23 thoughts on “That’s Just How I Am!

  1. Some students do, indeed, seem unable to learn certain things. For example, some mathematics students are apparently unable to comprehend the distinction between “if A then B” and “A and B.” No amount of work corrects this. Nevertheless, everyone can improve skills a lot.

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    1. Every once in a while there is a student who does not have the intellect to master the material. This is extremely rare. Such students may try very hard but it is all useless. However, barring such clinical cases, the absolute majority of my students doesn’t suffer from an actual incapacity but from a refusal to learn.

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      1. I, for example, have extreme difficulty remembering people’s names. I warn students at the beginning of the term that I may not know their names by the end of the term.

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  2. Oh dear, it doesn’t bode well for the United States. Being satisfied with oneself is not the pioneering spirit that built the nation. Decadence is taking over.

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    1. It does sadden me a lot seeing such young people completely resigned to not knowing the difference between “their” and “there” and “seen” and “seem.” 15 people on the last essay consistently confused “Latin America” and “Latin America” and refused to listen to my explanations as to how these terms were different. They just said they are not good with such things and turned completely deaf after that.

      This is simply sad/

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      1. “15 people on the last essay consistently confused “Latin America” and “Latin America” and refused to listen to my explanations as to how these terms were different”

        I give up. What is the difference between “Latin America” and “Latin America”?

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  3. When my cousin had just turned six, we all went to a restaurant for his birthday. When we arrived, he was in tears and hysterics because he could not remember a state capital. Now he’s the kind of kid who is very smart and is constantly praised as such. It took three adults and an hour to get him to calm down. At this point in time his parents were taking him to tutoring to learn simple algebra.

    Then I read this article and thought of him.

    But as Thomas has progressed through school, this self-awareness that he’s smart hasn’t always translated into fearless confidence when attacking his schoolwork. In fact, Thomas’s father noticed just the opposite. “Thomas didn’t want to try things he wouldn’t be successful at,” his father says. “Some things came very quickly to him, but when they didn’t, he gave up almost immediately, concluding, ‘I’m not good at this.’ ” With no more than a glance, Thomas was dividing the world into two—things he was naturally good at and things he wasn’t.

    I told another cousin who was 13 and taking several AP classes at the local high school that her homework was for making sure she knew how to work through a problem, and that people just don’t forgive a lack of study skills or work ethic when you reach a certain level in schooling or a certain age. I don’t know that it took.

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    1. ““Some things came very quickly to him, but when they didn’t, he gave up almost immediately, concluding, ‘I’m not good at this.’ ” With no more than a glance, Thomas was dividing the world into two—things he was naturally good at and things he wasn’t.”

      – This is EXACTLY what I’m talking about.

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  4. I don’t think this phenomenon is exclusive to students.

    My sister in law admits
    a) she takes all criticism as a personal attack on her,
    b) she doesn’t like to apologize, ever,
    c) she starts making wild, nasty personal insults at people when she feels she’s ‘losing the argument’.

    She doesn’t dispute any of this. ‘Yes, I know this is what I do, but that’s how I Am. You have to accept me How I Am, otherwise you’re just forcing me to pretend to be someone else, and that is offensive to me’. Yes, she actually uses this line of reasoning to justify her actions.

    I think you or musteryou would have some insights into why people do this. They’re obviously resisting change, but why?

    I think there’s a similar dynamic going on when republicans are ridiculed in media/pop culture. The more you criticized Sarah Palin for doing dumb things, the more she doubled down on those very positions.

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    1. “I don’t think this phenomenon is exclusive to students.”

      – Oh, you are absolutely right. I just spend so much time on my summer course that students are the easiest to observe.

      “I think you or musteryou would have some insights into why people do this. They’re obviously resisting change, but why?”

      – It’s convenient, easy, requires no effort. The problem is that the whole “Love yourself the way you are” approach gives ample justification to this way of being. As you illustrate perfectly with what your relative says.

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    2. Well I have been recently discoursing with an insane American Nazi. When I told him that in the old Rhodesian schooling system, somebody who complained about the teaching would have been personally subjected to a barrage of criticism that would have chilled the air, he seemed to take this factual comment as a sign that I had malicious intent.

      It seems people don’t like to be told that other people do things differently. They take historical facts personally.

      It is a fact, though, that if someone had stood up in a class and said, “Miss, I think you are teaching us incorrectly!”, the response would have been something like:

      “Oh, I see Suzie has some big ideas. Would you like to take over the class, Suzie? Since your grammar is so poor and you don’t know how to give us even the modicum of your attention, I am sure we are all waiting to hear from you! Does anyone else here want to replace my teaching with Suzie’s? Remember, you have public exams to do at the end of the year.”

      Well, then there would have been complete quiet and nobody would have said anything for a while.

      Historical fact.

      It’s not that this kind of teaching existed to affront Americans. It happened as part of reality.

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      1. And I might add something about the context of this story; why I brought it up. It has to do with the consumerist mentality and anonymous trolls who assert, “Unless you say something more to my liking I will withdraw my support for you.”

        Anonymous. trolls.

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  5. The concept of a self-made American has been substituted by the idea of a God-given one.(Clarissa)

    I dont think its true for all Americans, afterall are you not now an American or at least working towards it? 🙂

    @Stringer

    I dont think republicans hold a monopoly on that kind of behaviour, Im sure if you were willing to look you would see a few Dems holding their own. For that matter, we could add a few Libertarians too. 😉

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    1. “are you not now an American or at least working towards it? ”

      – I don’t even know what it means to work towards something like that. 🙂 🙂 We all know how I feel about passports and all that kind of crap.

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  6. I was never particularly self-conscious, although I went through a stage where I was relatively so, because somehow I had internalized an idea that I had to convince others of my propensities in order to succeed. My attempt to enter that way of thinking that I identified as “the new, modern culture”, didn’t work out. To be perfect naturally was never something I could conceptualize. It required two steps. The first was to try to conjure up the difference between perfection and imperfection according to an alien culture’s ideology. The second was to try to wedge myself in to the definition of one side of these aspects, whilst not stepping into the other side.

    It proved to be too much hard work. I couldn’t unmake myself and remake myself into the mold of somebody who thought this way, to start with.

    My thinking is conditioned by African experiences and maybe this makes me imperfect, but people seem to like me in many spheres. In others they have a strong adverse reaction. Such is life.

    Yesterday I did wrestling practice with three young men, and seemed to tire them out, although I couldn’t get any of them to tap out (admit defeat). They got me numerous times, including around the throat, which was unpleasant.

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