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I’m a Teacher—We Are Subconsciously Training Kids for an AI Takeover

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There is a crisis of caring, and I’m at war with the apathy of my students.

Generation indifference. It’s not me, though that was my first guess. Vape, head down, repeat. They hate me, but they don’t.

I asked around, and it happens to any given teacher at any given time. Good teachers, teachers who are beloved, and deserve to be. I asked the kids what each of their teachers do to address the ‘Sleepy Magoo Syndrome’—named it myself—dropping books, blasting horns, making phone calls, and my personal favorite,sniping cell phones.

Euphemisms make reality tolerable, but they further blow off a massive problem, one that gnaws off a tiny piece of my spirit every day. I’m worried, and you should be, too.

As an English teacher on the front lines since 2007, I’ve had a unique vantage point, one I consider a sacred privilege: I open the door with writing assignments, and students pour their hearts out on paper. I read their problems, including their fears and their past traumas. Once, I even read two different essays by siblings from different school years about how they were impacted by their parents’ divorce at their stages of development. It was episodic.

During this time, from 2007 to 2024, I’ve watched bright, enthusiastic faces dull. To them, literature is a dead medium.

Forcing kids to sit still, book in hand, long enough to appreciate it, feels like throwing holy water on a possessed person. Books make them uncomfortable. Some kids look weighted down by their books, while others read with their foreheads on their desks and a book in their laps.

Most use their cell phones as a “bookmark” if we don’t look. Like my brother had to hold down his obstinate two-year-old to brush her teeth, so too would I have to tie each student to his desk and hold a book in front of his face while prying his eyes open.

Caitlin Hanratty School AI
A headshot of Caitlin Hanratty (L). Fifth Graders in Class – stock photo (R).

Caitlin Hanratty/Getty images/Richard Hutchings

As I write this, Governor Hochul just passed a law that does not guarantee schools to have the same or additional funding from year to year. As a result, my district canceled summer school—for the second year in a row—to save money. Last year it was due to the budget fail in our community.

I told my students today that they need to be mindful of our summer school situation—many are failing because they don’t turn in work—and I was met with little fear or concern.

My example illustrates two points. The first is that a culture of young people resisting reading is a precursor for an unkind, incurious world, as studies show that reading increases compassion and empathy.

My second point is that people are getting further and further away from the ability to access and engage with challenging texts. Critical thinking skills are not being developed. Everything beautiful that has been written since the dawn of time will die and be replaced by its thief, AI.

Year by year, more kids find themselves pushed to the next grade level. I heard a student use this as the reason for not completing his current classwork. We are discouraged from giving grades less than 50 in the first quarter, destroying our credibility with them right away. Why do the numbers 1-49 even exist?

Since the pandemic, attendance has become optional, as we’ve all proven to ourselves that we can pass from the comfort of home. We literally have no attendance requirement. Woody Allen said, “90 percent of life is showing up.” This is the absolute, most basic component of a functional society.

Kids are absent 50-60 times and still pass. Instead of having a policy, admin leaves this responsibility to us. We are teaching kids that they don’t have to show up.

We are facilitating and condoning a society in which a certain segment will be indoor people, unsocialized and frightened of the world. They will hopefully be the “work-from-home” crew of the future, or they will be casualties ripe for the AI takeover.

Kids have impossibly difficult lives that bleed into their academics. If someone has a valid enough sob story, we pass them. I’ve done it recently with a student I offered to take to see colleges in the area because she’s really smart and doesn’t have many competent adults in her life.

Kids proudly stay home when they aren’t sick. Many of their parents know. While kids no longer have to show up, teachers do. Now we make lessons that are duplicable for Google Classroom with easy-to-follow instructions for the tutors of suspended kids who have no knowledge or expertise in the subject. We have to cater as much to the crew who can’t show up as the ones who do.

Anyone who has ever had an amazing teacher whose class felt like magic knows it can’t be replicated. We chase down absent kids who don’t make up their work so they pass. We send a thousand reminders. It’s on G-Class. Email. We provide countless avenues to access work, and they blow more and more of them off.

It feels demeaning and discouraging, having to sell school like this, trying to give it away for free to ungrateful customers while we read about Malala Yousafzai, shot in the head by the Taliban for having the courage to go to school. Then, a hand goes up. Bathroom pass. Vape, head down, repeat.

While reading Tara Westover’s memoir Educated with my sophomores, we talk about families and parenting styles and all that jazz. I have them do the following writing assignment: If you choose to have kids one day, what is something you will do differently from your parents?

We have to stop living in a make-believe world where a kid’s success is solely contingent on the quality of their teacher or school district—where the problem is not having interesting books or entertaining teachers or adequate technology.

It’s not because the school app’s didn’t do enough reminding. It’s not because the assignment wasn’t also posted on Google Classroom. It’s a crisis of caring.

We have to stop overreacting about the wrong things and underreacting about the right things. We must be these childrens’ loudest influencers. Most importantly, we have to stop betraying our sense of morality just to make it through the day. Because we have to come back tomorrow.

Caitlin Hanratty teaches high school English in the Hudson Valley, NY. Previously, she has been published in the Gay and Lesbian Review. She hopes to add more credits to this list.

All views expressed are the author’s own.

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