What I Can’t Tolerate In A Student

My boss at School of the Ozarks is a big Lonesome Dove fan, so despite my admittedly poor knowledge of westerns, I have a good many lines of this movie memorized on account of their frequent usage around school. One of my favorites is a line by Woodrow Call after a particularly violent scene leaves some beat-up bad guys and a crowd of stunned villagers. In defense of his actions he simply says, ““I hate rude behavior in a man. I won’t tolerate it.” As we near the end of the fall semester and everyone gets a little bit edgier and less patient (please tell me it’s not just me!), I was contemplating what it is that I simply cannot tolerate in a student. I think I would say, “I hate apathy in a student. I won’t tolerate it.”

When it comes to education, I am able to work with students of a variety of academic abilities. Some have once in a lifetime intellects, and others are questioning if they have what it takes to meet the rigor of our academic environments. Regardless of a student’s intellectual capacity, however, the student can succeed if he or she will simply refuse to be apathetic about learning. I wrote earlier this year about virtuous and sinful learners, and I keep coming back to this idea in my mind. The student who is apathetic is, to put it simply, a sinful learner. They are taking the gift of the mind that God has given them and failing to honor and glorify God for and with this gift. This apathy manifests itself in numerous ways—boredom, laziness, restlessness, lack of focus, etc.—but I am convinced it is rooted in sin. More specifically, it is rooted in pride. Whether a student claims to be bored because school is too easy, or is lazy because it is too much work, or is restless because it requires too much discipline, or is unfocused because it requires too much attention, these excuses all originate from self-focused pride.

But this sinful apathy comes in more subtle forms as well. First, this apathy is apparent in the following behaviors that often go unnoticed. The question, “Is this going to be on the test?” and the lack of interest that follows if the answer is no. Or the student who throws away notes, burns them privately or publicly, or tears them up into little pieces and litters them on the floor after an exam, thinking that the only purpose for those notes is now complete. Second, apathy is more subtly present when students seek shortcuts to the “answer.” They want a classmate or the teacher to answer the question for them without doing the hard work of mining the text or engaging in the class discussion. Instead of seeking the answer in a book, they are content simply to go on not knowing if it requires any effort beyond the teacher telling them the answer.

These behaviors were commonplace amongst many of the students with whom I attended high school and college. On occasion, thankfully to a much smaller degree and in much less frequent intervals, I see these habits creep into some of my students. And when they do, my message is simple: “I hate apathy in a student. I won’t tolerate it.”

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