Glorify learning

Jazmin Jackson, a 15-year-old student at LaFollette High in Madison, Wisconsin, attacks the notion that getting good grades isn’t cool. She urges fellow black students to close the minority achievement gap by working harder.

Blacks in America spent about 200 years in slavery. They weren’t allowed to learn to read and write, and if they could and were discovered, the consequences were cruel. Some were beaten, auctioned off, and some were killed. It is those people who suffered for the very thing that you now disrespect. You disrespect them every time you fail in school. Those people would have died — and did, for the chance to sit in the very desk you sleep in.

Slaves took pride in being able to read and write, she reminds students.

That’s something worth glorifying, and you have the chance to flaunt it, every time you sit in a classroom.

Here’s what I believe: Succeeding in school is cool. We’ve got to start reaching for more and expecting more from ourselves. The teacher doesn’t determine your grades. You do. Set high expectations for yourself.

Jazmin Jackson’s belief that what she does will determine her future is going to make her a success in school and in life.

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  1. While we’re at it, can we make school success “cool” for EVERYONE?

    I mean, I applaud her efforts but I can say with absolute certainty it’s not just the Black students who get ragged on for caring about grades.

    There’s something I’ve seen happen to a lot of kids somewhere around the 11-12-13 age – suddenly, the interests they had, the enthusiasm they showed, becomes uncool. They close up like clams in a refrigerator. You can’t tell if they really don’t care any more, or if it’s peer pressure. Usually, they don’t open up again until a couple of years of college, if then….

    What a different place schools could be if academic achievement was viewed as a worthy goal by a majority (if not all) of the student body.

    (I remember my own junior high school days well. I was one of the geeky kids who was still interested in stuff and cared about grades. I paid for it in terms of social shunning and outright abuse by my peers.)

  2. But ricki, hasn’t it changed markedly over the years? When I was in junior high (late 70s), those not caring about how they did in school were a distinct minority (you didn’t have to be a “geek,” either, to care about academics). Now, however, it seems those who could care less are at least half the student body.

    I also compare teachers I work with now, vs. those I had in junior high. Those now are much more creative and energetic … out of necessity, perhaps, but it still doesn’t seem to matter to too many kids.

  3. Actually, I was in junior high in the late 70s-early 80s. Maybe it was just my community, but you really were an outcast if you cared…about anything. The kids who were fairly religiously devout or politically active or “different” in any other way than being the Uberprep or good in sports got raked over the coals along with the swots like me.

    Come to think of it, it was not so much that being a high achiever branded you, it was being different. And in my junior high, the fastest way to be different was to be not-clothing-obsessed, sneaking-into-the-liquor-cabinets-on-the-weekend, jock-worshipping preps.

    Still, I’d like to see our society in general equate academic achievement with something other than total socially awkward geekery (watch television commercials and some shows aimed at children…look at how they portray schoolteachers or scientists…)

  4. ricki wrote:

    While we’re at it, can we make school success “cool” for EVERYONE?

    Got a plan?

  5. georgelarson says:

    Isn’t it obvious? Many kids want to be be in gangs. They want to be led by peope they respect. There are a large number of kids who do not want to learn from a teacher or educator. They are seen as prison guards. They want to be led on an adventure by a leader or coach, an alpha male or alpha female. Math should not be a bunch of lectures and homework problems, but a journey into the history of mathematics and the problems enountered along the way should be rites of initiation/passage into a gang. The only way to make a subject cool is to make the ones who do not know it un-cool outsiders. This flies in the face of the inclusion excrement we push in our schools, but it works for teenage and criminal gangs and the armed forces. The ones we are not reaching are often the ones who are attacted to the gang culture. Yes, let the math nerds rumble with the chemistry geeks. Kids want to be challenged, they want to belong, and they want some danger in their lives. We do not give it to them in our schools. Why is that? Becasue the adults don’t want to risk their children. We used to put 12 yeard olds on warships and send them to war. Now we plant them in classrooms. Isn’t it obvious why we loose so many of them around middle school age? They do not want to be kids anymore. When we keep them out of the adult world they make their own adolescent anti-adult culture with the help of their wealth, our media and consumer culture.

  6. nailsagainsttheboard says:

    To georgelarson:

    No, it’s not obvious–at least not according to the reasons you cited. Remember the Clintonian motto “It’s the economy, stupid”? …Well, as it pertains to why groups of children who participate in gangs, appear jaded and unmotivated towards learning, and glorify nihilism….”it’s the VALUES, stupid.” A generation of many boomer and Gen-X -aged parents have simply abdicated their moral responsibility to parent. They no longer share the universal values their parents/grandparents once held. The necessities of sending children off to war in past times of crisis doesn’t sufffice in explaining today’s social pathologies. Values determine behavior. ‘Nuff said.

