How To Not Raise Egotists

Apr 8, 2021

Student: I was wondering if we could meet at lunch sometime and talk about Jane Eyre.

Gibbs: What did you want to talk about?

Student: I just want to clarify a few things about Jane and Rochester’s relationship.

Gibbs: What did you want to clarify about their relationship?

Student: I would like some clarity on why Jane respects him so much.

Gibbs: That's the subject of the paper you're supposed to be writing. 

Student: It is?

Gibbs: I believe the prompt for your final assessment on the book goes a little something like this: Jane is a virtuous woman and Rochester is a scoundrel. Why does Jane admire and respect him enough to agree to marry him?

Student: Oh, right.

Gibbs: That essay prompt shouldn't have surprised you. We’ve been discussing why Jane admires and respects Rochester for several weeks now.

Student: Sure, but I need some clarity on the matter.

Gibbs: I think you simply haven’t paid attention during class.

Student: I have.

Gibbs: Your posture in class suggests otherwise. You check your nails, check the clock, yawn, stretch, don’t know what page we’re on, and can’t answer simple questions when I call on you.

Student: Okay, so there are times when I’m not as engaged as I could be. Still, I want to understand the book. Don’t you want to help me understand the book? You’re the teacher, after all.

Gibbs: My primary goal is not to help you understand the book.

Student: It’s not?

Gibbs: No, it’s to prepare you for a life of virtue and to help you reorder your heart so that you love important things and disregard unimportant things.  

Student: Then why have me write a paper on Jane Eyre?

Gibbs: You seem to assume that I am equally interested in the work of all my students.

Student: You’re not?

Gibbs: I’m only human.

Student: What’s that mean?

Gibbs: I’m a professional teacher and I have a formal, contractual obligation toward you. However, you exhibit open hostility toward me, the curriculum, and this school. You have done this for months and it has affected my opinion of you. After months of oscillating between boredom and hostility toward me, you ask me for a synopsis of all the material you didn’t pay attention to. The fact that I’m a professional doesn’t mean I’m some sort of unfeeling automaton which dispenses valuable information to anyone who drops a quarter in the slot, though. If I allowed you to treat me that way, I would be impeding your ability to seek virtue. I would be presenting you with a false picture of reality. If I met with you at lunch and told you everything you wanted to know and enabled you to write a decent paper, I would only be incentivizing your egotism and despair.    

Student: You want me to do badly!

Gibbs: I don’t want you to do badly. You are already doing badly and I don’t want you to keep doing badly. I don’t want to reward you for doing badly.

Student: You mean you’re not going to help me?

Gibbs: I’m not going to give you a condensed lecture over lunch which distills three weeks of lectures and conversation into ten minutes and contains everything you need to write a decent paper. I’m not going to help you pretend you’re a diligent student at the last second.

Student: This is unreal. I thought this was a classical school. I thought you cared about people and humanity. I need your help and you refuse. Wait until my father hears about this.

Gibbs: I have been offering you help for weeks and you have refused. This is simply what the help looks like now.

Student: You’re out to get me.

Gibbs: Wrong. I couldn’t say it’s a widespread problem, but there’s a certain sort of teenager who simply cannot appreciate the fact that adults—specifically teachers and parents—are reasonable, feeling human beings who respond in realistic ways to insult, abuse, slight, and offense. Likewise, I have met teachers who cannot appreciate the fact that students are reasonable, feeling human beings. Either way, it constitutes a complete failure of the imagination, a total collapse of generosity and self-awareness. To allow anyone to carry on in such a manner—to incentivize it by treating it as though it were normal—is absurd and cruel.

Student: What if I treated you with respect?

Gibbs: If you weren’t constantly trying to convey your complete lack of interest in school by your posture and comments and habits, things would be different. Obviously. You come to school to learn, though, so learn this: you need to treat people better if you want to get anywhere in the world.

Joshua Gibbs

Joshua Gibbs

Joshua Gibbs teaches online classes at He is the author of How To Be UnluckySomething They Will Not Forget, and Blasphemers. His wife is generous and his children are funny.

The opinions and arguments of our contributing writers do not necessarily reflect those of the Institute or its leadership.

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