Tuesday, December 23, 2008


I've been trying for years to find, or think of, an antonym for the word resourceful. Dictionaries and thesauri are not much help in this regard, although I usually don't feel the need to consult these sources when it comes to the meaning and usage of words (thank you, Jeff Kraus). I don't think resourceless is actually a word, but even if it is I don't think it works as an antonym for resourceful.

What resourceful means, as I understand it, is: having the ability and inclination to find ways to acquire, discover or accomplish something when the easiest, most convenient and/or most obvious way of doing so is foreclosed or unavailable. In other words, the resourceful person is able to do what he needs to do, find what he needs to find, get what he needs to get even if it's not easy or convenient, if conditions are not ideal, if he has to go out of his way to do it, or if his initial strategy fails. (Resourceless doesn't really work as an antonym because it implies that resources aren't available, don't exist, or that the person simply doesn't have them, not that he is disinclined to use them or seek them out.)

As someone who has spent most of his adult life dealing with various inconveniences, unforeseen obstacles, sudden changes of fortune and sundry annoyances both large and small, I have learned to be resourceful and appreciate the value of resourcefulness. What I haven't been able to do is find a word, or even a descriptive phrase, that would describe someone who is the opposite of resourceful; someone who sees the easiest, most convenient and/or most obvious way of doing or finding something as the only possible way, and when that way is foreclosed or unavailable, leaps to the conclusion that it cannot be done and either relieves himself of the obligation or seeks to be relieved.

I bring this up for obvious reasons; because so many of the students I've encountered in my years of teaching are the opposite of resourceful, whatever word or phrase one might use to describe them. I've touched on this to some degree in previous posts, for example:

- The "printer-related excuse" farce. Even though "My printer doesn't work" is an obvious lie, even if it were true the resourceful student would either get it working, such as by reinstalling software drivers or replacing ink cartridges, find another printer, whether at a friend's house, parent's workplace, public library, school computer lab, etc., or as a last resort hand-write the assignment. Most kids don't do that. Their own printer is the easiest and most convenient means of producing the assignment, and if that fails, they "can't do it."

- The "no Internet"/"no PC" nonsense. I had a student the other day who lost the assignment packet I had previously distributed, which was one of the tasks on last June's Regents exam. Since I make it a point to make one, and only one, copy of the assignment for each student, and put their names on them in advance so I know who got theirs and who didn't, I did not have another one to give her. I suggested she download the exam from the Internet. Her reply? "My Internet isn't working." Again, an obvious lie, but even if true does not foreclose any and all possibility of acquiring the needed material, nor relieve the student of her responsibility to do so.

- The absent-from-class-on-the-day-of-a-listening-section travesty. This happened earlier in the semester with the presidential debate; the student was absent the day I showed the video, I suggested she find and watch it online, but she never did. This week it happened again. I had a guidance counselor e-mail me that a student was going to be "out for a couple of days" and the mother had requested her teachers e-mail her the child's assignments. This was a bad time, since the students were doing the listening portion of a writing project (Regents Session One, Part A) on Thursday. They just finished studying Citizen Kane and I was using Roger Ebert's commentary from the Still Gallery on the DVD as the listening passage. I e-mailed the mother and suggested she rent the DVD. I never heard back from her. The child came in yesterday and told me that she and her mother "didn't know where to get" the DVD. I suggested Netflix or Blockbuster, or wherever else they normally rent movies, but the child replied that they "didn't know where to get this movie." Again I suggested Netflix or Blockbuster but it seemed lost on this kid that it could be that easy to get the DVD of Citizen Kane. I suggested she come in after school to do the listening section, but she didn't come in. This kind of thing happens all the time whenever I do something like a listening section that can only be done once, and kids are absent the day I do it.

These are all examples of students trying to get themselves off the hook by claiming that the easiest, most convenient and/or most obvious way of doing or finding something is unavailable to them, which in their minds means, res ipsa loquitur, that they can't do it and therefore shouldn't have to do it, be expected to do it or be held accountable for not doing it. Somehow after all these years I am still amazed by the absolutely stunning and utterly complete lack of resourcefulness on the part of high school students. This has been true everywhere I've been, in urban schools both large and small, and in the suburbs.

I don't know if this is the result of simple laziness (coupled with dishonesty), an actual inability to solve problems and accomplish tasks beyond the use of obvious and convenient means, moral hazard (knowing one won't be held liable makes one less inclined to act reasonably), or some combination of all three. Obviously, given the opportunity, kids will seek the path of least resistance. They would much rather be excused from the work than be required to find a way to get it done even if it's not convenient. The question is, what causes it, and how should we as educators deal with it?

It's hard for me not to reach the conclusion, as I have so many times before, that this is the result of students growing accustomed to adults accepting their excuses, believing their lies and letting them off the hook. It's the result of our not teaching kids to be resourceful by not requiring or expecting them to be resourceful. It therefore starts with moral hazard, which cultivates laziness and dishonesty. Kids learn not only that they should simply stop trying when things become inconvenient, but also that it is more desirable to falsely claim an insurmountable obstacle in order to get a reprieve than to seek and utilize alternative practical solutions. The end result, an entire population of young adults who actually do not know the difference between what is impossible and what is merely difficult or inconvenient, is the most troubling part, but it seems that secondary educators don't want to deal with this. It's "not our problem."

I think it is. I think our problem is that, in spite of everything, in spite of how far we are willing to go to praise kids up and down for anything and everything they do, as much as we're always telling them how wonderful and fabulous and special they are, we really think very little of our kids, because we expect so little of them. We really do.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I would have named it "Resourceful or Not"

-Adam Schutzman