Apathy and the American Teenager


Apathy, the absence (or sometimes suppression) of emotion, passion, or excitement.

Teenagers are an interesting breed. They are drama; raging, fiery balls of hormones. They’re up one minute, down the next. Whoever said that menopause was the most hormonal period of a woman’s life has never been fully acquainted with the mood swings of a teenage girl. Yet, in all of this drama, emotion, and excitement lies a walking contradiction. Though there are exceptions, I have noticed a trend toward the apathetic in my classes.

I work hard to make my lessons interesting, engaging, and fun for my students. It’s a lot of extra work, but it is so much more appealing (to me, anyway) to do something creative and from an interesting point of view than to regurgitate information from a book. Not to mention that when a student engages with the text and has to do something that interacts with the material, they learn more by default. But lately, my students are ASKING for book work! This tells me that there is a fundamental issue here. Why would you want something to be boring? The answer, it seems to me, is that students don’t care. They would rather not be bothered to make the effort.

But this problem goes deeper than that.

Not only do students not care about doing something interesting to engage with the text, they are used to having everything done for them. While speaking with some colleagues about this problem the other day, the matter of concerted cultivation came up. Concerted cultivation can be described as the act on the part of parents of involving their children in so many extra-curricular activities that all other parts of life are overshadowed by these things. For instance, soccer leagues, baseball leagues, figure skating, etc. While extra-curricular activities are important, there needs to be balance in the life of a child. As a teacher, I often hear from parents that students are unable to do their homework because they have some sort of activity after school. Since when did these activities become more important than a child’s education?

I believe that another issue leading to the apathy in American schools is that of discipline. Students come to school with little of it. Parents expect that school is the place where their children should be taught not only how to read, write, and do math, but also where we should teach morality. My question is, what exactly is the parent’s job in this figure?

Now, I’m not a perfect parent. I’m not even close. But I also recognize that it is my job to make sure my children know right from wrong, know how to respect the people around them, and understand that what they do as children can affect the entire rest of their lives. For some reason, though, this is not getting through to kids the way it used to. They have had everything handed to them, have never really had to want for anything, and now want their education handed to them as well.

This is not a blanket statement about every teenager. There are some still engaged, still wanting to learn. But this is an observation I have made about the teenage population at large, and I am not alone in it. There is so much more I could say, but I don’t want to write a pages-long diatribe about the dire state of America’s youth.

What are your thoughts?


4 responses »

  1. One of the factors in my decision to retire was the apathy of the many of the students. It really got to me by the end of my career. Education does not appear to be a priority in many homes and that takes its toll on student attitudes. It’s sad. I’m sure it’s worse now. Many of them don’t want to work any harder than they have to–either mentally or physically. And sadly, it’s not uncommon to see it in kids from homes that do value education. I wish I knew the answer.


    • Mary, I remember your class in middle school well. In fact, I remember a lot of my classes well. And what stands out to me is not only that I was actively engaged, but that there were high standards expected of me as a student, both at school and at home. Those standards have been relaxed. At home, kids are not expected to toe the line the way even I did as a child. At school, we change policies and dumb down our education to alter percentages and test scores. NCLB helped to enable this problem, and it is a very dire one. We spend so much time trying to gain the test scores the federal government says our students should be able to attain that the nuts and bolts of education is going by the wayside. There are so many factors that contribute to this widespread epidemic. It both saddens and scares me as an educator. How do I combat this? How can I get my students to buy in when they don’t have to anywhere else in their education? I wish I had more answers, but I’m terribly afraid this is a losing battle.

  2. I’m not a part of the education system, but I think we can boil down the problems to a few points.
    Parents who do not enforce discipline at home, how can the education system enforce rules and instill the priority for learning if the child does not have consequences for their actions and does not care about getting in trouble at school?
    The micromanaging of government and testing programs have removed the responsibilities from teachers (the person in the classroom providing the education). Programs should be geared for training and supporting teachers to be the expert in education and cater the education for their group of students. We cannot apply one standard system to all students in the US.
    Our cultural has become more indulgent to childhood desires at the suffering of education and training for the future responsibilities (maybe because capitalism prioritizes activities that turn an immediate profit over long-term development?). How much time is spent on social networking and how many activities are kids involved with these days? Some benefits come from these activities and they have a place, but children are not mature enough to recognize the limitations of solely indulging in these instant gratification activities. The number of distractions is endless and some parents are not enforcing a balanced lifestyle for their children.

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