Tuesday, May 01, 2007


Classroom Realities Left Behind will be posted on Tuesdays. I've lined up a number of colleagues, former students, and bloggers to submit contributions. Enjoy!
I can’t do this work; I’m far too busy.”

“I can’t read this book. I just don’t have the time. Or the interest.”

“I can’t complete the homework assignment because it’s difficult. It was a lot. A lot of work. And my parents agree.”

“I can’t make the detention because I have a job, practice, and I HAVE TO RE-CHARGE my I-Pod.”

“I can’t own my behavior because YOU CAN’T make me.”

“I can’t pick up the bottle and wrapper on the floor because I can’t pick up my mess.”

“I can’t bring a pencil and materials to class…because I just…CAN’T”

“I can’t complete all the work on the syllabus because isn’t the college experience about independence; can’t I say ‘I can’t’ and mean it?”

Dear reader, welcome to the “I can’t” generation. This is their battle cry: “I can’t.” And while this mantra certainly doesn’t define this entire generation of high school and college-level students (I know plenty who don’t and won’t ascribe to it), it CAN define a vast majority of it.

As I reflect upon my ten years of teaching high school and undergraduate courses, I now wonder how and when “I can’t” took over. Is it part of the Bush zeitgeist of “you must be with us because you CAN’T be against us?” Is it due to a pervading sense of absolutism—yes or no, and nothing in-between? Is it because this generation’s parents dislike “harmful,” non-Oprah (I do love her) words like no, never, and not? Is it because the education system, of which I’m a part, has become hostage to the unilateral ideology that no matter what, we CAN’T hurt their already, alleged low self-esteems? Is it because should you challenge the “I can’t” battle cry in front of your colleagues you may be faced with: “How can you say that sptmck (that’s me)? I thought you were a liberal?”

Fumbling towards a more conscious state of mind as an educator, colleague, and parent who’s very concerned about the future education of all, including my two little ones, I CAN’T help wonder: CAN we leave the “I can’t” doctrine behind?


Anonymous said...

Two words from me...
Amen brother!

Femme Fatale

atm said...

The "I Can't" mantra seems to be all about handouts. Everyone wants something for nothing. If you have standards and really want your students to learn and think, you are looked upon as the "hardass."

I can distinctly recall being told by various authority figures as a child/teen that "can't is not in the vocabulary." Say the same things to kids today, they look at you funny and do not seem to have any passion to simply agree with that and move on with a problem full speed ahead. They get off the train and sulk, hoping for a free ticket to ride.

My hypothesis is that this is a learned behavior that many students have had success with in other realms of life; therefore, they apply the "can't" battle cry to academics. Sadly, many graduate without outgrowing the "can't" philosophy. Then, the juvenile that "can't" becomes an adult that simply "won't."

Anonymous said...

simply put, no