Equity & Diversity Opinion

Are Children Lazy?

By Jill Berkowicz & Ann Myers — February 11, 2018 4 min read
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Lazy? How shocking it was to hear the Chief of Staff assume that some Dreamers were too lazy to apply for legal status! We wonder if the General can walk in someone else’s shoes...one who has lived in fear, fled from home, learned to be suspicious of authorities and lived in shadows as the way to survive? Yet, before we rush to judgment, it takes only one moment to reflect on words we have heard in schools about certain students and certain parents. Before casting stones, let’s take out our own flashlight and shine it into the places where uninformed opinions live and hurtful, limiting words are shared within our own walls.

Lazy is a Judgement

We have all attended meeting where someone shared the observation that a child’s laziness was impacting the ability to succeed. We have heard comments about a parent who failed to attend an important meeting about their child. When we here it from the Chief of Staff, however, we know what it really is... an uninformed judgment. It is a judgment rendered over those who don’t do what we expect or who do less than we want. Lazy is a judgment and it helps no child or parent if we cast it upon them.

. Laura D. Miller, LCSW writes in her Psychology Today Article, 7 Reasons Why Laziness is a Myth

“Laziness” is an overused criticism--a character judgment, really--that does nothing to help us understand why someone doesn’t exert the effort to do what they want to do, or are expected to do. If we take a moment to examine what’s behind the procrastination and avoidance, we find a range of more complicated issues.

Here is only one example. Poverty is a factor that interferes with parental involvement in a child’s education. Most of us have never walked in those shoes and we don’t understand. Missing a meeting with the department of Social Services, or a doctor’s appointment for another child who is sick might take priority. Missing work or leaving early may be not possible. If their own experience in school was less that successful, entering our doors to attend to a deficit in their child’s ability to be successful is not a welcome experience. And if educators attribute the lack of attendance and involvement of the parent to laziness and judge it as so, the parent will surely feel that judgment.

Alyson Schafer wrote in The Huffington Post Canada:

I want to challenge the mainstream conception of lazy children. The common belief is that laziness is a trait. You are lazy. This perspective is referred to as “a psychology of possession.” My training, however, is in Adlerian psychology. The main differentiating feature of this theory is that it embraces a “psychology of use.” That means we don’t care what traits you have; our interest is in how you use what you’ve got.

So why would behaving lazy be psychologically useful to a child? What benefit can be gained from choosing to behave this way?

Ms. Schafer suggests avoiding being judged poorly, the need to to feel important, and calling for attention by being taken care of as three major possibilities.

As far as those who failed to register for legal status in the US, we seriously doubt they were being lazy by not registering. News about arrests and splitting families apart, confusion about who remains and who ICE arrests are in the life stream of the undocumented. Being sent back to other countries, in many cases countries that people don’t even remember, are the stories that strike fear in hearts. Perhaps not registering was a choice, a survival decision, rather than a result of being lazy.

Search for the Cause, and Understand

Shame on the Chief of Staff for calling some Dreamers lazy. It shows not only a lack of understanding, it shows a willingness to judge others for their behaviors without seeking an understanding of the reasons. Schools, too, have no business judging children or their parents for behaviors we don’t understand. We are proud that most educators find it their professional responsibility to discover why children don’t meet expectations. School leaders can expect that no uninformed judgments are made and that time and effort is invested in understanding why children and their parents are acting the way they are. Those children who are described as lazy or entitled or greedy represent one of the challenges of our work. At the time when schools strive to engage all of their students and meet their needs, at the time when schools need community support more than ever, judging a lack of their investment of time and effort runs counter to what is needed. We can’t use these labels as to blame them and walk away. It’s not what professional educators do. They know what child psychologist Kenneth Barish said in his Psychology Today Article

Children are not lazy. They may be frustrated and discouraged, anxious or angry; they may have become disillusioned or defiant, self-critical or pessimistic, and they may lack confidence in their ability. But this is not laziness. The misconception that kids are lazy is one of the most common, and most destructive, misunderstandings of children. It is one of the most important misunderstandings that I (and others) hope to correct.

Ann Myers and Jill Berkowicz are the authors of The STEM Shift (2015, Corwin) a book about leading the shift into 21st century schools. Ann and Jill welcome connecting through Twitter & Email.

Photo by mattysimpson courtesy of Pixabay

The opinions expressed in Leadership 360 are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.