The Least Resistance

I met with my 8th grade student last night. He’s an unusual kid for his generation—he reads books like they’re going out of style and has the vocabulary and intellectual curiosity to prove it. Here’s an actual snippet of conversation from our session last week, wherein we got off on a tangent about animals on the verge of extinction:

Him: Or you could clone them so they wouldn’t all die.
Me: Oh, like in Jurassic Park.
Him: Yeah, but that actually wouldn’t work, because DNA breaks down after about 9.6 million years.
Me: You’ve been saving that one up for a while, haven’t you?
*cue shit-eating grin that quickly turns into the giggles.*

As you can probably tell, this is not a kid who usually struggles for ideas. But last night was the exception. I don’t know if it was a combination of being 14, being tired, or something else, but we were dealing with massive, massive homework resistance. The assignment was to write a diary entry for one of the characters from The Outsiders (and this kid finished reading the book the same day he got it, so that wasn’t an issue). You’d have thought he’d been asked to scale Everest in 20 minutes.

I tried lists. I tried dialogues, recorded on his iPhone. I tried everything I could think of, but nothing worked because my student just could not get out of his own way. It was almost painful to watch this incredibly bright, clever kid get stuck behind roadblocks he put up for himself. And he’s written plenty of fiction before, but that was for me, not for a grade, so it was easier. If he’d let himself play with it, or even just accepted the notion that it was okay to write something completely crappy for his first draft, he’d have been off to the races in no time flat. But as soon as you put the grade into the mix, and the fact that he just did. not. want. to do this assignment, everything changed. He became the Resistance Poster child, and almost every phrase out of his mouth was, “I don’t knowwwwww!”

The next time you’re running up against resistance, ask yourself where your roadblocks are, and who put them there. How much harder are you making it just because you’re telling yourself you don’t want to do it, shouldn’t have to do it, and really want to find a way not to? How are you psyching yourself out with expectations and comparisons? Some of these things will be of questionable truth. Some will be outright lies. Sorting them out from the actual truth is critical. (And sometimes you just need a nap. Because, yes, it really is okay to rest!)

In the end, the Borg were right, in their way. Resistance really, truly is futile.

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