Playing Poker in Lima

First: I am going to NOT write about school this summer….as much as possible. Although this is based on Lima student mentality, I’m even limiting how often I blog about that. I’m tired of school, of teaching, of education sucking my soul and asking that I tithe my creativity and intellect at a proportion not commiserate with my job description.

HOWEVER,….gotta write this one. The elephant in our school is the Lima Mentality, a special blend of learned helplessness, entitlement, resignation, and eensy-teensy locus of control. It’s not just the kids–it permeates the city. We’re limited by “our population” and “our situation;” we don’t name the elephant, of course–confronting the issues of underclass, acceptable loss, and racism head on. We’re in an elegant do-si-do of enabling and whining, with a soupcon of schadenfreude thrown in for the barely middle class among us.

I’ve been in multiple conversations over the last few months about this problem, with a variety of people who all deal with it (and fall victim to it) in various contexts. I could analyze and sympathize and sermonize, but I am beginning to belief that my generally warm fuzzy, empathetic encouragement is not the best way to deal with the Lima Beast, even when it shows up in myself (which I will cop to…reluctantly).

Instead of helping with problem-solving, encouraging baby-steps, holding their hands through trials and risk-taking (and some of those “risks” are amazingly small and normal, by middle-class standards), here’s what I think I’m going to adopt as my new attitude:

“Yes, you didn’t get dealt a fair hand in life. If you’re going to whine, make excuses, and be a victim, leave the table. Otherwise, play your cards as smart as you can, work harder than everyone else at the table to learn the game–and maybe the next round you won’t lose your stake. If you’re not willing to play harder and smarter than the people who were born with aces up their sleeve, don’t pretend you’re playing the game.”

There are valid reasons and situations that add a great deal of strife and complication to my students’ lives. No argument. But reasons for failure shouldn’t be excuses, they should be incentives for success. And it bugs me more than I can express that I can see that phrase on a t-shirt, turned into a damn motto for happy people to chant as the cycle of enabling and failing continues.


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