Thursday, November 19, 2009

Narcissistic Personality Disorder

I am always amused by students who actually still believe that they are somehow hurting me by refusing to do their work. Some of them are simply five years old psychologically and emotionally, the equivalent of a toddler holding his breath until his face turns blue or until he gets his way. Others, indeed a great many others, suffer from narcissistic personality disorder, a condition that seems to afflict a great many teenagers nowadays, particularly girls.

From Google Health:

Narcissistic personality disorder is a condition in which there is an inflated sense of self-importance and an extreme preoccupation with one's self.

A person with narcissistic personality disorder:

  • Reacts to criticism with rage, shame, or humiliation.
  • Takes advantage of other people to achieve his/her own goals.
  • Has feelings of self-importance.
  • Exaggerates achievements and talents.
  • Is preoccupied with fantasies of success, power, beauty, intelligence, or ideal love.
  • Has unreasonable expectations of favorable treatment.
  • Requires constant attention and admiration.
  • Disregards the feelings of others; lacks empathy.
  • Has obsessive self-interest.
  • Pursues mainly selfish goals.

This describes a great many of my students fairly well; they exhibit at least four or five of these symptoms, the most common of which are highlighted in bold. I'm told all the time that this is a normal, natural state for teenagers but I don't buy it. Not all teenagers are narcissists; if they were, there'd be no point in bringing attention to the disorder, and what's more, no one would notice it.

There are certain specific behaviors in the school context that emerge from narcissistic children. One is the belief that they are somehow hurting their teachers (or, indeed, anyone but themselves) by refusing to do their academic work. Another is that they actually think they're helping themselves and are more likely to get their way by being peevish and reflexively hostile. Another is the incredible belief, which I've discussed previously, that they should receive passing grades on assignments and report cards because they cannot do the work or understand the material.

I actually had a conversation with a student yesterday that illustrates another symptom of this disorder. I was covering another teacher's class, and as usual, the students were noisy and would not do the work the teacher had left for them. I am generally disinclined to give room passes during coverages, so as to minimize students' taking advantage of their regular teacher's absence, and I specifically told this group that I would not do so if they persisted in making noise and refusing to do their work and behave in a civilized and appropriate manner. I must have said no to at least four or five different students asking for passes.

Finally, toward the end of the period, another student asked for a pass and I said no. It would not be fair, I told her, for me to say yes to you after I said no to everyone else. (Also, school rules bar room passes in the first and last ten minutes of class.) She persisted. I said, I understand where you're coming from, but you must understand that fairness requires me to say no. Then I asked, do you agree that it would not be fair for me to say yes to you after I said no to everyone else? She replied, No. I asked why and she had no answer. She either could not or would not say what I think we both knew: that she believes her needs are more important than others', or that her needs matter and other people's don't. That she is entitled to get what she wants irrespective of objective fairness; that not getting what she wants is automatically, inherently unfair.

I also get tired of hearing adults (and students) tell me that I should not be annoyed by this sort of behavior, that I should not be concerned about it, that I should expect it and that i should not try to correct it. Nonsense. When someone tells me, "You can't expect kids to" do this or that, know this or that, understand this or that, or appreciate this or that, my response is always the same: Yes I can. I can, I do, and I will. I don't have to "accept" appalling, deplorable, antisocial behavior no matter how old the actor is. No person is reasonable and civilized by default; they have to be taught. One way to teach them is to not enable them by "accepting" such behavior because "they're just kids."

Tuesday, November 10, 2009


It amazes me sometimes how much some of these children reveal about themselves without intending or realizing it. Here is last night's homework question:

Judges in the Kingsborough Student Essay Contest disqualified Sam's entry because it broke one of the contest rules. The rules specified that students should place their name ONLY on the cover page of the essay, which the judges would not see, to make sure they judged it fairly and without bias against the individual student. Sam, however, put his name on each and every page of his essay. Nevertheless, Sam's entry should be allowed to qualify, because Sam's parents recently got divorced, and it's been very hard for him.

