Wednesday, June 15, 2011


**** This week I will be writing about four life experiences that had a huge impact on my life. ****

"I'm really influenced by so many different things."
~Alex Winter 

When I taught middle school math, one of my daily duties was monitoring breakfast in the cafeteria. This was a sweet deal because the gracious cafeteria staff always fed me. 

Since the elementary schools and middle schools shared a cafeteria, all students (1st - 8th grades) ate breakfast together. I learned a valuable lesson about life as I observed the difference in how the elementary and middle school students interacted with each other.

I always enjoyed watching the elementary students because they were just so happy with life. When they ate breakfast, they did not care who they sat by – gender, race, etc. If one elementary student dropped their plate, three others were quickly there to assist. Oftentimes, these students would give each other hugs when they saw each other in the morning.

Watching the elementary students infused me with joy for life.

Middle school, however, was slightly different. We all know how trying the middle school years can be. I used to have a sign hanging in my classroom that said, “This will be the greatest year of your life.” My neighbor teacher would tell me that I should take that sign down because if my students really believed that message that they were in for a rough life.

I noticed when the middle school kids came into the cafeteria that they would sit in “societal” groups. I use the term “societal” because it seems that by the time these kids reached sixth grade they were different. Students would choose to sit segregated by race, gender, and, oftentimes, socioeconomic status. Why?

There is no doubt that we are shaped by our environment and societal expectations in general. Why, as we grow older, do we seem to simply slide into the group-think mentality and act the way that “society” conditions us to act? Intentional living is about choosing our actions and responses in life – not doing what everyone else is doing.

Is this so different for us as adults? If I’m honest with myself, oftentimes I do things because of the way I think others will react. Most of the time my motives in life are not pure and sincere. This group-think mentality finds its way into our lives unless we consciously choose how we will act.

When I was in college I read a little book called All I Really Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten. The first essay of the same title lists some things we learned in kindergarten that will serve us well throughout life. While it’s a bit trite and over-simplified, it resonates with me just the same. I’ve linked a site where you can read the short essay here.

As you walk through today, think about how society conditions us to react and respond to the people around us. Make a conscious decision today to decide how you will respond to others.

Question: In what ways does society condition us to act? Please post comments below.


Cantrell said...

I had this same discussion with a colleague of mine today. I really did learn a lot from Ruby Payne's findings and try my best every year to implement ways to ignore social differences (in negative light) while also celebrating them positively. Teaching 6th grade social studies (in TX = world geo/cultures) gives me the perfect opportunity to do some action research of what perceptions, thoughts, and feelings are out there among my students.

I'm not sure if there's any good answer but "comfort zones" we become accustomed to and tend to cling to in times of great uncertainty (i.e. middle and high school). Very good blog post!

Jason said...

I love my "comfort zones." Middle school provides many avenues for action research!!

Randy Cantrell said...

Jason, "Cantrell" above is my son, Ryan. He's a middle school teacher and collaborator in my Leaning Toward Wisdom project. On Twitter he's @mrcteaches. He blogs at

The Internet is very much like the offline world. I call it the "incestuousness of the clique." Too many people tend to base their own sense of self-worth on their acceptance or associations with other people.

Jason said...

Thanks for the comment and sorry for mixing you and your dad up!

Randy Cantrell said...

Jason, Ryan isn't offended. He always wanted to grow up to be just like me. ;-) Be careful or he'll quiz you down about working for the football teams. We're both college football fans.

Anonymous said...

I noticed this a little when I went to College. I attended the University of South Carolina (CWS Champs looking for a repeat!!) and the dorm floor I lived on freshman year, split down betwenn those from SC/GA and those "darn Yanks" Growing up in the midwest, I had no clue about how serious some take the division, as well as how others would go along with it because others led.

Jason said...

Brent, you're right. These "divisions" exist everywhere. Thanks for the comment.