“Stop Grabbing the Electric Cupcake”

A valuable life lesson

A valuable life lesson

An analogy I came up with last week to help enlighten my students, far too many of whom have tried to slide by, giving the minimal amount of effort they could and still pass the class, and who (shockingly!) failed my class for the last grading period:

There’s a classic episode of The Simpsons where Lisa is doing a science experiment at home.  She puts a food pellet in a hamster cage, but attaches it to a little wire that’s hooked up to a battery.  The hamster nibbles at the pellet, gets a bit of a shock, and quickly gets as far away from it as he can.

Lisa notes in her journal that the hamster has learned a lesson.

Then she puts a cupcake in the kitchen, and likewise puts an electrified wire in the back.  Bart comes by and grabs for the cupcake.  It zaps him but, unlike the hamster, Bart does not learn his lesson.  He keeps grabbing the cupcake, and keeps getting zapped.  He’s immediately addicted to a pointless cycle of self-destruction.

Here’s the application:

Bart is like too many students who, seeing how delicious that cupcake is, keep letting their hunger for it overcome their common sense.

The cupcake is the elusive goal of getting by in a class without having to work very hard.

The wire and battery represent the inevitable failure that follows this course of action.

After all, as Einstein said, the definition of insanity is doing the same thing and expecting a different result.  How many kids must be thinking, “THIS time my plan to goof off and somehow be just good enough will surely work like a charm!”

Now, when I see students slacking off, or otherwise doing things that will hurt their chances for success, I tell them, “Stop grabbing the electric cupcake.”  They’re already sick of it.

If only I could get them to strive for the huge chocolate cake of well-earned achievement!

Counseling With Counselors, part I

On Tuesday, a counselor at my school sent an email out to all of a certain student’s teachers, asking for help with his struggling performance, at the request of the student and his mother.  Though I commended them for this interest and effort, and the counselor for facilitating that, the substance of my comments was as follows:

Thank you for working with _____ and his mom. He’s really a decent kid; I enjoy having him in class and hope he turns around and does well.

That being said, let’s not all go through that dog and pony show where we shrug our shoulders and pretend we don’t know what’s wrong here. In my class, for example, last quarter, _____ had three large homework projects, which were discussed in class, literally, every day, with handouts given and posted online. None of them were turned in. He clearly didn’t study for the last big vocab quiz, either. He has another quiz Thursday and another big project–which we’ve also reviewed every day this quarter–due in two weeks. I can only hope he turns it in.

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“Work Smart” Myth Exposed

The popular maxim “work smarter, not harder” is pure hogwash.  It implies that clever tricks can supplant sustained effort.  While effectiveness is unarguably a virtue, nothing can take the place of sweat.

In teaching, we can implement all the cutesy activities, routines, and fads that the educrats can imagine, but the bottom line is that no class will be optimally productive unless the teacher is giving enthusiastic direct instruction, then guiding students through practice.  Even during in-depth independent work, we teachers must be circulating the room, checking on student work one on one.  It’s exhausting, but nothing less produces the best results.  It’s inconvenient for me, too, but we can’t just sit at our desks for an hour and occasionally bark orders and expect real learning to just happen. 

In church service, it’s even more true.  No amount of efficient program planning, curricular correlation, or assignment reporting–worthwhile as those things all are–will ever do half as much good as simply rolling up our sleeves and bringing gospel messages to people in their homes.  Passionately involving ourselves in people’s lives with meaningful service is going to take far more effort than the bare minimum requirements of any calling or ministry, but it’s also absolutely necessary to help grow anyone in the direction of Zion. 

Clichéd as it is to lament the passively entitled mindset of contemporary society, it’s still true.  If we want to help the world remember the value of good, plain, old fashioned hard work, we must, as Gandhi said, be the change we wish to see in the world. 

We may sometimes feel the need to step back and rest, but we can’t let it become a habit; the stakes in the things we care about are too high.  Wear out, don’t rust out. 

26 For behold, it is not meet that I should command in all things; for he that is compelled in all things, the same is a slothful and not a wise servant; wherefore he receiveth no reward.

27 Verily I say, men should be anxiously engaged in a good cause, and do many things of their own free will, and bring to pass much righteousness;

28 For the power is in them, wherein they are agents unto themselves. And inasmuch as men do good they shall in nowise lose their reward.

Doctrine and Covenants 58:26-28, emphasis added

13 Therefore, that we should waste and wear out our lives in bringing to light all the hidden things of darkness, wherein we know them; and they are truly manifest from heaven—

14 These should then be attended to with great earnestness.

Doctrine and Covenants 123:13-14, emphasis added