Underachieving or Refusing to Play the Game?

I agree 100% with the article “Gifted Underachievers: Underachieving or Refusing To Play the Game?” I recently had a student tell me that he was not motivated to do anything about his D in a class because, even though he could get a better grade, that would send a message to the teacher that he cared about the class. He had no interest in the required class, and felt that the teacher wasn’t effective at teaching the subject. This student was making a clear statement about how he felt, even though it meant sabotaging himself. It often takes more integrity to let go of the system, than to suck it up and move forward with something a student finds irrelevant, uninteresting, with no meaning. Giving up is something that IS under their control.

When we label a student as an underachiever, the message we are sending is that they are lazy and unmotivated. Often, these same students are very motivated and passionate about something, often unrelated to school. They may be interested in areas that are quite different from what they are getting in school (making musical instruments, synchronized swimming, designing skis, composing music, coding, gaming, etc.) These students are spending great amounts of time and energy engaged in their personal areas of interest… their passion. Jim Delisle prefers to describe these children as “selective consumers”.

We are all about trying to help students find their passions, but if they happen to settle on an area that is not school-specific, are we as supportive? If their areas of interest happen to not be what school values as “highly credible,” or college-significant, those interests are often discounted and regarded as less worthy. I’ve talked to the parents of students who are gifted in music or in art, who are actively trying to discourage their children from pursuing these areas, and trying to get them to shift their energy to math and science classes. This sends a clear message to their child that their natural passions and interests are not valued.

I’m not sure what the answer is. There’s no doubt that school has value on many levels, both academic and social. I do think there needs to be more choice in school, with more meaningful applications of the material learned. For many students, school is just something to endure, and there is no joy of learning involved. If less time were spent on homework and testing, there would be more time for students to spend on things they do love. Instead, many go from enduring the school day, to being bogged down by homework every evening, taking up any free time they may have spent doing something they actually enjoyed. I feel that students must have time to develop their talents and interests beyond school. Doing things we love gives us the energy to do all the other stuff we need to get through.

I highly recommend reading Celi Trépanier’s blog Crushing Tall Poppies.

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