Fine pewter portraits of General Apathy and Major Boredom…

As you may have noticed from my sidebar, I was reading David H. Albert’s Have Fun. Learn Stuff. Grow. If you are unaware of Mr. Albert’s work, he is the homeschooling father of two daughters and a writer, editor, and publisher, among other things. Unfortunately, I missed the opportunity to see Mr. Albert speak with my former homeschooling group because I was really, really pregnant and busy with last minute baby preparations. But I picked up this collection of essays through inter-library loan.

Many of the essays illustrate points that he has made in previous books such as the power of child-led learning and the importance of setting up mentoring relationships with other adults for young teens. But two of the essays struck a particular chord with me for reasons that I am not at liberty to fully explain. In some ways, they seem unrelated, but I think I see a connection.

The first is a small section of the essay “Homeschooling and the Curriculum of Love”. This part beginning on page 15 addresses apathy, an increasingly common mental state for more and more teenagers. And as Albert points out, schools are pretty much apathy factories. Here are some quotes from that passage:

“At bottom, apathy (like poorly directed violence) is an expression of powerlessness, a conclusion having been reached that nothing one does really makes a difference. It is a way of coming to terms with an environment that is inflexible, a feeling that one does not truly count, that all has already been determined. Apathy is hopelessness having failed to find another expression…And that is the thing: apathy is a learned response, actually one that is difficult to learn, as it drives the individual from her natural state….For apathy is also an expression of a future expectation that one is simply not going to be listed to, and hence, to act, or simply to express oneself in some other manner is just not worth the trouble. (p16)”

I have experienced periods of apathy, and it is pretty much indistinguishable from a kind of depression. And I feel bad for the people I meet who seem to live their whole lives feeling like this. They can’t be bothered to try for something better for themselves or even bother talking about it because everything just seems so pointless. When you care about them, you just want to shake them and smack them and tell them to get their head out of their ass. But when you think about what had to happen consistently for a person to remain in a constant state of apathy, you start to rack your brain trying to think of a compassionate way to help them snap out of it.

Now Mr. Albert goes on to talk about video games in is essay “A Long Way Since Yo-Yos”. He kind of plays devil’s advocate to suggest that video games aren’t a total waste of time for kids. Kids can learn a lot of problem solving skills through video games; he contends that they aren’t just mindless activities even if their worth can not be measured in the classroom. Here is what he notes about video games:

“The child learns to feel in control, unself-conscious, oblivious to emotional problems or external demands, not dependent upon others, neither bored nor frustrated, and , increasingly, competent…The point is that the video game folks are preying upon children’s needs to feel in control, even as they face and then overcome challenges.”

I can’t help wondering if there is a high correlation between apathy and video game obsession. Not only do video games give the child some sense of control back into their other-wise powerless lives, but when video games as a privilege are repeatedly taken away as punishment (for not taking care of important things) that probably feeds a child’s apathy. It’s like a Catch-22 for the child. The apathetic child turns to video games for control, but because they are apathetic they further lose the right to have any control.

Of course, I am not saying that all people who play video games are apathetic and struggling for some semblance of control in their lives. I’m just wondering if there is a high correlation between apathetic and video game-obsessed teens. And I mean the ones who have some sort of video-game unit glued to their hands every known second (as opposed to the cell-phone obsessed people who can’t stand to be alone with their own thoughts for five seconds). I also think it is interesting that David Albert compares apathy to “poorly directed violence” and then notes in the later essay that video games do not need to be so violent.

For those of us who aren’t truly apathetic, though, we turn to the angry genius commentaries by Ben Folds in songs such “Battle of Who Could Care Less” to get us through.

…Saying whatever and ever, Amen.

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One Comment on “Fine pewter portraits of General Apathy and Major Boredom…”

  1. Laura Witten Says:

    Very interesting. I think you may be onto something! At our game store, we offer free video gaming and free board gaming to the kids and young adults. Video games are far more poplular…but the regulars have begun to get more and more interested in board games as they see it being played. I don’t think the control:game correlation is limited to video games, as long as the other types of games are not played with control-freaks or unyielding parents or teachers.
    One reason kids, and particularly boys, are so into video games is that they also get to feel like they are rebelling in some way, that is not going to get them arrested. The boys are allowed to take out their natural aggression in a healthy manner, somewhat like play wrestling.
    While highly controlled school environments are bad for both genders, boys often come out much worse in the end because they are simply wired differently. They are more physical, crave freedom and challenges and have a great need to earn respect. I haven’t seen any public school system address any of those basic male needs.


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