There is a country music song with the lyric, “God is great, beer is good, and people are crazy,” but the truth is, not that many people are crazy. Most seem pretty rational to me. What people are is lazy.
We are masters of the shortcut. We’ll spend five minutes hunting for a parking space if it means we save ourselves 50 steps. We’ll consistently choose the awkward proximity and uncomfortable silence among strangers in an elevator over lugging ourselves up (or even down) three (and sometimes fewer) flights of stairs. We’ll rent a cart at a par-3 golf course. We’ll read the headline but not the article. Some people can’t even be bothered to open a new tab and Google their easily-answerable question. They post the damn thing on Facebook.
We dream of spending our days lying on a beach with a good book in one hand and one of those umbrella-adorned drinks in the other. Plenty of people’s ideal weekend includes sleeping in, overeating, and Netflix bingeing. I’ll wager you know people who dream of retirement, not because they’ll be able to travel the world, or finally write that novel, or spend more time with their grandkids, but because being retired is a really good way to spend as much time as you want doing absolutely nothing productive.
Want to get rich? Find something that is already really easy to do, then figure out a way people could do it in an even lazier way. Remote controls, escalators, prepackaged apple slices, garage door openers, the Clapper, Alexa, Smuckers Uncrustables, Dash buttons — all of them exist because our quest for laziness is unrelenting.
One classic example of human laziness is Johnston and Goldstein’s study on organ donor rates. It found that those countries where organ donation is the default and you must opt out in order to keep your own organs have much higher donation rates than nations with opt-in systems. In both cases, humans displayed a tendency toward inaction. The same thing has been found when studying retirement savings. Those who have money automatically invested save much more than those who have to take proactive steps to save.
We like doing nothing, even when doing nothing harms us in the long run. It’s why more people own couches than treadmills.
Such laziness seems to come naturally. Daniel Lieberman, a Harvard professor who is an expert in human evolutionary biology blames our ancestors. “Our instincts are always to save energy. For most of human evolution that didn’t matter because if you wanted to put dinner on the table you had to work really hard. It’s only recently we have machines and technology to make our lives easier. . . . We’ve inherited these ancient instincts, but we’ve created this dream world and the result is inactivity.” Source
One study, cited in a Time article called, “Here’s Proof That People Are Wired to Be Lazy,” found that even on those rare occasions when we actually leave the couch to walk somewhere our bodies do it as efficiently as possible by choosing a speed and stride length that limits the calories we expend.
Laziness, it seems, is part of the human condition.
Students are humans, too. And they’re just as lazy as the older and bigger versions.
They cut corners. They copy and paste and pass it off as their own. They sneak on to game sites when they should be working. They write illegibly. They pretend to read instead of actually reading. They don’t work out the problem. They walk right past the crayon on the ground instead of picking it up. They cheat. They skip past parts of instructional videos so they can get to the end faster. They don’t reread. They go to the questions without reading the directions. They don’t put their names on their papers. They don’t walk to the trashcan, choosing instead to stash even more junk in their desks. They don’t copy your notes. They’ll sit there without a pencil instead of getting a new one.
Given our own lazy habits, none of this should surprise or upset us.
And yet it does. We proclaim to our colleagues how lazy kids are today. We bemoan the influence of our gotta-have-it-now society. We worry about the future of our nation.
And some of us blame ourselves. We’re good at that. We’ve bought into the narrative put forth by education’s most vociferous critics that how a child does in school is a reflection of his or her teachers.
But student laziness is not your fault. It isn’t a sign that you have low expectations, or that you didn’t model what you wanted clearly enough. It has nothing to do with how engaging you attempted to make your lesson. It’s not the fault of grades, or contrived tasks, or the way education is delivered. So stop beating yourself up over it.
Of course, student laziness isn’t really your students’ fault either. It’s human nature, and you’re likely as guilty of it as they are. You don’t exercise enough. You let the dirty dishes pile up in the sink even though the dishwasher is mere feet away. You haven’t registered as an organ donor.
One of the great challenges that teachers face is the same one that parents, employers, doctors, preachers, personal trainers, financial advisors, and literally everyone else who has to deal with other people face:
People don’t want to work very hard. They would prefer to not work at all.
So stop expecting more from your students than you expect from yourself. Cut them some slack. And quit worrying about the future of the planet. People have always been lazy. They will, in fact, search out even more inventive ways to be even lazier. And that might not be the worst thing.
Because it’s no longer necessity that’s the mother of invention. It’s laziness.
So that layabout in your class might just be a budding entrepreneur. After all, it takes some next level laziness to conceive of this thing:
You know you want one.
And here are some other gift ideas for the laziest humans you know:
The baby mop. It’s exactly what you think it is.
An automatic spaghetti twirler.
This is a stand to hold your blow dryer. Because holding things with your hands is so last decade.
And you shouldn’t need to spin things anymore either. Besides, you always knew Ashley spun the bottle in such a way that she was guaranteed a make-out session with Dylan.
Snowball maker. Because snow is cold and not everybody has gloves.
Lift the toilet seat without actually lifting the toilet seat!
Now if only you could buy a Bluetooth-enabled toilet and flush it with your phone…
I am, once again, partnering with Angela Watson to help promote her 40-Hour Teacher Workweek Club. It’s an online professional development program that has already helped more than 32,000 teachers take control of their time and stay focused on what matters most. The next cohort is starting this summer, and the Club has been updated to cover emerging best practices for the changes ahead. Click here to receive a reminder email to sign up for Early Bird Access on June 8.