Chicken bones & concientiousness: worrying about what you need to do for better grades

Got conscientiousness?

Artemis, Stella, and Puck on the lookout for your garbage
Artemis, Stella, and Puck on the lookout for garbage

Had a nasty walk with the dogs the other night. Let’s say that I’d like to live my life without my dogs finding half-eaten food tossed on the ground. If it weren’t for the dogs, I’d never notice. But they’re dogs, and dogs, you know, see EVERTYTHING. Especially chicken bones.

It’s not a regular problem in my life, but when I have to pull someone else’s greasy dinner out of my dogs’ throats, that’s a problem. And it makes me want to curse the fools who think it okay that someone else has to clean up after them.

Btw, dog owners who don’t clean up after their dogs suffer of the same pathology of the chicken-bones-leavers.

(Which reminds me of a funny incident the other day: walking my three dogs, one stopped for a little business. The others want to keep going, of course, so as soon as she finished, off we went. A lady walking by screamed at me, “Aren’t you going to pick it up?” I turned to her and laughed: “Ma’am, she was urinating.”)

Not calling out names or anything, but are you the type of person who throws food on the ground? Hopefully not, and so being, you’re what we call a “conscientious” person. If you’ve been there once or twice or more, tossing your garbage around, here’s an opportunity to rethink it and to develop some “conscientiousness” for yourself.

Conscientiousness means concern for the concerns of others.

See how easy it is? The conscientious person doesn’t throw chicken bones in the park.

As both personality trait and a learned behavior, for students and adolescents, we want to guide them to a state of conscientiousness, for the good of both society and their own personal journeys — and their academic success. And if we can’t develop conscientiousness itself, we wand to develop its patterns of behavior that lead to higher grades.

Let’s explore what is conscientiousness.

Rules, Empathy and Conscientiousness

Concern for others does not necessarily come from obeying rules.

Someone who follows rules may be conscientious, but not necessarily. Obedience to authority should be a matter of respect for community, which is a trait of the conscientious. Submission to authority, or obsessive rule-following, say, driving at the 55 mph limit precisely in the left lane, is something else entirely, and may well be the opposite of conscientiousness.

Seriously, driving the exact speed limit in the left lane is not an act of social conscientiousness. It’s also dangerous. And it lacks empathy.

Strict rule following may well come at the expense of others, which then becomes, well, like throwing chicken bones around the park. Process conscientiousness through the Golden Rule, “do unto others as you would have them do unto you,” and it’s simply an act of empathy.

Empathy being seeing things from the perspective of others, then empathy is an essential component of conscientiousness.

Conscientiousness and Adolescence

An absence of conscientiousness is not necessarily selfishness. It may come from a lack of awareness. Someone who has little sense for the external world will have difficultly perceiving how their actions will be seen or reacted upon by others. It’s a rare young person who has a heightened sense of his or her external self.

While kids can be hyper-sensitive to how others perceive them, especially as regards appearances, that concern is from internal identity or insecurity and is not of empathy for others.

Meanwhile, kids are being subjected to a socialization process that is supposed to develop in them if not conscientiousness then respect for others, such as we want of them to act towards grandparents, teachers, and authority generally. Just as those attitudes are socialized, so, too, can be their opposite as expressed through rudeness or absence of respect.

If I’m on to anything here, it’s that conscientiousness, or at least  its processes, can be developed in young people who may not otherwise express it. But why is it important?

Academic Benefits of Conscientiousness

High-executive function is related to conscientiousness, as that personality is concerned for the needs and desires of others, in this case, classroom attention assignment fulfillment, studying for tests, and other aspects of academic success.

Academic success does not depend on conscientiousness, but it is empowered by it.  I have seen many an achieving student who is deeply selfish, and whose high academic performance comes of a desire to be better than others, prove someone wrong, or simple internal drive. That’s great — what we want here are good grades.

I’ve also seen kid who struggle academically, despite having a conscientious personality. But unlike kids who reject their academic responsibilities, a low-academic performer who has conscientious attitudes is more easily helped through extra attention and work.

Each personality trait carries benefits and risks. I just know that high-conscientious personalities tend towards greater academic fulfillment,

What to do then?

Our strategy at the A+ Club in working with kids who are checked out academically or who reject their academic responsibilities is to engage them in constant reflection on their own goals and expectations. With low-conscientious personalities, the more we push external expectations, the more likely they are to be discarded or devalued.

By developing goal-oriented reflection, we can commence the work of identifying a relationship between those external expectations and one’s own internal goals — and when that process begins so, too, begins self-actualization and academic ownership.

Oh yeah,” we want those kids to say, “there is something in it for me.

Kids need to be reminded sometimes that their grades are about them and not about their teachers or parents. We’re not necessarily developing conscientiousness therein, but we are developing a sense for interaction and engagement with others and those external needs and desires. There is no grade difference between the kid who gets in the homework because of a sense for obligation to others or from a self-identified benefit in doing the homework, even if you don’t want to do it. A grade is a grade.

Ideally, we’re developing conscientiousness along with workflow, but the latter needs to come first.

– Michael