  7. georgelarson says:


    Adolescent gangs go back long before generation X , two earner parents and the loss of values you refer to. Children’s resistance to schooling predates our public schools. For a long time kids who did not fit into schools could make an adult life inspite of being unschooled. That is no longer the case. Now we have these kids in our schools and they are treating the teachers like prison guards and the good students like squealers. Do you really think my friends would accept Jazmin Jackson’s example as something to honor and emulate? They think she is wasting her time and sucking up to people who should receive no respect. Of course our schools appeal only to good students, our schools are designed by and run by people who liked the experience.

    How are you going to glorify learning unless you use the weaknesses of the adolescent mind and culture? What we currently do does not appeal to the people we want to seduce. By the time they are activley resisting education it is too late to change their values except by letting them grow up.

    Why don’t you conduct a values class in school? You would put your students to sleep assuming they even showed up.

  8. nailsagainsttheboard says:

    Someone like you would probably be ‘bored’ in my class…wouldn’t want to confuse you, actually having to think something through….
    Intellectual honesty is another requirement.

    LOL at how people who can’t cogently respond to respectful debate resort to insults. When you can’t pound on the facts, you pound on the table….

    Clearly today’s concept of ‘gang’ is quite different from past ‘gangs’ from often preliterate or subliterate societies…there have always been those who operate outside the mainstream. A society’s mores do determine its prosperity, both intellectual and economic. One book I recommend is “Who Prospers” by Lawrence Harrison.

    Lastly, adolescence is always a turbulent time; for obvious biological as well as cultural, reasons. Most adolescents, thankfully, grow up. The post 60’s generations may be the first where so many adults (for cultural reasons), have not grown up.

  9. georgelarson says:


    Thank you, I actually did quite well in high school and college. My high school was pretty tough territory and I made friends of people you would probably find revolting. I took graduate level mathematics courses as an undergraduate. I even made Phi Beta Kappa. Then I enlisted in the Army and lived with even more violent men. Most of my peers did not graduate from high school. I am intimately familiar with the ones our high schools failed. I am completely sympathetic to their negative attitude towards schools and teachers. Most were smart enough to do well, but they found school a repellent place. They did not mind discipline, but not from the adults they met in school. I rarely met a high school teacher who could do more than lecture from the text, assign homework from the end of the chapter or get the willing cooperation of more than half of the students in the class. These teachers all had essential information for these kid’s lives, but they could not get them to learn it. The teachers could not even explain to me why their knowledge was important. I did not need a justification, my peers did. The difference between me and my peers was that I would accept excrement from my teachers and they would not. In the Army I never had trouble teaching trigonometry and logarithms like my high school teacher did, even though I taught dropouts who would never have made it into her class. I had the respect of my students and my students knew why it was important. We were going to use them to kill.

    Adolescence did not exist 200 years ago. A 12 year old could learn to navigate and command a warship in 1812. In the literate early 2oth Century most did not attend high school or need to. The students we are failing to teach now we did not have to teach 100 years ago.

    You talk about values. How are you going to give your students the values necessary to appreciate you brilliance? I suggested taking a useful model of human behavior and using it in the schools. What do you propose?

    Unless we can get past the hostility of our students we will not teach them anything but how to resist us.

    What do you think of the books of John Taylor Gatto. There is a lot I disagree with, but a completely agree with his critique of our schools

  10. Reginleif says:

    I don’t know if anyone is continuing to read this thread, but George brings up a point that seems to go right over Nails’s head, I think: Not every kid is cut out for academia.

    Yes, parents abdicating their responsibility to teach kids values like discipline, perserverance, industry, and thrift is a problem, And children of bygone eras with no exposure to these virtues would have had as tough a time running a warship (which I don’t think they were doing at 12, except maybe in rare cases of early puberty) as their modern counterparts do sitting in a classroom.

    Unfortunately, too many Americans are under the delusion that every child must go to college. Quite frankly, were the public schools teaching the basics properly, not every child would even need to graduate from high school. But this isn’t the case.

    More to the point, people who don’t conform to a certain template, if you will, have less and less of a place in society. There’s more freedom in many ways — for women, for gays, for non-whites — but most of it seems to be within a conformist corporate context. (I hope that doesn’t sound too hippie-like, because I’m a big fan of capitalism.)

    Too many people in the U.S. look down on those who work with their hands. In a discussion thread elsewhere I recently visited, shop students were sneered at as “going nowhere in life,” and people who were able to change their own motor oil as “uneducated rubes.” And as for the more adventurous types that George describes? Sadly, their adventuresomeness is probably nipped in the bud with Ritalin these days.

    Among the many things I think need to happen in American education is the evolution of alternatives to the “college track.”