Tuesday, December 09, 2014

A Rant Against Can't

I think that the word "can't" may be one of the most damaging words in the English language.* Every single day, while I'm wearing my counselor hat, I find myself surrounded by small children who make the claim that they can't do something. 99.9% of the time, the issue isn't that they can't. It's that they don't want to.

Say there's a math review worksheet that an entire class has completed, save for one kid. The operative word there is review. That means it's something that's not only been taught, but it's something that these kids have practiced repeatedly for weeks. And then that one kid claims he can't do the work. He keeps up the act so long that he misses out on his recess time, then he pouts because all his friends are having fun but he's not. Yet he still refuses to finish his review, still claiming he can't do it.

Can't should be removed from our vocabulary. So many times people state unequivocally that they can't do something when they don't even try. Not trying could stem from a number of things. Could be laziness. Could be boredom with the task. Could simply be that they just don't care. Whatever the case, don't tell me you can't do it. Tell me you don't want to do it. That, at least, would be honest.

I know that can't is a very helpful descriptor of things we aren't allowed to do. "You can't play in the middle of the road!" "You can't fly if you jump off the balcony!" "You can't watch TV for 24 hours straight!" Parents use it all the time and with good reason. They want to teach their children what is acceptable behavior. But in using the contraction of cannot, those kids are learning a quick and easy way to get out of doing things they don't want to do.

I suggest a simple rewording. "Sure, you can play in the middle of the road. If you want to get hit by a car." "You can jump off the balcony if you want to get hurt, but human flight without machinery is physically impossible." "Look, you aren't allowed to watch TV for 24 hours straight. Because I said so, that's why."

On the flip side, I've known parents who tell kids they can't do something because they blatantly want to hold them back from experiencing something profound. I'm not saying that a parent that does this is either a good parent or a bad parent. But I present you with a line from Will Smith in The Pursuit of Happyness: "Don't ever let somebody tell you you can't do something... You got a dream, you've gotta protect it. People can't do something themselves, they wanna tell you you can't do it. If you want something, go get it. Period."

We can't simply remove can't from our language. It's not that easy. It's just a frustrating thing to deal with day after day when potentially brilliant children stifle themselves by claiming that they can't do things. I say potentially because there's no way of knowing exactly how brilliant these kids are if they aren't willing to do anything in the first place. If you're a parent or have a job having anything to do with children on a regular basis, please, do not allow them to hold themselves back with can't. And do not allow others to hold them back with can't either.

*I'll admit that there are possibly a great many other words in the English language that are as bad or worse than "can't," but I'm kind of angry about it right now, so that's what we're dealing with. Deal with it.

1 comment:

  1. Good post, and good reminder to me as a parent. Thanks.