Mapping the Victim Curriculum

Not surprisingly, around the end of the school year comes a chorus of cries all claiming unfairness.  Poor grades, non-existent study habits, skipping class, sleeping in class, forgotten this and that, inability to follow even the simplest of directions -- "Not my fault!"  All of these excuses are the result of being a victim, or to alter a term for use here, the intense study and practice of personal victimology.

"Victim" is not, however, a natural state of being.  It must be impressed upon a person.  Traditionally, this has been done through the infliction of some real violence, some tangible crime upon a person.  For example, if a person is burned in a house fire, that person becomes a burn victim.  He bears the scars; there is no questioning his status as they are real and tangible. 

But the student afflicted with learned victimization bears none of these scars.  Indeed, the student may not even be failing -- only doing more poorly than he feels he ought.  And yet he has allowed himself to be convinced that his lack of achievement and lack of recognition are both a source for and a result of themselves.  His self-defined achievements would be recognized if only those who judge him will look closely and in the right places.  His scars are internal and therefore indefinable by all but himself, though many choose to support his cause.  The internal scars he bears are not to be healed or overcome, but placated and catered to.  He would achieve if his definition of achievement were recognized.  He would succeed if he were only allowed to, if only his own individual proclivities were celebrated. 

Hence the "victim curriculum."  The following three course titles could be the core of the curriculum.  And though this is not necessarily a formal course of study, there can be no learned victimization without it.

VIC-101: First Person Wants - The student will concentrate efforts to rhetorically transforming personal wants into fundamental personal needs.  The student will demonstrate proficiency at shifting expressed needs as the mood of the moment dictates.

VIC-102: Demands on the Second Person - The student will become adept at making "at the moment" demands on anyone he directly speaks to, but will concentrate on making demands of any "authority figure".  The proficient student will be able to invert authority in a given situation as he sees fit through incessant demands.

VIC-103: Blaming the Third Person - The learner will learn and practice the art of scapegoating; the student will become adept at shifting blame depending on his audience.

These courses need not be taken in order, and no prerequisites are necessary.  All that is needed is a desire to disavow (or give up, to use simpler words) personal responsibility.  What's more, the curriculum is accessible to anyone of any age.  It is, in that way, quite undiscriminating.

And yet, I feel that I have perhaps made an error.  A successful practitioner of victimology requires one thing beyond a drive to become a perpetual casualty; he requires a social construct with which to operate effectively within.  This is why at the moment so many victims appear within the public school system -- it is fertile ground. 

That it is fertile ground is an unintended consequence.  Over the course of time, primary accountability for student learning and development has shifted away from the student and onto the school.  Accountability policies and practices have been implemented which make schools (and teachers) accountable for what is taught, what is presented in a learnable manner to students.  This is a good thing in itself.  But if a child does not choose to learn what he is supposed to learn, now it is assumed that the school is to blame.  When public demand for equality of outcomes regardless of student effort is mixed with punitive measures for schools that "leave children behind", it is little wonder that the result is a victim-friendly environment for those who choose to indulge themselves.  The focus really is not on what the student is learning, regardless of any fixation on test statistics.  The focus is on what is being done "for the children".  The resulting environment makes it all too easy for children to slip into seeing themselves as a victim.

Indeed, there is fertile ground in most places where able-bodied and sound-minded people are allowed -- even encouraged -- to shirk their own personal responsibility so that they may profit from the work, pity, or good graces of others.

Dealing with the unintended consequence -- the transfer of responsibility for learning -- seems to be the best way change the victim-friendly environment.  The idea of equality of outcome must be abandoned.  Teachers, schools, and districts must be responsible for giving students opportunities to learn.  These opportunities should be many and varied and should attempt to entice all students to have a seat at the table.  But all of that is just means.  The end of education, variously stated as "a well-rounded person ready to exercise the responsibilities of citizenship," cannot be imposed upon the unwilling.  As the adage goes, you can lead a horse to water - in fact you can drown the horse - but you cannot make the horse drink.  The student must assume responsibility for his own success.  Otherwise, he will leave himself behind - a victim indeed.

