Why are some students in America apathetic about learning?
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There are many reasons for student apathy. Students struggle with apathy for various reasons.
For some students, there are other things that are much more important than school, such as sports in or out of school; a boyfriend or girlfriend; playing music, as with a band; watching TV; hanging out with friends; and, spending hours on the computer or cell phone, etc.
For some students, life at home is so difficult that school can hardly compete. If a parent is in jail, parents are divorcing, someone is seriously ill, a parent has died, there is alcoholism, and/or drug or physical abuse, for instance, it is very difficult to care about school. Students with emotional or mental disabilities may not be able to function in the classroom, and if they simply come to school and just don't work, educators and parents may not be aware that there is a problem unless the student shows signs or reaches out for help.
Some students have learning disabilities. Students with these kinds of obstacles are not always identified. Sometimes their parents don't want them identified, or students are good at hiding their difficulties, and where it seems that they are apathetic, they are really just trying to stay afloat in the educational system, with little assistance other than what they can get from the teacher. Some students will not ask for help. If it is offered after school, many students will not stay. Students will difficulties may not wish to let anyone know that learning does not come easily.
Other students are lazy. There are kids that never think grades are important, and only want to graduate. Some may realize almost too late that colleges look closely at grades, especially during eleventh and twelfth grades, and so may only become actively interested in report cards in the higher grades. Other students may not be good at "book" learning, but may be hands-on learners; in this case, the traditional classroom does not meet their needs.
Still other students may have problems with learning because personal issues get in the way: poor self-esteem, alcohol or drug use, the pregnancy of self—or of a guy's girlfriend. Some students work. They may feel they need the money more than education to pay for a car, insurance, and/or spending money. Others may need to help out at home financially.
There are students who are only apathetic in certain classes. A student who always fails math may just give up. Some students don't connect with a specific teacher and refuse to work in the class. There are other students who are bored either because they don't care about the material being covered or because they are in a class level that is too low and does not challenge them. (Or perhaps the class level is too high, and they just can't keep up.)
There are those students who are apathetic. There are others who may appear apathetic because of some extenuating circumstance.
I have been teaching for 29 years in the NYC school system. I think students have always been apathetic to some extent however, the past five years or so, it has gotten worse. I think part of the reason for this is that in some countries, education is not free and the parents have a financial stake in how the student performs. Here, there is apathy because education is free and available. Another reason is that some students are very deficient in the basics of reading and math and apathy is a defense mechanism for how inadequate they are feeling at the high school level. Another problem is that kids today want instant gratification which they get on t.v., video games and their computers and they might not want to do the hard work to solve a problem in your class.
The one thing I have seen in my little rural district is that many students are apathetic because they do not believe that education can get them anywhere. Everyone they know who is "like them" drives a truck or works in a potato packing shed. Their horizons do not extend to the possibility of going to college. Therefore, they don't really see any purpose in becoming educated. They know what sort of work they'll be doing and they know that the stuff we're teaching them has nothing to do with that work.
I agree with Post 3 that apathy seems to be getting worse at my school, but the problem is that apathy is not confined to my students. I've witnessed my coworkers and administrators become more apathetic over the past 7 years. From my point of view, here are some of the reasons:
1. Laziness is on the rise in America. We have so much technology and non-thought-provoking entertainment that for many of my students having to do anything that requires a decent amount of time or learning a new skill is distasteful. When teaching my students research techniques, I hear more and more comments each year about how hard it is or how someone can't do it.
2. Lack of personal responsibility is prevalent. Students rarely admit that they simply did not do an assignment and even if they do admit to their apathy, they don't understand why there should be a consequence for not completing a task. Similarly, their parents make excuses for them and then tell me when I call about problems in class that they "don't know what to do with" their child. They do not want to be held accountable for their lack of parenting, and that attitude trickles down to their children not wanting to be held accountable for anything.
3. This year, in part because of the economy, some of my students' apathy has stemmed from problems at home. Issues such as losing their home, parents getting divorced because of financial problems, or working too many hours to try to help support their parents and/or their families sometimes force a students to give up caring about whether he is going to pass his Great Gatsby test. However, I will say that most of my students who come from indescribably troubled backgrounds are usually the ones who long to come to school to escape their homes and to ensure that their lives do not turn out like their parents'.
I often think the bulk of student apathy comes from a lack of healthy relationships in that student's life. Obviously many students lack healthy relationships with parents, which ties into their attitudes at school and elsewhere. But looking at apathy from another angle, in my experience, I've had many students in my class who came with "apathetic repuations" and many of them took an interest in my class. I think one of the keys to overcoming student apathy is to build relationships with students, and then to help them build other connections to school outside of class.
It sounds a little bit silly to admit this, but when students like their teachers, they usually attempt to succeed in class. And I do not believe it is only the crazy, funny, or even "easy" teachers who are the most well-liked... it is the teachers who are the most connected to students on a level which students trust and understand.
