Music fans from the '80s will remember that the title of this post is also the title of a Janet Jackson song. Friends of mine will also find it odd that I made a pop music reference since my preferred entertainment is hair metal, but that is beside the point. Janet Jackson's song perfectly captures the disposition of too many students with regard to their own education, and I would suggest that there is something more.
A colleague recently pointed out that when students realize that it is mathematically not possible for them to pass, or very unlikely that they will, they often turn to general misbehavior. It is not necessarily anything violent, but with nothing to gain from the class, they create a disruption through talking off topic, playing on their phones, etc.
Many will begin pointing fingers at the teachers in whose classes this takes place. They should have been more engaging. They should continue finding ways to reach each student to the very last minute of the semester. A student who has gained so little from the class is one more sad example of a system that is failing its students.
As I have written before and spoken on many occasions, while it is true that a teacher's poor efforts may be the cause of a student's failure to learn, failure to learn itself is no proof of a teacher's poor efforts. Yet what I want to focus on here is the purely consumer mentality at work in students who think that if they gain nothing from the class, then there is no reason for them to be in it, a belief that in their minds justifies their misbehavior.
Each fifty minutes my students and I form a small community. We explore together the language, thought, art, literature, and history of the ancient Roman world. I would, however, be loathe to think of my students as parasites, only taking in knowledge and never contributing to the shared journey of discovery that is education. Yes, they are taking something from my class, but they should be contributing something as well, and that contribution is not what they give me in the form of completed assignments and assessments, but the thoughts they speak within the interactions of any given class period. Students have something to contribute by asking questions, both those of simple clarification of a confusing point and those of the genuine curiosity that is the root of the branching nature of learning. They contribute by sharing the connections they make between observations in my class and the reading, learning, and experiences from other parts of their lives. Their contributions take the form of iron sharpening iron as each member of the class makes the others better.
Those entrusted with the development of young minds, teachers, parents, coaches, administrators, teaching assistants, librarians, media specialists, and guidance counselors, along with those less directly yet significantly involved such as policy makers and pundits, must understand that a classroom is not Amazon.com where students place their orders and leave with a product. The true classroom, whether or not it is bounded by walls, is a dynamic community of learning, and because it is both dynamic and a community, it requires something of all its members, not merely the teacher. Students who are actively engaged in their learning, even though they may fail to reach a level of achievement that has been desired by someone somewhere, will nevertheless have contributed to the shared journey of discovery and may enjoy the proper confidence that their fellow travelers in class are the better for it.