I’ve said it before. We all do stupid things. Back when I was much younger and a pretty girl could talk me into just about anything, I loaned my credit card to a ‘friend’ for her deposit on a car rental. She assured me I’d incur no charges. One month and eight hundred dollars later I was chanting that advice about borrowing and lending that Polonius gave to Laertes. I thought I knew better but I let myself get distracted. I never made that stupid mistake again.
As a teacher I was regularly cautioned to never use the word ‘stupid’. But to be honest with you, we teachers regularly see behaviors (and policies) that can only be described as stupid. Some examples of stupidity we can fix. But there is one form of stupidity that we can’t fix, it is deadly and we need to be able to recognize it to protect our children. Now, before you get angry, let me do a little clarifying of terms. This is important because at the time of this writing (early 2015) the word stupid is being used with abandon.
To Review: The New Oxford American Dictionary defines stupid as: “lacking intelligence or common sense.”
Those two phrases aren’t detailed enough for me and so I offer my own three part analysis. When I hear students call each other ‘stupid’ they usually mean one of three things:
1) a lack of knowledge (ignorance, you were never taught) – that can be fixed or;
2) a lack of cognitive ability (your brain can’t make sense out of what’s going on) – that can be accommodated;
3) or a lack of common sense (a lifestyle of unwise choices) – this can rarely be fixed. The first two should not be called stupid but the third one is stupid and deadly and we need to be able to identify them all for the protection of our children. I’ve writen about each in a separate post. I’ve already written about ignorance and lack of cognitive ability. Now, let’s finally talk about the most comic, tragic and dangerous kind of stupid: a lack of common sense.
Common sense is not something that is ‘common’, meaning existing in most people (like the common cold). Common sense is knowledge and wisdom that does not require formal training. You don’t have to go to college to know fat meat’s greasy! After you’ve burned your mouth once, you don’t need a formal lecture to know bubbling cheese on a pizza can be mighty hot! These are things you can learn, but choosing to not learn or choosing to not protect yourself is a willful choice, and that is stupid.
So what about the kid who refuses to believe that fat meat’s greasy? What if he says, “I don’t care if I burn my mouth.”? That kind of stupid can be dangerous for everybody.
Ask yourself if you’d want your child going to school with Lester.
I had a tan, ’63, 4-door, Chevy Impala. It was slow but roomy. I was 17 and I drove the same bunch of kids from my neighborhood to school every day. Lester was new to the area but since we had room we tried to make him welcome. Unfortunately, Lester was a ‘Buster’. He was always busting someone’s chops – nagging, teasing, kvetching, backseat driving and generally being a real pain in the ass. But, he paid his share of the gas money, so we put up with him until he got dangerously stupid.
My school was far enough away from my home that there were several different routes which could be taken to get there. I liked to go different ways to both break up the monotony of the drive and to learn the city. One of the routes took us through a Black neighborhood. I didn’t think anything of it. I always did my best to behave with respect to everyone, so I usually got respect back. Lester had other plans.
It was a cold Chicago day and Lester rolled down his window and shouted, “Hey Niggers!” After I regained control of my beating heart, I pulled the car over and laid down the law. I said, “Are you insane? Do you want to get us killed? You have never heard me use that word because I don’t. Now hear me well, it’s my car that will get hit with a brick or a bullet and you have people in this car who don’t deserve to die. So shut up! And if you do any more craziness I’ll kick your ass to the curb in a quick minute!”
We drove about a block and Lester rolled down his window and shouted, “Hey Niggers!” Whereupon, I stopped the car in the middle of the street, dragged Lester out and left him to get home however he could.
Death arrives on swift wings
Lester never rode with me again. I wish I could say it was because of my strong moral fiber but it wasn’t. About a month after I kicked him out of my car, he and a friend were goofing off on some railroad tracks and they got hit by a train and Lester was killed.
It takes time.
Teachers face many challenges in the classroom for which we are well trained. But what we are not trained to do is to alter time. It takes a lot of time to cure ignorance by imparting knowledge and it takes even more time to nurture knowledge into wisdom (the ability to think and reason). It takes a lot of time to help students with cognitive processing deficits. It takes time to learn who is simply immature and who is dangerously stupid. I have had all of these kids in my classroom. How do I accommodate each of them, keep them safe and teach new material in the amount of time I’m given?
These kids are not all stupid. We could help most of them. But it frequently takes a lot more time and patience than we are allowed. Not understanding the extent of the challenges or allowing the time to give lasting help to students is what’s really stupid.