Education Letter to the Editor

Teenagers Are Bored? So What Else Is New?

March 15, 2005 3 min read

To the Editor:

I read your front-page article “Calls for Revamping High Schools Intensify,” (Jan. 26, 2005) and found myself once again appalled by the unchallenged generalizations of journalists (“Ask most students about their high school experience, and the answer comes back ‘boring, boring, boring’ ”) and the myopia of qualitative researchers (“Teenagers often lack any sense of purpose or connection with what they are doing in the classroom”). Both assertions are in many cases simply not true.

And should we be surprised that some teenagers say they are bored by school? Probably not, since teenagers, by their psychological stage of personal, social, and emotional growth, are prone to finding their parents’ lives boring, their brothers and sisters boring, programs on TV that anyone else likes boring, jazz and classical music boring, politics boring, vacations to anywhere with the family boring, and life in America generally boring, boring, boring.

Last year’s clothes are boring, you are boring, I am boring, and (perhaps correctly) research is boring.

What are we to make of the worrisome state of bored teenagers in high schools? If a person finds something boring, the first question to ask is “Relative to what?” Movies full of cars blowing up? Daydreams of teen romance? Trips to Florida with girlfriends to be transformed into a “girl gone wild”? Earning Mardi Gras beads? The lives of President Bush’s twin daughters? The latest adventures of Britney (or whatever Barbie-actress of the month now happens to elicit screams of adoration and launch fashion trends)? At what time in some golden educational past have high school teachers ever successfully competed with what teenagers may find not-boring?

We might also ask, “Boring compared to what other educational activity of the average American teenager?” Viewing educational television? Listening to public radio? Reading fiction and nonfiction classics? Interviewing adults from the generations of the Depression, World War II, the Cold War, the Vietnam War, any war? Spare time spent writing articles and essays based on research? Well, then, OK. How about memorizing rock lyrics?

One begins to see the idiocy of declaring, with some stack of handwritten qualitative and dutifully triangulated notes to offer as proof (or better, how about cellphone survey-research data?), that teenagers in high school are bored. Well, duh!

Does this terrifying revelation mean that teachers should go out and buy cool shoes and baseball caps to wear sideways, or start delivering lectures in rock or rap, or maybe get a film crew on board for those quadratic equations? I doubt it. After more than 30 years in this business of educating interesting, funny, fascinating teenagers who are intriguing bundles of potential energy and potential achievement, please allow me to say that my opinion is more informed than that of your newspaper, which found it so easy to trumpet the platitude that America’s pitiable children are bored and not nearly as excited about their education as Japanese kids.

I am utterly unworried that some of our students declare themselves bored in high school. With hard work on class assignments and homework, as well as wide participation in elective courses and co-curricular and athletic activities, they’ll get over it. They may even discover that the key to learning is being curious, rather than having teachers attempt to be curious for them.

To help combat their boredom, I also recommend that teenagers and the rest of us be protected from the media info-tainment news-bite-ologists who hunt and headline-ize any supposedly negative “research” on schools. I also suggest that schools send home the legions of candidates for doctoral degrees in education who are out there triangulating self-reported data from adolescents.

America’s high schools are, in most communities, doing just fine. So long as the well-spoiled public bothers to worry about funding them adequately (as against, say, funding smoother roads for their SUVs), and so long as parents actually parent their children (is anybody sharing interest in their homework, is anybody even there when they come home?).

As for the teenagers, they are still, well, teenagers. They are no longer children, not yet adults, often bored.

Bruce C. Bandy

High School Assistant Principal

Des Plaines, Ill.

A version of this article appeared in the March 16, 2005 edition of Education Week as Teenagers Are Bored? So What Else Is New?