In American educational institutions, students that do well have a connection between their self-worth and academic achievement. In other words, successful students actually care if they do good or bad in school. Now there are a few students who make it by who do not base their self worth on their academic achievement but they are often students that teachers talk about as “not living up to their potential.”
As it has been and continues to be in America, race continues to play a significant factor if we look at who graduates from high school and makes it to college and eventually through to earn a college degree, thus impacting income and familial opportunities. A family with at least 3 college going generations has a clear advantage over the person who is the first in their family to go to college as well thus socio-economic issues, intertwined with race definitely impact a child’s academic situation. The basic knowledge of where the financial aide office is located, the deadlines to apply, are within the knowledge base for a 3+ generation family vs. the new kid on campus. In America’s history many people have been denied the opportunity to attend college due to race, class, gender, and finance. Today, while many of the barriers of discrimination via race are gone and class are gone, the other challenges that resulted from years of institutionalized exclusion still remain—especially in regards to finance. Worst yet, tuition rises each year, especially at state run schools. Where I work over 70k students applied and only about 4000 were admitted.
For a young person who lives near a state school, who earned a 3.0 grade point average or better (out of a 4.0 scale), is the first in the family to go to college, scored a low to mediocre score on the SAT—that student may be denied college entrance. In one instance it may be because there was a student who went a high school where they could earn a 3.0 GPA (out of a 5.0 scale) and score a mediocre to high score on the SAT after taking a class that their 3+ generation college parent paid for – thus they beat out the first generation college student. In the other instance, college may be denied because the1st generation or 2nd generation college student’s family income did not keep up with the tuition hikes. What is a student to do? How do they justify this denial in their mind? They may say, “I know I am a good student! My self-worth is not going to fall because this school denied me or my financial situation is denying me. This will not get me down.” The successful 1st generation student in this situation will regroup and apply to another institution, take the SAT again, and move on. The unsuccessful student may say, “Well, college is not for me any how.” True, college may not be for everybody but there should be a lot more folk able to attend--especially Black, Latino, Native American, and Samoan students.
If this type of denial has happened to generations of families, then after a while the students of these families have to find self worth in other venues. The family may still value education but not at the cost of their familial and communal pride. When I worked at a high school in Long Beach, I got to know may Black students who did not want to take the SAT, which would simply have measured them by a snapshot of their skill set in just one test. As a university professor I have encountered this same phenomena with Black folk who I know were smarter, more qualified than me but did not want to take the Graduate Record Exam and chose to attend a more expensive lesser known graduate school for their masters or doctorate degrees, rather than take a $150 test or $1000 class, that could have save them thousands of dollars in tuition. They did not want to chance their self worth. Why would grown people and their children not want to risk it? The answer, again, after generations of denial by academic institutions; their self worth, acceptance, and validation is found in other places like church, community organizations, business etc. No test is going to rate them.
Now I bring up examples of Black life, because that is my lens to the world and I acknowledge that but for all parents, especially those who are the first in their family to go to college, know that it is ok to tie your child’s self worth to their academic achievement. However, do so with a clear purpose. Many, “so-called minorities” in America have attained education and political power for the purpose of helping their family and others in their community. Along the way that community extended itself to other like minded folk they went to class while in college. I teach and have gone to school with Latina women who’s parents did not understand why their daughters wanted to keep going to school to earn a masters or doctorate. Again, in this situation the self worth is not tied to academic achievement. For many of my Latina colleagues their families were concerned about their eligibility for marriage as a measure of self worth rather than academic prowess. My Latina friends wondered, “Why can’t I have both education and marriage in my own time?” Again, I contend, no matter what your ethnic heritage or socio-economic background, it is ok to focus on tying you and your child’s self worth to academic achievement as long as you have a clear purpose to serve family and community.
