An epidemic that continues to go undiagnosed in American schools is how students from all stages of the academic achievement spectrum experience feelings of stupid. Although this disease diminishes the potential of all students, it is deadly for young people who experience feelings of stupid on a daily basis…and many do.

For these students, quitting school or disengaging while attending school is an understandable yet personally damaging response.

Based on research from students throughout the country, Top 20 Training has identified eight ways students react to feelings of stupid and five causes of feelings of stupid.

Reactions to Feeling Stupid:

When students feel stupid, they predictably react in one of eight ways.

1. The withdraw. They quit school or they disengage while they are in school. They find ways to remain invisible even when they show up for school. They don’t raise their hands when they don’t know something. They don’t sign up for classes or participate in co-curricular activities that might be challenging.

2. They pretend. They pretend to know something when they really don’t. They pretend to be able to do something when they really can’t.

3. They become emotional. They are embarrassed, angry, upset, sad, worried, nervous or stressed.

4. They judge themselves: I’m not good enough; I don’t know anything; I’m bad at everything; I am stupid.

5. They attack others. They argue with or challenge teachers. They bully other students in the hallway or cafeteria, on the playground or bus, or online.

6. They become defensive. They make judgments of teachers and classes — “This class is stupid…My teacher is stupid.”

7. They may be motivated to do better in school. They may study harder for the next test. However, they continue to carry within them the feeling of being stupid.

8. They become numb because being numb is better than dumb. They choose to be apathetic or use alcohol or drugs to deaden the feelings of stupid.

Causes of Stupid:

Top 20 Training has identified five causes of stupid.

1. Called: Students are called stupid or other words that mean the same thing like ’dumb’ or ‘idiot’. They are laughed at or experience non-verbal responses from teachers.

2. Comparison: Students are compared to others or compare themselves to others. Typically these comparisons result in students judging themselves: “I’m not good enough.

3. Confusion: Students feel stupid when they don’t get it and are confused. Although confusion is a natural part of all learning, most students have come to believe that confusion is a sign of their stupidity.

4. Can’t: Students can’t do certain things. Their failure or mistakes make them feel stupid. As a result, they often avoid activities or situations where they cannot easily succeed.

5. Certain situations: Students feel stupid when they experience certain situations like reading aloud in class or needing help.

Teacher Tips for Overcoming Stupid:

Top 20 Training is working with teachers in thousands of schools to reduce the negative impact stupid has on students lives and learning.

1. Top 20 Training is initiating professional conversations among educators to:
(a) become aware of stupid and
(b) consider ways to reduce student experiences of stupid.

2. Top 20 Training is encouraging educators to make “stupid” part of the curriculum:
(a) For teachers to share their own personal experiences of feeling stupid and to teach the 5 causes of stupid.
(b) For teachers to explain how ‘comparison’ can lead to learning and the importance of ‘confusion’ in learning.
(c) For teachers to stress the value of failure and mistakes to learning and growing.

3. Top 20 Training is helping teachers and students be aware of when stupid is more likely to appear. For example, when students may have done poorly on an exam and when new and more challenging material is about to be presented.

4. Top20 Training is challenging teachers to help ALL students discover how they are smart.

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