Existential question: if it walks like a duck, but isn't labeled as a duck, is it still a duck? I'd say yes, but that's because I'm just an amateur researcher, not a highly-skilled professional in the general field of education and the specific subfield of the Student-Who-Won't-Learn (SWWL) phenomenon.
With one exception, cited in an earlier column, the SWWL label is verboten for this subject. Instead, real researchers are required to use phrases like "student assent" and "relational power".
You'll find the former in the subtitle of "I Won't Learn from You, the Role of Assent in Learning", a 1992 teachers-are-guilty little book by educator Herbert Kohl and you'll find the latter in "When Students Have Relational Power", a 2006 paper by academic researcher John Smyth.
Kohl explains that student refusal to learn stems from such teachers' faults as using the sexist "he" instead of the inclusive "people" when speaking, and Smyth explains that student refusal to learn stems from the teachers' superior position in the classroom.
The tragedy of my younger life, I now understand, was my subservient behavior in the classroom, my failure to resist various teacher "isms" and my deferential willingness to accept subject-error correction from a dominant single-white-female authority figure.
Had I been more conversant with social justice, I would have saved face by not making errors trying to learn math and reading, by the passive device of choosing not to learn (missing out) and the active device of classroom disruption (misbehavior). Consider the "face" argument as described in the SAGE Handbook of Curriculum and Instruction, Connelly et al., 2008.
Here's a quote from p. 204: "To try to learn something new with a teacher is to display one's self to the teacher as incompletely competent, and these slightly damaged performances by the learner in tandem with the teacher may well be visible to fellow students as well. Thus, the potentially audienced character of every action by a student that was previously mentioned above presents the potential risk of face threat to a student at every moment in which the student attempts to learn something new. Taking the risk of face threat, then, is necessary if one is to attempt a new skill. And, depending on what Dewey (1938, 1963) called 'the total social set-up of the classroom' (p.45), students' attempts to learn can be more or less risky in terms of face threat".
If I'd known that I'd never have gone to the chalkboard to perform before my 30 or so classmates when so ordered by my SWWF classroom overseer: the SAGE manual teaches the teacher not to achieve student proficiency by correction of error. Let them sit there, missing out, students-who-won't-learn, making no errors, but with intact face. And I actually believed that the humiliation of getting it wrong was an incentive for getting it right. How primitive it was, then.
The ancient Romans called surly citizen pacification bread-and-circuses; in modern public education, it's called money and music.
Not all educators support this incentivization; some call it bribery. The literature is unclear on the subject of actual Students-Who-Won't-Learn behavior: is it active classroom disruption, necessitating teacher abandonment of the other 15 in the class to try to deal with one (ejection to the principal's office no longer allowed in public school) or is it just passive classroom disengagement? If so, the teacher can still devote effort to the 15 who have "assented" (a little Kohl lingo, there) to learn something and thereby avoid missing out on a free (well, taxpayer-funded) opportunity.
What is more interesting is the question about teacher competence (and accountability for student achievement) it raises. If the SWWL's are paid or entertained to demonstrate proficiency, does the teacher thereby get more accountability points and merit pay? What about the equally skilled teacher in the district which chooses not to bribe -oops, make that "incentivize"-- dismissal for incompetence? What about dismissal for SWWL's, not their adult supervisors? Or is that forbidden by the 28th Amendment: "No SWWL, whether actively disruptive or passively disengaged, shall be dismissed from the classroom"?
Closing note: I tried really, really hard to appreciate the "Forgive-us-Father-for-we-have-sinned" apologia of Mr. Kohl and other educators for the sins of dealing insensitively with SWWL's, but eventually I refused to assent to his teaching.
While I expect a really high grade for trying really hard, I won't reject my own personal SWWL label for refusing to learn. Wearing that label earns me the compassion of William Ayers, highly skilled education critic/writer and Progressive activist/domestic terrorist/explosives expert. He writes, in a blurb on the Kohl book, of the oppression and brutality SWWL's experienced and commends SWWL's, (that now includes me) for "acting reasonably and intelligently in the face of brutality and craziness". I had never realized that I had meekly endured conditions of brutality and craziness at my old F.W. Pennington Elementary School. Example: the desk-chair combinations, in rows, were fixed to the floor.
Retired Vermont architect Martin Harris observes Green Mountain State politics from a safe distance-Tennessee.