those at the conference table ignore, isrnthe notion that upper-level students—thernactual players in the game —should bernheld accountable for their education.rnFor the past year, I have taught Latin atrnTuscola High School in Waynesville,rnNorth Carolina. My previous experiencernin teaching included a year as a collegerninstructor, several years as an instructor inrnadult basic education at a nearby prison,rnand ten years homeschooling my ownrnchildren as well as tutoring other homeschoolingrnstudents. Teaching highrnschool offered a new challenge, thernchance to discover if I was up to the markrnin that regard. Having heard, like allrnAmericans, about disrespect and violencernin the schools, I was also somewhatrnapprehensive about teaching, but I wasrncertain that my enthusiasm for Romanrnhistory and Latin would prove infectious.rnAs the year progressed, I quickly discoveredrnthat my apprehensions were misplaced.rnMy students were bright and likable;rnmy biggest discipline problem wasrntalking in class. But what did distress mernwas an attitude common to nearly all myrnstudents, an attitude that, for lack of a betterrnterm, I can only describe as “deep apathy,”rnan apathy that went to the bone.rnThroughout the year, I rarely saw real enthusiasmrnfor Latin or for any other academicrnsubject. “Boring” was a word Irnheard a hundred times a day. “Thisrnsucks”—applied to everything having torndo with school, Latin, lunch, gym classwasrnthe favorite expression of even myrnbest students.rnIn my war against this apathy, I did winrnsome skirmishes. My students memorizedrnLatin dicta designed to inspire thernspirit, maxims such as Excelsior! (“Higher!”rn—which I made sure my students understoodrnwas New York’s state motto,rnrather than a reference to drugs or alcohol)rnor Ad astra per aspera (“To the starsrnthrough difficulties,” referring, of course,rnto heavenly, rather than Hollywood, bodies).rnFrequently, when informed by myrnstudents that they were bored or thatrnschool sucked, I reminded them thatrnthey were sitting in a pleasant classroom,rnreading books and taking notes, whereasrnmany of their contemporaries aroimd thernworld spent their daylight hours workingrnin a rice paddy up to their knees in waterbuffalornwaste. One student—a vivaciousrnand outspoken young lady—who told mernthat Latin was boring seemed takenrnaback when I replied that her boredomrnwas her problem, that given the limitationsrnof time and the demands of thernschool system, I was doing my best to getrnsome Latin into her head. Judging by thernexpression on her face, I’m not sure thatrnthe thought had ever before occurred tornthis student that the world did not existrnsolely for her entertainment.rnIn November, I gave my first-yearrnclasses a ten-minute lecture titled “Thisrnsucks,” explaining initially that thesernwords once had a definite sexual meaning.rnWhen they protested —”Oh, no,rnMr. Minick, we don’t use it like that” —rnmy students gave me the opening I wanted.rnI told them that the original meaningrnwas at least preferable to their own usage,rnwhich seemed so filled with contemptrnand secondhand cynicism. Using “thisrnsucks” as their guiding light, I explained,rnthey were going through high school as ifrnwearing a ball and chain on one foot.rnThis attitude of deep indifferencernclearly affected performance. For manyrnof these students, a 50-minute class devotedrnto real drill, study, and learningrnseemed beyond their capability. Most ofrnmy students wanted an A or B, so long asrnthey didn’t have do any work to earn it;rnsome seemed to feel that their teachersrncould somehow tip them over and pourrnknowledge into their ears. Each day—literallyrn—there were students who asked ifrnwe could watch a video instead of studying,rnwho asked if we could build modelsrnof the Coliseum, who asked if the classrncould go outside or to the library, whornasked if they could “work with” theirrnneighbor on the lesson. Reflecting thisrndisinterest in school was an inability torncomplete homework assignments, tornspend a few minutes in the evening withrnthe lesson. Waynesville is a small town inrnthe Smoky Mountains, and often studentsrnwhom I had seen working in therngrocery stores, playing soccer, or ridingrnskateboards were the very ones whornwould tell me the following day in classrnthat they didn’t have time to do theirrnhomework.rnThis past year, Harold Stevenson, arnpsychologist from the University ofrnMichigan, completed a study of Americanrnand East Asian students, includingrnChinese and Japanese. When asked,rn”What is the most important thing yourncan do to improve your academicrnachievement?” the Asians overwhelminglyrnthought that hard work was the keyrnto success. On the other hand, studentsrnand parents from the United States ratedrnthe quality of teaching as the most importantrnfactor in learning. Stevenson alsornfound that Westerners, especially Americans,rnwere satisfied with their children’srnprogress, whereas Orientals reportedrnhigh levels of dissatisfaction. Speakingrnbefore the American Association for thernAdvancement of Science, Stevenson statedrnthat “the East Asian students assumedrnresponsibility for their own progressrnwhile the rest let others take responsibilityrnfor their performance.”rnDoubtless there are numerous factorsrnwhich have helped foster this lack of personalrninitiative in some of our teenagers.rnTelevision, used like a drug in so manyrnhouseholds, encourages a lazy, non-engagedrnlearning style. Our obsession withrnleisure and sport rather than with learningrnand hard work sets a poor example forrnour young people. Our need to blamernour mistakes on others—the abundancernof lawsuits in the United States is thernmost glaring example of this tendency—rnlikewise gives our young people the idearnthat they can blame others when theyrnfail. Our nation’s 20-year love affair withrna false concept of self-esteem—trophiesrnall around, “I Am Special” church programs,rnthe ridiculous doting of parents—rnhas lowered standards. Finally, ourrnschool systems, by creating the idea thatrn”we will educate your children,” must alsornbear some fault for the educationalrnpassivity of our teenagers.rnBut these relatively new variables inrnthe education equation, creations of thernlast 30 years, are obstacles to be overcome,rnnot to be used as excuses. Amongrnthe old people who live in my town, therernis an expression — “get yourself an education.”rnThose few students today who takernresponsibility for their schooling, whornwork hard, who are aggressive in theirrnlearning, deserve our applause. To therngreat bulk of students who are coastingrnthrough school or still waiting for a miraclernfrom the system, I would say: It’s timernto wake up. It’s time to “get real.” It’srntime to stop working until ten everyrnevening to pay for a car and use yourrnevenings instead for your studies. It’srntime to give to learning the same effortrnyou give to basketball or television. It’srntime to apply yourself, preferably to thernnearest chair, crack open a book, and beginrnthat great adventiire which is not yourrnright but your privilege.rnIt’s time, in short, to get yourself an education.rnJeff Minick manages Saints and ScholarsrnBook Co., a resource for Catholic homeschoolers,rnand teaches Latin in Waynesville,rnNorth Carolina.rn48/CHRONICLESrnrnrn