I know of people, and students where they believe that doing nothing is better than the punishment of trying. Success is perceived as something that “others” are privileged and can experience – but it is not for them. When they try at something, it is done with the idea that failure will be common, and success is a rare and unusual thing in their lives. Success is because they got “lucky,” through no effort of their own. It is a defeatist attitude – where one feels they a person is either born/gifted with ability, with resources, and with hope, and they are not. The willpower is gone, and it becomes a condition of learned helplessness. In other words, this notion that no matter what they do, they are not in control of the outcome, so therefore, it is not worth trying, because the outcome remains the same.
I would argue that this attitude has been taught to us by our schools. We are made to sit passively at a desk and taught to, with no say in the lesson plans. We become a cog in a large administrative and political machine that runs no matter whether we are there or not. In fact, if we resist, if we speak out if only to say “I am here, and I matter!” the machine breaks us into submission under the justifications of disciplinary action. It damages at the level of the soul. Last night in class, someone mentioned that we are placed in a society of self-hate.
When our souls are broken, how do we heal? As teachers, how do we heal the defeatist? I reflect on this often, because I’ve had many students in both high school and even at the career college who come to me wounded. I tell them, “If you want it badly enough, the only thing that stops you is your will power.” However, that’s the crux of the problem I think. When that will power has been eroded away from you in this process of schooling, in a society that deliberately makes you feel incomplete, what can you do as a teacher? How do you say, “YOU ARE WHOLE, YOU ARE WONDERFUL!” and have people simply…believe it?
I was talking to a friend of mine, who is failing their classes. They explained to me that college wasn’t for them. They weren’t “feeling it,” and it’s just not something they want to do. This person is one of the smartest people I know, and yet, they have the defeatist attitude: I tried, I fail. I will stop trying because I can’t afford to waste the energy and money, when I will simply end up failing again.
Our conversation ended with me saying, “I wish I could show you what I see in you. You are beautiful, intelligent, and our society NEEDS more people, more unique and brilliant thinkers like you. I can write an essay about all the reasons why you can succeed and have the talent and ability to surpass your classes. Although I believe this fully, if you don’t believe it yourself, I cannot do this for you, even though it is my greatest wish that I could. I love you, but only you can self-love, only you can self-believe.” It was a very sad conversation for me, because in this sense, I felt very helpless. Only we can light the inner fire in ourselves, and no one else can do this for us.
When I teach, my heart says, “I love you. I will love you and be your strength until you are ready and can love yourself.” Self-love is a far more difficult thing to teach than standards. Maybe that is why our system has never tried.