The self-esteem and self worth of an obese, male, gay, Drag Queen in West Long Beach is intact regardless of the academic circumstance. That is resilience not yet connected to academic achievement. However, because our drag queen’s self worth may not reinforced at the same level his friends at the dance club praise him, he may drop out because he needs to receive the validation at the dance club as “Her Royal Highness”. A Latina teenager may want to become a mother too soon and drop out of high school before she applies to college because she gets her self worth from being a mother. A Samoan high school senior may not want to play football for Wyoming State on a full scholarship because he would miss his family too much and his family is where he gets his worth. For those of you that are educators you may have witnessed these scenarios. I encourage you to help families find ways with dignity to attach the self worth of the child to academic achievement. For our drag queen, introduce him to “Queer” history and advocacy for the voiceless. The Latina may find acceptance and the respect she deserves as a child development major and eventually a school psychologist. The Samoan family may need to move to Wyoming to start a whole generation of family attending college. Let’s connect folk to their full potential.
Especially for my parents, college may not for everyone but in this great country of ours, there are too many opportunities not to try. Now, I am speaking to myself because I have to catch myself some time. I was the student who did not reach my potential till much later so my self worth was not really tied to my academic achievement until I was in graduate school. I was not till I made it to my master’s program that I found my purpose in life and that is advocating on behalf of so-called "minorities” in education. My parents gave me a drug problem. Like the song said, “they drug me to church every week.” They also “drug me” to tutoring, college-awareness night, San Diego State University for their master's degree classes, to visit college-educated men etc. Many of my teachers did not see the potential in me but my parents knew. I am the first in my family to earn a doctorate! Not simply because my mother would have no less than my best effort (i.e. beat me with a belt) in school but because I knew my academic achievement would mean something to somebody via my service to the community. So parents, be patient with that boy sent to the principle’s office because that was me back in the day. Be patient with that girl who is arguing with mama over homework because that was my sister who has a degree from UCLA and a Master’s degree from the University of Phoneix and Harvard (Shout out to my Sister Teri Gamble)! Your academic and intellectual growth is worth something my sisters and brothers!
Friends, let us be patient with ourselves as we work to achieve our goals yet strong on our resolve to do so. Remember sometimes it is good to be insulted and tested. You may have been told you can’t do something and you go on without taking that a challenge to your self worth. No, take that challenge up and overcome it. Test yourself, pray, remember how you got over the past, and/or surround your self with folk who will validate your efforts. If it is not school or your are done with school, then there has to be something that you want to do to show yourself and your family that you are reaching your full potential. For me it was surfing which is omething I always wanted to do as a small child. I finally started at the age of 35 and I enjoy every minute of it. Go do it with a little chip on your shoulder not because you are all that but because your efforts are too important not to be shared with the world. We need folks who value themselves and their contributions. People who don’t are the first to drop out, quit, give up, and rationalize “I do what I wanna do… That school or job ain’t no good anyway” yet they are jealous and hate on those who are successful. Some places call it “crabs in a barrel.” We are better than that ya’ll. Hang in there ya’ll and know you are valuable to me.
Peace & Health,
As a psychologist I have always struggled with the term “lazy.” No, let me straighten that out. As a child and now a man, especially a Black man growing up in mostly white schools and churches I have really struggled with this label being put on people, especially me. Our work ethic is relative to circumstance. Each generation often feels that the successive generations “Did not have it as hard as me. When we were kids we had to walk to school with the sun beating down on heads and the snow freezing our feet, while the wind chapped out lips to a raisin like texture… Kids don’t know how good they have it…”
Compared to my father, I am a lazy cuss. After growing up on a foster-home farm, my father volunteered for Vietnam. Life was so uncertain for many of his friends, joining the Army and getting a GI Bill seemed more stable to him. After the Army, while in college, he worked 40 to 50 hours a week as a janitor and went on to earn a bachelor’s and master’s degree. He never took a dime from his parents for school because there was none to take. Fast forward just 16 years later after he lands his first job teaching then as a school administrator, I am home from boarding – high school on a Sunday morning at 6am. He starts the cement mixer just by my room and says, “Brandon I am waiting for you to get to work on this cement.” I roll back over and go to bed feeling tired and bewildered by this hard-working old man of mine. Twenty-two years later I still feel guilty for not getting up at 6 am on any Sunday morning. After earning a doctorate degree, receiving accolades from my colleagues, and 10 solid years of working as a school psychologist at 50+ hours a week I still FEEL lazy. However, logic tells me I am not.
