When I was a boy, my younger brother had two imaginary friends — Shorty and Shotty. Shorty and Shotty could be a mischievous pair of little boys. They would stop at nothing to get my little brother in trouble. One time they took all of his clothes out of his hamper, turned them inside-out, and scattered them on the floor. (They did this to me, too!)
Blaming things on someone else (even imaginary people) is a psychological defense mechanism use to project (i.e., projection) wrong-doing elsewhere. It’s a matter of self-preservation. However, as people mature they realize that imaginary people do not exist. Unfortunately, the need to escape consequences for wrong-doing by pointing out the foibles of another may not. Since the pre-frontal cortex will not finish developing until a person’s 20s, blaming “real” people is the next step in the evolution of blame.
I am going to assume that students do not want to be seen as or referred to as children; that they want to be treated as responsible young adults. So here is some young adult advice to consider before blaming your teacher/parents/school/etc. for lack of mastery in math, or a lack of success in any endeavor.
1. How’s your attendance?
To master any acquired skill, repeated exposure is essential. You’ll never hit your 10,000 hours if you do not attend school — or class if you’re a college student. Showing up is half the battle. You’ll never even have a chance at learning things when you miss class.
2. Are you plugged in?
When you are in attendance, are you engaged? Remember… I said showing up is half the battle. The other half is engaging in the lessons. Cognitive engagement is essential to learning new concepts. If you’re just going to sit around like a bump on a log, then you will be selling yourself short.
3. Do you participate in activities?
This is related to Question #2, but it deals more with the physical part of learning. Do you participate in lab activities? Do you look back through your notes to help you on these activities? Or do you go straight for the path of least resistance? Teacher, gimme the answer.
4. Do you complete assignments?
Completing assignments solidifies the learning process. Think of your brain as a computer. The lesson is like downloading new software. Doing the assignments is like installing it. Doing assignments ensures that you will remember concepts on game day (i.e., tests). Homework assignments are all part of the 10,000 hours.
5. Do you ask questions?
Many students do not ask questions when they do not understand something. One theory is that students may find themselves in a class where they either were not paying attention, were talking, texting, or whatever. When they realized that they missed something important, they do not ask for fear of reprisal. This probably happens more than we realize. Don’t let it happen to you.
6. Do you study?
I am perpetually amazed at the number of students who do not understand how to study. Most students believe that if there is no artifact-producing activity or assignment that they do not have any homework, or at least outside-the-classroom work. No notion could be more misguided. Studying your notes or re-reading a text passage even if it is not assigned is what separates the good students from wannabes.
7. Do you repeat?
To be effective, the process needs to be repeated early and often. Repetition is the key to learning. Michael Jordan was the best because he practiced his craft. It is worth noting that Michael Jordan failed to deliver on multiple occasions, but it never stopped him from practicing. Don’t give up if you do not hit a home run the first time you are up to bat. Repeat. Repeat. Repeat. The only way to fail if to give up.