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That's Stupid

by David Bulley 5 years ago in activism / education / politics / controversies / humanity
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The plaintive wail of every middle schooler has become our national ethos

For several years now I have administered discipline in high schools and middle schools, which has given me a unique insight into human behavior and American culture. Our children are tiny, carnival mirrors reflecting the best, and the worst of us in obscene and sometimes inaccurate proportions, but reflecting truth none the less. One way observing young people is useful is to see them as negative role models. Essentially, if you want to act like an adult, stop acting like your children.

I hear these words every day: “That’s stupid.” Nearly everything seems stupid to a twelve-year-old. When they are introduced to algebra for the first time the response is predictably, “That’s stupid.” I’ve come to understand that they don’t really think algebra is unintelligent. What they really mean is that they don’t understand. In other words, the math makes them feel stupid.

Students don’t like to blame themselves. They blame the object of their frustration. So, when they do not understand an assignment they tell me that the teacher gave them a stupid assignment, and that the teacher is stupid, and that the whole school is stupid. But what they mean is that they feel under prepared and overwhelmed and they don’t understand.

So, if we look at modern politics through this lens when we see otherwise normal human adults categorizing people with different political beliefs as “libtards” what they really mean is that they do not understand. Listening to you makes me feel stupid and I hate it so there must be something wrong with you. We have been trained to think this way.

Advertisers have long understood that they cannot sell a product by appealing to our intellect. To do that the product must be intellectually sound. It needs to make sense to buy, and it would have to objectively be better than a similar product. Capitalism and consumer culture itself would utterly fail if we only bought superior products that made sense to buy. Advertisers have learned to appeal directly to our emotions. The constant bombardment or products, appeals, campaigns, and solicitations has trained us all to believe that our feelings represent our mind, that desire is intrinsically good because it comes from within us. Trust your gut. People can no longer tell the difference between how they feel and what they think. So, when president Obama makes a speech with language above a sixth-grade level and a good portion of the country calls him stupid, they really mean, “I feel stupid.” “I don’t understand.”

With young people, I ask Socratic questions to help them realize that the things or ideas they are calling stupid are not unintelligent. “When you say stupid, what do you mean? What is the stupid part? Do you understand it enough to label it?” If this fails, I appeal to their vanity by explaining that when they say something or someone is stupid, what I hear them saying is that they feel stupid. I tell them I’m sorry they feel that way and that I believe they are capable of understanding. It helps them understand their own mind and make changes which help them undertake the process of trying to understand the world they live in, instead of just condemning it.

How do we do it nationally, in our politics? Beats me! I just think they’re stupid.


About the author

David Bulley

History teacher, writer, storyteller

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