Building a Better Student: Tearing Down

new home under construction

Each day I drive past a commercial building site that has been more than a year in the making, and it’s still not complete. It takes a long time to build a foundation, set the supports, and apply the materials that eventually create a finished product.

As for the structure that previously occupied that spot? It was demolished and carted away in the space of two weeks.

Building something meaningful takes a lot of time and tremendous effort, while the act of tearing it down comes quite easily. Education, it seems, is not too different from the world of construction.

Sadly, way too many young people opt for the easy route. As a society, it turns out that we have a strange preoccupation with tearing things down, probably because it’s so much simpler to do.

As a high school student, I distinctly remember classmates who sat in the back of the room and ignored the teacher, mocked the lessons, and generally blew off their assignments. They laughed and did their best to let everyone know how stupid it all was. Their goal was to tear down the process, because they couldn’t be bothered to put in the work necessary to succeed. It was much easier to laugh it off.

You’ll find like-minded students today in schools across the nation. Sure, these days they may disrupt a class with their phones or other gadgets, but their mission is identical – only the methods have changed. They want to tear down any attempt by the teacher to educate her students. Demolition is too easy to pass up.

We have a funny predisposition, it seems, to destroy or dismantle. As a kid, I made sand castles, and enjoyed the painstaking effort to shape the designs just right. But I can’t deny that I felt something akin to a high when I finished the project and then smashed the sand with my feet. Watch any child at play with his toys, and note the unbridled joy he exhibits when he tears everything apart.

It’s somehow in our genes to create mayhem and destruction. I can’t help but feel that some component of that urge lies within our otherwise-rational mind when it comes to education. Many young people can’t suppress their natural tendency to destroy. What they’re ultimately wiping out, however, is their own future.

Building is difficult, and requires an investment of time. Tearing down is fun, with instant rewards delivered through adrenaline. It’s our primitive side, one that often is not pretty.

One of our responsibilities as parents and teachers is to help more students recognize the lasting value in building that – over a stretch of time – outweighs the temporary rush of demolition. Whether it’s building a home or building a life through education, it’s critical to acknowledge that the tougher path is the better choice.

Dom Testa is an author, speaker, morning radio show host, and has kept a ficus tree alive for twenty two years. He’s also the founder and president of The Big Brain Club, a non-profit foundation that helps young people recognize that Smart Is Cool. More info at www.DomTesta.com.

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