Debate Magazine

Teenagers Are Lazy, Sullen, Disaffected, and Disrespectful

By Stevemiranda

Teenagers are lazy, sullen, disaffected, and disrespectful

I’m typically not the first person the jump on any new technology. For example, I got my first cell phone about two years ago. It was a hand-me-down from wife, who originally bought it in 2003. I’ve sent fewer than a dozen text messages in my entire life.

So when an instant message screen popped up on my Mac displaying a message that read, “Lucas eats poop,” I had no idea what was going on. This happened several times, and was especially embarrassing when, while teaching in a tradition classroom, I had the Mac hooked up to a projector. I would be guiding students through a lesson plan and behind me an offensive message would pop up on the screen.

That’s when I learned what “Bluetooth” was.

A couple students had figured out how to send text messages to my computer using their cell phone, and used this knowledge to humiliate their friends.

It’s very hard to teach in that kind of environment.

* * *

The prevailing narrative about teenagers is that they’re lazy, sullen, disaffected, and disrespectful. Stories like the one above only add color to this portrait. But since leaving the traditional classroom and coming to a school with a different culture, I’ve learned that this behavior does not represent any inherent pathology of being a teenager. This kind of behavior is a predictable response to one’s environment.

When you’re constantly being told to spend time doing work that feels meaningless to you, saying no to that work—what some call being “lazy”— is a completely rational response. When you’re constantly being told where to go, where to sit, when to talk, and when to use the bathroom, ignoring the teacher and pulling a silly prank—what some, including me, call “disrespectful”—is a rational response.

We don’t need to alter the hormonal balance of teenagers or enforce a get-tough attitude to create classrooms that nurture curiosity and reverence for learning. We simply need to create learning environments that are based on mutual respect and in which students have autonomy.

I’m not hypothesizing here. I’m not suggesting a theoretical vision for how an experimental school might work some day in the future. This is how PSCS works every day. It’s not magic, and it’s not mystery. It’s what happens when you put into practice the most robust findings of behavioral scientists over the past 40 years.


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