Bob Myer blogs at mindofflapjack.blogspot.com/
Not surprisingly, around the end of the school year comes a chorus of cries all claiming unfairness.  Poor grades, non-existent study habits, skipping class, sleeping in class, forgotten this and that, inability to follow even the simplest of directions -- "Not my fault!"  All of these excuses are the result of being a victim, or to alter a term for use here, the intense study and practice of personal victimology.

"Victim" is not, however, a natural state of being.  It must be impressed upon a person.  Traditionally, this has been done through the infliction of some real violence, some tangible crime upon a person.  For example, if a person is burned in a house fire, that person becomes a burn victim.  He bears the scars; there is no questioning his status as they are real and tangible. 

But the student afflicted with learned victimization bears none of these scars.  Indeed, the student may not even be failing -- only doing more poorly than he feels he ought.  And yet he has allowed himself to be convinced that his lack of achievement and lack of recognition are both a source for and a result of themselves.  His self-defined achievements would be recognized if only those who judge him will look closely and in the right places.  His scars are internal and therefore indefinable by all but himself, though many choose to support his cause.  The internal scars he bears are not to be healed or overcome, but placated and catered to.  He would achieve if his definition of achievement were recognized.  He would succeed if he were only allowed to, if only his own individual proclivities were celebrated. 

Hence the "victim curriculum."  The following three course titles could be the core of the curriculum.  And though this is not necessarily a formal course of study, there can be no learned victimization without it.

VIC-101: First Person Wants - The student will concentrate efforts to rhetorically transforming personal wants into fundamental personal needs.  The student will demonstrate proficiency at shifting expressed needs as the mood of the moment dictates.

VIC-102: Demands on the Second Person - The student will become adept at making "at the moment" demands on anyone he directly speaks to, but will concentrate on making demands of any "authority figure".  The proficient student will be able to invert authority in a given situation as he sees fit through incessant demands.

VIC-103: Blaming the Third Person - The learner will learn and practice the art of scapegoating; the student will become adept at shifting blame depending on his audience.

These courses need not be taken in order, and no prerequisites are necessary.  All that is needed is a desire to disavow (or give up, to use simpler words) personal responsibility.  What's more, the curriculum is accessible to anyone of any age.  It is, in that way, quite undiscriminating.

And yet, I feel that I have perhaps made an error.  A successful practitioner of victimology requires one thing beyond a drive to become a perpetual casualty; he requires a social construct with which to operate effectively within.  This is why at the moment so many victims appear within the public school system -- it is fertile ground. 

That it is fertile ground is an unintended consequence.  Over the course of time, primary accountability for student learning and development has shifted away from the student and onto the school.  Accountability policies and practices have been implemented which make schools (and teachers) accountable for what is taught, what is presented in a learnable manner to students.  This is a good thing in itself.  But if a child does not choose to learn what he is supposed to learn, now it is assumed that the school is to blame.  When public demand for equality of outcomes regardless of student effort is mixed with punitive measures for schools that "leave children behind", it is little wonder that the result is a victim-friendly environment for those who choose to indulge themselves.  The focus really is not on what the student is learning, regardless of any fixation on test statistics.  The focus is on what is being done "for the children".  The resulting environment makes it all too easy for children to slip into seeing themselves as a victim.

Indeed, there is fertile ground in most places where able-bodied and sound-minded people are allowed -- even encouraged -- to shirk their own personal responsibility so that they may profit from the work, pity, or good graces of others.

Dealing with the unintended consequence -- the transfer of responsibility for learning -- seems to be the best way change the victim-friendly environment.  The idea of equality of outcome must be abandoned.  Teachers, schools, and districts must be responsible for giving students opportunities to learn.  These opportunities should be many and varied and should attempt to entice all students to have a seat at the table.  But all of that is just means.  The end of education, variously stated as "a well-rounded person ready to exercise the responsibilities of citizenship," cannot be imposed upon the unwilling.  As the adage goes, you can lead a horse to water - in fact you can drown the horse - but you cannot make the horse drink.  The student must assume responsibility for his own success.  Otherwise, he will leave himself behind - a victim indeed.

Bob Myer blogs at mindofflapjack.blogspot.com/