A is for Apathy

This month I’m happy to be participating in the Blogging A to Z challenge. I love a good blogging challenge and this one happens to mirror my current habits–write Monday through Saturday, chill on Sunday. So for today, I was overrun with ideas for A: Austin (where I am heading next weekend for VegFest), Alpine (the gorgeous little town on the edge of the Big Bend where I received my MA), Archetypes (one of the my favorite literary elements to discuss), Margaret Atwood (the best writer in the history of life), Avocados (the food I’ve grown to love after years of hate) . . . so many options!

Instead, I decided to talk about apathy, a crime of which I am certainly guilty. When my students come to me with their excuses for why they haven’t don’t their work/come to class, I usually tell them I don’t really need to hear the excuses. They interpret this as apathy, that I just don’t care. And in some cases I don’t because they are lying to me or have made a habit of lying to me. More often, I do care and want to help them, but I have set up rules in my syllabus to keep me from getting taken in by the liars and letting students scam grades they don’t deserve. It’s my protection from taking everything in my classroom too personally and being completely apathetic.

Another frustration I find in the classroom is my students’ apathy. It often seems that they care about nothing. They don’t read, they don’t watch movies, they don’t do anything that I can connect with–I often end up saying in frustration, “What is it you do care about?” because I can’t find anything other than texting in my class that they show any passion for. From a writing standpoint, I often have to tell my fiction students that their characters must want something (as Kurt Vonnegut says, even just a glass of water), that apathy is boring to read about. We want to read about people who want something, who feel something, even if it seems silly. At least it’s something.

In life, apathy is dangerous because now it’s so easy to say “I don’t care” or its eye rolling cousin, “Whatever.” There is too much in the world that threatens to mash our hearts that apathy becomes our protection. We can’t deal with the terrible things we see and hear, so we make the call not to care. Or, we select two or three things we care a great deal about and focus on those. I am guilty of that crime–my apathy extends to things not in my “wheel house,” so to speak. The problem then, as a parent, is how do I keep my children from the dangers of apathy while protecting them?

I don’t have an answer (as I get older I find the number of questions outweighs the answers); instead I have my instincts which tell me to keep it simple. We should not be apathetic to suffering. We should not be apathetic to joy. We should not be apathetic to making the world just a little bit better each day.



PS. Since I am blogging A to Z, any letter specific topics anyone wants to see?

Categories: Get Smart, Life and Other Nonsense | Tags: , , , , , | 24 Comments

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24 thoughts on “A is for Apathy

  1. Whew, had to really search for a place to leave a comment. Wonder if others will have the same trouble. Maybe all the digg, likes, email etc would be better placed after comments. By the time you look through all that and the tags. I was about to give up….using your phrase…I just don’t care. But, since I’m here for A-Z I looked and looked.

    Interesting read. Have you been a teacher a long time? I ask because I would think apathy regarding students come on after years. Maybe you need a little break. It’s hard to excite them if you’re apathy is showing. Cell phones and texting….boy do I agree with you. Maybe collect them in a basket as they enter the room, and return them on the way out? Love your background with all the books!

    • I’m sorry about the trouble, Sandy. On my screen comments are right below the small row of share elements. This one does have a number of comments already and it does require paging down. The format of the posts are auto set up because I am too cheap to upgrade beyond the free format. 😉

      I am not apathetic toward teaching or my subjects or my students–I care about what I teach and I care about my students being successful. What I don’t care about is their excuses for not doing work or coming to class. I will work with struggling students when they have shown that they care about their education, but when someone misses five classes in a row because they keep oversleeping and then wants to me to just overlook it, I certainly am not invested in that.

      This marks the end of my fifth year and I have to say the behavior of students is getting worse. At first I thought it was just me, but my colleagues have the same issues. Thankfully we’re all about to get the much needed break you mention with summer (or at least two weeks before summer school starts). Thanks for stopping by.

  2. I think apathy is such a hard topic because there are so many things to care about, but not enough time to do something about all of them. And yet, I wonder if we all took the time do something about what we care about, maybe everything would get covered since we have so many different interests? I also like your point with your students about people mistaking something else for apathy. It’s easy to think someone doesn’t care when it may be something else entirely. Nice post!

    • I think you are right about being able to spread our emotional investment around, Danica. It just takes one person caring to move for change. Thanks for the visit.

  3. This was an excellent essay on apathy and I agree with you all the way, especially on the list of things it is important to be non-apathetic about! Very thought provoking writing, I’ll be back for more! 🙂

  4. amyctilson

    Interesting! I’ve often heard that the opposite of love isn’t hate, but apathy. I like the inclusion of the idea that any character must want something. I guess you could say that one goal as a writer is to make the reader want something, then search for it in our words. Good food for thought here.

