Being Bad or Good at School Does Not Define Intellect

I recently watched this video (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CWSZxZK6v_c) by one of my longtime favorite authors, John Green. What is astounding about this video confession, is that it perfectly sums up a lot of how I feel about the educational process in general, and about the struggles many people face when experiencing high school or college. In this video he mentions making a C- in his high school English class. Although passing, a C- in English is not a grade that I would normally attribute to an undergraduate English major, nor a bestselling author. This is not a grade that I would have expected from someone whose writing style I aspire to someday be equivalent to. This predicament speaks volumes to the struggles of many other high school and even college students in English and other reading-intensive classes. The overall message that I gathered from this video is that even if a student performs poorly for whatever reason, that person is not a lost cause. If for some reason a student is not even bothering with their school work, they should not be automatically be labeled as lazy or incompetent. Although many students struggle with “making the grade” due to lack of trying, or because they are a “poor reader”, does not mean that they should be given up on.

On that note, I find that one of the biggest problems in at least public schools that I have experienced, is that teachers and parents often make students feel as if they are a lost cause. If a student is not performing well, instead of trying to sort out a reason to why this is occurring, the student is thought to be lazy or incapable of achieving to the capacity of their peers. In high school for me, if a student so much as used their cell phone in class, they were given out of school suspension. Although I understand that, yes, cell phones are distracting, there should have been better ways to deal with the problem of abundant cell phone use than sending a student home. Teachers have so much potential to teach and inspire students through their both course material and overarching life lessons, but many of these opportunities are wasted in turning the school into a system of discipline and standardized testing.

One of the biggest problems in low socioeconomic schools is not that the students are incapable of learning, but that the students have not been provided with as strong of a foundation on basic concepts. As soon as a student of any background reaches a certain age, as early as 11 or 12, they often categorize themselves or allow themselves to be categorized into either a low achieving, average, or high achieving subset. These categorizations are then carried with them throughout middle school and high school, although as an individual they may want to achieve more or have someone believe that they have the potential to achieve more. Not all teachers treat students differently based off of these subsets, but so many do that it creates a stigma and a performance rut of which the same students fall into year after year. Like in the video mentioned earlier, college gives some of these students an opportunity to start fresh and perform better than they did in all of grade school. Gaining a fresh start either away from home or in a college environment can make a world of difference in a student’s attitude about themselves, their performance ability, and how they want others to see them. Not everyone is lucky enough to go to college however, for a variety of reasons. Many students do not even consider college as an option, because of how they perceive themselves and how they feel that teachers and peers perceive them.

More teachers should take care to help students out of “performance ruts”, and find ways to help even the lowest performing student succeed rather than giving up on them after multiple signs of failure. Failure is not always for lack of trying, just as poor reading comprehension is not always for lack of ability. If more teachers showed support for students, or had as much time to dedicate to individual performance as to creating testing materials, students would perform better and be better off psychologically as well.

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6 Responses to Being Bad or Good at School Does Not Define Intellect

  1. gabbylap says:

    I completely agree with your assertion that being a good student does not directly translate into intelligence. Society is so consumed with the notion that those who receive the most “A” grades are the students who will perform better in life and excel in college. However, no one seems to take into account the plethora of externalities that continually impact students across the country. Like you, I believe that many students walk into the halls at school with a heavy burden of living up to societal expectations, whether good or bad. Children shouldn’t have to experience the brutality and inequity of the world around us. No child should be pegged as a guaranteed failure, regardless of circumstances. Although tracking holds its “value” in education, it solidifies the stereotypes and low expectations of certain students. Thankfully, we’ve veered away from vocational tracking, however labeling a child as “level two” or “low-performing” will have lasting impacts. The detriments go beyond high school and into their lifetime.

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  2. clr21 says:

    How cool of John Green to share his personal story and what an inspiration to others who are struggling in school! Thanks for sharing this angle that often gets overlooked. It is definitely true that when students start falling behind, people are quick to put blame on other areas than the truth.

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  3. Casper Rhay says:

    This is a pretty compelling post! I think that what you’re getting at is building student’s sense of self-efficacy in whatever subject they may be doing poorly at (using grades as a measure of performance). The goal would be for teachers to work with students to help them want to succeed and show them of their progress.

    However, I genuinely believe that it’s rather difficult to make people care about something, anything really — especially when they feel as though their bad at it. I guess I’m defending teachers a bit — some students really are genuinely happy doing enough just to get by. That’s just life sometimes. I think a lot of helping a student perform well is making the subject relevant, having personal passion for what you’re teaching, and then scaffolding tasks with increasing difficulty.

    Enjoyed the post!

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    • jmroney says:

      Thank you, I appreciate your comment! I sometimes get so caught up in my own passion for education and learning that I forget that many students do not share the same enthusiasm. My best teachers have all had the personal passion for what they were teaching, and it definitely made the most difference on my own education versus that of less-passionate teachers. Thanks again!

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