The loss of subjects such as music, choir, art, and drama in which many low socio-economic income students find some personal expression has certainly contributed to their disinterest in school as well as the culture of passivity and entertainment. Then, there is the weakness of parents who do not teach children responsibility or instill any work ethic.
I completely agree with all of the previous postings. I have found that many of my students are apathetic about education. (Well, not even just education, EVERYTHING.) I also work in a small rural district. I have found that many students are fine with the sub-par. My favorite quote, "Did I at least pass?" I hate this, I let them know it, and I challenge them to challenge themselves. Our tardies skyrocketed at the end of the year. When confronting students in the halls (I have first period plan), they shrug and roll their eyes when I ask them about their lateness for, yet again, another day. I have, to my horror, heard them denounce their own school- the sports, the moral, the education. I must tell you, our district has very dedicated teachers who want more than anything to raise our students' awareness about the importance of education.
So, how do we changes this? The students we have are our future. And as much as this makes some of you shudder with fright, I want them to understand that education and pride in self is so important.
I agree that when students like the teacher that they are more apt to try to succeed. Problem is, not enough students like their teachers; this is a sad thought and unfortunate truth.
My experience is that the instant gratification that comes as a result of too much gaming and playing around is the first problem with our students. That, and the tendency that society is developing of "over-rewarding" students who have not done as much as they can. However, my experience also shows that apathy to study can be very well-reversed with the intervention of a good educator that can motivate the students, keep the lessons relevant, include the student's prior knowledge, and aim for student success.
In other words, students do not motivate or de-motivate themselves simply because they do not have to. It is our job, however, as professional educators to get the students within their developmentally appropriate areas of prime learning and infuse within them a curiosity that would make them inquire further and become less apathetic about studying and researching.
When you compare a classroom to the media-saturated world in which these students grow up it is no wonder that they fail to see the significance or desire to learn in our antiquated education system. We as educators must find whatever resources we can to trigger some type of interest through media, technology, real world application, and other things to attract interest in our subject matter. This is difficult when many classrooms are full of teachers cramming students full of facts so that they may pass some ridiculous test which doesn't exactly measure a students progress. Teachers need to learn to use modern technology in the classroom to spark intrigue. We must share ideas, stories, pictures with each other and our students. We must use wikis, blogs, web pages, distance-learning, video-conferencing to gain their attention.
Every child wants to learn. However, every child is not interested in the same topics. Some students appear to be apathetic about learning because they are not accustomed to feeling successful in their educational pursuits. Teachers should try to create an environment where every child may have a chance to see their own personal growth. Many teachers have their students complete a Student Interest Survey. This is a set of questions that allows the student to share their interest with the teacher on various topics: hobbies and extra-curricular activities. Also, the survey should ask students about their former teacher and the grade that they received. Then, have the students discuss some of their answers in groups. Make sure you review their surveys. It will help you understand your students' interests, talents, and abilities. Once students know that a teacher cares, they will try to impress you.
Then, there are some students who are only interested in learning for the purpose of a grade. This can be used by a teacher to motivate them to love their subject. There are some students who are motivated to learn so that they can participate in sports. Then there are some students will learn the material because they want to please their parents. A teacher can use this extrinsic motivation to create intrinsic motivation.
In summation, many students are working and or dealing with economic concerns at home. At the moment, their priority is satisfying their basic needs which may be shelter and food. Some students may consider the education system to be a hindrance. However, every day I demonstrate to my students how Literature/Reading applies to their lives. If a student sees the personal, educational, and or economic value in each lesson and objective, perhaps the teacher will begin to see an intrinsic desire to learn.
If this is really true on a wide scale it truly is a shame. As post 11 said: "I believe that apathy is directly proportionate to hope" I would add that the aspirations of young people are based on what they see in society. The aspirational figures are celebrities - sportsmen, pop stars etc. that do not emphasise the worth of education but of the "American dream" which can only really apply to the lucky few. And yet the media promotes major sporting events and entertainment shows like the X Factor so that the kids can only see these routes to success and happiness. The arts and wall art pioneers for example do not get the recognition or often the financial rewards they deserve.
I strongly believe it is little encouragment going on at home and even in the classroom. At home it's some unloving parents telling their children that they won't be anything, also they have that sense that if their parents don't care then why should they care. But, in the classroom because some teachers students are showing little care about what their saying, the teachers also tell them that they won't make it. In some cases some kids don't see how hard it is in the world without a formal education, because they think that their parents have the means to take care of them all their lifes.
My friends and I have had this debate when we were in high school and in college and somehow we came to the reasons that the education system in the United States is lacking. We have teachers, of course, but a lot of teachers are inadequate in that they barely know what they are talking about or teaching. Other teachers don't take into account the level of knowledge that some students have and opt to teach the higher level kids without paying attention to the other kids at a lower level. There is no in-between. If a student simply does not know or does not want to try, the teacher no longer feels obligated to teach those students and we are left with students who are on top and students who feel inadequate when they graduate. Thus, this has led us to become one of the worst education systems in the world, rather than compete with leading education systems such as Finland and South Korea.
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