    • We actually talk about that exact thing when discussing the Robert Frost poem, “Fire and Ice.” One of the points I try to make is that hate involves some of sort of passion even if it is negative. But I agree with Frost that “ice” or indifference is just as harsh, if not worse. Thanks for stopping by.

  5. Really interesting wee essay and a great start to the A to Z blogging challenge – apathy is something that gets its teeth into us all at some point, but it really is so destructive. It really is hard to watch people who don’t seem moved by anything at all – I wonder what goes on in their heads when they lie in bed at night.

    I’m looking forward to reading more of your thoughts as the month goes on!

  6. Hi Amber. I’m popping in via the A to Z Challenge.
    Over the years, I’ve always said to students that they MUST develop an opinion on different topics/issues because it means they are THINKING… they either like or dislike a poem, character, story etc. and that it’s okay to dislike some of the things because the reality is, we CANNOT like every poem, story etc.
    The worst thing is remaining in a state of limbo with NO opinion about something…
    Great post!

    • Thanks for stopping by, Michelle. I always tell my students that when I ask their thoughts on something they are welcome to hate it, but they have to tell me why. And I don’t accept the answer “it was boring.” If I did, that’s all I would ever hear. Thanks again!

  7. aMEN! A is for Amen! And I think you got it exactly right: people, especially teenaged people, get so afraid of being ridiculed – for anything, but ESPECIALLY something that matters – that it’s much more tempting to be cynical, sarcastic, disaffected, or else to only show passion about “safe” things outside our own selves. (“I love the Yankees and anybody who says they suck is an idiot!” is so much easier to say and believe than “I’m going to be a great writer someday, and anybody who says I can’t is an idiot!”)

    Anyway, I don’t have any more ingenuity than you do in figuring out how to solve that problem, but I think you are off to a terrific start by demanding that your students recognize that it IS a problem, or at least that it can become one, and that there is a terrific and worthwhile alternative. Preach it! Hang it up!

    • Exactly! Everything is “lame” because they don’t want to risk any sort of investment. The problem is that it leaves us empty in the end. Thanks, Tex.

  8. I battle apathy in my classes as well! It’s the biggest factor in inhibiting positive change! Nice to have found like minded folk. Please visit and become a member at http://citymusecountrymuse2012.blogspot.com/ where we are posting an original poem every day during the A-Z challenge.

  9. Good post. Life isn’t worth living if we’re not ‘into’ one thing or another.

  10. Apathy is challenging. When I taught at the university level cell phones were not allowed in the classroom. As for topics, we just moved from the Hill Country after five wonderful years and I miss it so much. I’d love to read anything about Texas! (Is there a way to turn off the identification requirement until the challenge is over? I just spent 15 minutes trying to comment and the system kept booting me off. Just a suggestion. I enjoyed your post and would like to be able to leave comments.)

    • Thanks for stopping by, Darla! The Hill Country is so beautiful. I’m heading to Austin next weekend and can’t wait for the change in scenery. According to my rules, students shouldn’t have phones in my classroom either, but how often do they actually follow directions? I usually make a blanket statement that if your hands are under your desk instead of taking notes, something’s not right. They still try to slip it by. And thanks for the tip on disabling names–I thought I’d turned everything off, but I overlooked that one. Thanks again!

      • I hope you enjoy Austin! We lived 1 1/2 hours NW of Austin, but I had to drive into Austin to see a doctor, shop for anything other than basic groceries–we were very rural, but it was wonderful. I do miss those rolling green hills. I read in the news that your area is getting severe weather lately. Be careful!
        Darla Sue

  11. sherileec

    Great post, and great start to the challenge–you had me at Margaret Atwood… and avocados!

    I find apathy disheartening; though I don’t have a great deal of experience with students and apathy I can imagine it’s prevalent. I deal with adults, in the workplace, who are tired or mid-career and don’t want to be there and sometimes don’t want to bring their best selves/ideas. So I do see apathy, and I think it takes effort on each person’s part to not give in and let the daily grind wear you down–find things to energize and enliven you, whatever their origin (just not your phone!).

    I look forward to your posts!

    • I can only imagine how people in the workplace struggle with apathy. It’s so numbing and easy to slip into, especially the older you get. “Energize and enliven”–perfectly put! We have to avoid the numbing indifference even if it means we might get hurt. And good grief do I love Margaret Atwood. I’m dying in anticipation for the release of MaddAddam. Thanks for stopping by!

  12. Pingback: Apathy – a social affliction? | Koreling

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