Which one of the following explains why this is a flawed response to the judges' decision?

A. It presents a conclusion without providing supporting evidence.

B. It treats a factor that may cause a particular outcome as the only possible cause of that outcome.

C. It focuses on a trivial, unimportant aspect of the judges' argument.

D. It incorrectly states the facts that formed the basis of the judges' decision.

E. It appeals to the judges' emotions instead of addressing their reason for disqualifying the essay.

Here is one student's answer, technical errors included:

Choice "A" is correct because first the explanation only says that Sam's parents were divorced as the only reason he did disobey the rule, however it doesn't say other resons such as Sam's age if he was a little boy or young student he may have emotional reasons why he did such a thing. He probably feels he didnt want to lose his name after losing a parent, and doesnt wanna except the change, and doesnt want to. No one can judge nor tell him what to do with his name.

Need I say more?

Sunday, November 1, 2009

Reflections on My Last Open School

Open School evening and afternoon passed without any over-the-top melodrama and no unreasonable complaints. Other than a few encores from parents I've heard from already, whose antics I've written about in the last few entries, there really were no unpleasant confrontations at all. This was a relief, obviously, as was the fact that the parent I wrote about in Silly Season did not show up at all. One parent complained bitterly about the fact that I put the homework online and require the students to get it even if they don't have easy or convenient access to a computer, then the very next parent who came in had high praise and appreciation for the exact same practice. Any confrontations I have with parents from here on out will have to be by appointment.

I really used to enjoy open school. I won't go so far as to say I've come to dread it, but there's almost always one or two whack jobs who manage to ruin the whole experience. Here's what I wrote at this time last year, when I thought I would only have one more Open School to deal with. The last two were busy, but generally uneventful. There are a few things I've noticed, however, that I wanted to put down.

One is that it helps tremendously to have a principal who "gets it." With all due respect to the first high school principal I worked under, who was an excellent administrator but interacted less directly with teachers because the school was so large, I think my current principal may be the best in the city. Certainly the best I've seen since I left that first high school in 2001. She is more than willing to hold students, and parents, accountable and does not automatically assume that the teacher is wrong, like some principals I've encountered. She does not accept wild accusations against teachers at face value and does not bend over backwards to appease unreasonable people, like some principals I've encountered. While some principals are ultimately concerned only with making parents happy, her primary concern is getting at the truth, and the reality of the situation. "Your problem is not with my teachers," she said to one parent last year. "Your problem is your kid not doing her work." This approach is certainly better for teachers, parents and students in the long run. What's more, knowing this makes it easier for me to be more frank and honest with parents, and avoid some of the silly, patronizing games we sometimes have to play.

Another is thing I noticed is that students seem to feel a great deal more comfortable and confident lying to their parents than they have in years past. At least three parents told me specifically that when they had received correspondence from me informing them of either the child's misbehavior or academic failure, their children told them that I was lying. Fortunately, at least for now, more parents are willing to believe me than the children in these situations. I doubt that this behavior by students is anything new; I just found it curious that it came up so often. And, of course, there is a correlation between parents who act as enablers and dishonest, self-serving behavior by children.

The only truly negative experience to come out of Open School this year actually happened after everyone had gone home on Friday. After meeting with a student and her mother during conferences, at which the student hemmed and hawed and evaded and equivocated and sat completely silent when her mother asked her to explain the evidence I showed her of the child's non-performance, it was time to actually grade the child's notebook. Long story short, much of it was copied from another student, an Honors student who sits in the same seat in a different class period. The latter told me a few weeks ago that her notebook had gone missing, but it turned up shortly thereafter. Apparently the former actually took the latter's notebook out of the room and brought it home to copy it.

The amazing thing about this is that it's not the least bit surprising, but it still makes me so angry every time I see it happen. It never takes long before at least one student, and usually more, reveals him/herself to be a liar, cheater and/or thief. And kids wonder why I never give them the benefit of the doubt.

All in all, I'm glad Open School passed without incident. 2½ more months and I'm done.