If I compared my dad and me to, our cousins in West Africa, some of who have to walk 3 miles a day to get water EVERY morning, to our faucet-drinking-showering-tooth/brushing-wasting behinds, my dad and I are lazy. However, these are false comparisons between my dad and I, as well as my dad and our cousins in Africa. The immigrant experience in America also brings generational challenges that can pose this false comparison. The stories can start, “I sailed on that boat from a place where we had nothing and now you want to shop at the mail and date these American lazy kids…” The true comparison is more personal yet still influenced by the culture. However, lets look at some even broader cultural examples that give us an American context.
America is a young country. We have this concept of who is lazy based on some warped perception that we really have not detailed yet. Our people work more and take vacation less yet we have this notion and even some health evidence (obesity) that we are lazy. From an African-Centered or Native American lens one could say that the Founders of the US were lazy. They had to shoot at people and make them not only go into slavery but to conscript poor folk to fight for their freedom in the Revolutionary War (thanks to Howard Zinn for that reference-RIP). If you have read history books and seen pictures of Black folk even up until the 1960’s one could get the impression that Black folk acquiesced totally to slavery as well as segregation and/or all those songs they sang showed they were having a good time eating watermelon and chicken, however even common sense lets you know that was far from the truth. It was a struggle just to stay alive. Some folk sang to keep from going crazy while many sang to send codes about escaping slavery.
A recent Stanford study showed that our efforts to increase productivity via the trend of “multi-tasking” has not helped us as a society. Multi-tasking has only served to confuse us and make us less productive. I suggest that things like hyper-consumerism and obesity are why many Americans way to act-out their efforts to balance their lives from the hard work we do. We play hard, enjoy our toys, and eat what feels good. My basic argument that by and large we have some lazy moments but Americans look silly when we call each other and especially our children “lazy.”
Laziness can be broken down into issues with motivation, concern about changing identity, and my favorite--passive aggressive behavior. However, as I have learned everyone is motivated to do something. Even the 30 year old who stays at home with his mom while playing video games is motivated get a higher score on that game. Our labeling others lazy is a simple or better yet, LAZY way of looking at complex problems.
Here is an invitation, rather than talking about people generally, especially the people you love as being “lazy,” begin to think about then talk with them about how specifically that laziness is manifested. You can get into 3 major issues; procrastination, tardiness, and/or disorganization.
With procrastination the main issues have to do with either a skill deficit a person is embarrassed to ask for help with or a personal health issue that they may not even know about. Another huge issue with academic procrastinators, especially adults are that change may result if they finish this big project (e.g. a dissertation may lead to people calling them “doctor” and/or a new job). Sometimes procrastinators may justify “multi-tasking” to their own detriment. Help them by narrowing their focus to 1 thing at time. Also, take an honest look at the skills they need to finish a project as well as the pros and cons of a change in their life, especially if they are unaware of exactly what that change may be.
Tardiness is often about worry and/or stress. The worry may be about what others think so they try do avoid the situation they should be on time for. Also, it may be a passive aggressive thing to regain some sense of control over their lives. A solution may be to focus on relieving stress via regaining some sense of control over their life.
Also, many of you may have seen the shows “Hoarders or Clean House.” People in these circumstances have emotional blockers to letting go of things or their time to organize. There is a fear they may lose something and never regain that part of their lives. The challenge here is to find ways to reinforce for them that they themselves will not lose their personal value with you or others as they let go of the things that are cluttering their backpack, room, or that space in time they feel they must have.
Finally, talk about these issues with your “lazy” loved one but don’t use the word LAZY. Focus in one of the aforementioned three as the main focus (i.e. procrastination, tardiness, or disorganization). Your “lazy” loved one may be seriously depressed, medically ill, or have some of these worries I spoke about above so get specific with them and get them help. The broader social issues I spoke of above about generational and social views of laziness should be a part of YOUR awareness but are often irrelevant especially for children. So, during the discussion about a change in habits, avoid the old “when I was a kid” stories. These stories only make the older adult feel superior and serve to make the child feel like they will never measure up because they can’t "have sun on their head and snow at their feet” in their life time. So let them know you love them for them and that you want them to grow compared to their own standard you help them set, not to your own life.
Ok, enough procrastinating, I need to get back to work.
Peace & Health ya’ll