Youth aren’t stupid
Category : Blog
When a Grade 10 or 11 student does badly in any of numerous high school subjects, a whole bunch of conclusions are possible, mostly of the unflattering kind: ‘he doesn’t care’, ‘he’s not suited to Science’, ‘he’s sloppy’, ‘he isn’t focused’, ‘he’ll never make it’ and so on. And many may be not far wrong. But the conclusion that is most commonly misleading is ‘he’s stupid’.
The answers given in tests might suggest that he or she doesn’t understand or know much, but it is a long dotted line between talent and result. It’s just too easy to write off high school students as cognitively deficient, not forgetting the numerous different ways that intelligence shows up in people. School mostly just caters for cognitive ability, and even that isn’t well catered for. Not because teachers don’t know what to teach or how to teach it, in the purely instructional sense. But because for so many teenage learners the conditions under which they must show their ability are so difficult.
A few fundamentals have to be in place, if Thando or Mark or whoever are going to do themselves credit on paper, in the classroom:
- Youth, like all humans, need to feel loved – without love, they will love little or nothing they are asked to do, and when they don’t love what they do, the results sink accordingly.
- Youth need to feel like they belong – at home first, at school second.
- The heart drives the brain – happy youth work well, unhappy ones don’t.
When youth don’t feel loved, they often don’t care if they are clever or stupid. In fact, the lack of love often leaves them feeling so angry and betrayed – not that they show it very often – that they find some bitter comfort in the sludge of under-achievement: it confirms how they see or feel about themselves. When love – in its various forms – filters into their lives, so does meaning and motivation. And gradually a long lost sense of self returns, and with it a desire and ability to engage with knowledge. When this process unfolds, the stupid feeling gradually wears off, looking just like the superficial label that it always was.
A lack of belonging is like a poor foundation on which no amount of knowledge or tuition will stand firm. Not having a home, not feeling at home anywhere, not feeling attached to anything makes a young person feel lonely, disconnected, their soul wandering aimlessly, their eyes looking at books but not really seeing, their eyes vacantly looking out of the window, listless, alien. In this state of mind and heart, much of the potential of school slips off, because school looks stupid – expensively irrelevant, boring and not useful for soothing a broken heart. A sense of belonging – to a team, a family, a cause, gives youth solidity, certainty, faith, a sense that they fit inside their own skin, fit into a grand scheme, they can identify with something, something that they can see bits of themselves in.
Sadly, all too often, home is no more than four walls, the family just a group of people inside that live in parallel worlds at best, school just a bunch of mostly soulless books unpacked by educators that don’t feel the need or desire to connect with their pupils – often because they carry similar hurts and dysfunction as the pupils.
Stupidity is the system that puts cognition before affection, that judges youth by their cover, that puts youth into boxes and then finds lots of reasons to justify the prejudice. Smart is the youth that sees the game that is called school, sees and refuses the hoop-jumping, that refuses to engage the brain and grow intellectually while other parts of them are so neglected, that instinctively sees academic knowledge as a ruse, a small cognitive comfort, a way of teasing us away from what our heart deep down desires.