We all know what we mean when we say “He/she has a good/bad attitude.” However, do we really know what is an “attitude?”

We all know what we mean when we say “He/she has a good/bad attitude.” However, do we really know what is an “attitude?”

Instead of “attitudes,” I prefer to talk about beliefs and behaviors. Attitudes are born from learning about life, and people start behaving according to such learned beliefs. What do we mean when we say, “He/she has a bad attitude towards school?”

Let’s imagine a youngster I will name Luis, who has bad grades, says that school is a waste of time, does not like to study, refuses to listen to his teachers, does not do his homework does not pay attention to his classes and behaves in an oppositional manner in school, then we say “Luis has a bad attitude towards studying and school.”

But then, if we take a closer look at this youngster’s “attitude” we might discover that Luis was born from parents who did not go to school or attend higher education. Maybe they did not have the opportunity because of poverty or because school education was not important to the family, as everybody worked and they did not have the resources or the time to go to school. Luis started working early in his life to help his parents. He did not have many family members or relatives who attended or completed high school or college. In addition, Luis is from a culture that does not really promote higher education.

Can we say that Luis has a “bad attitude” towards school? I don’t think so.

What he learned early in his life is that education was not something that was necessary to survive. His history, the beliefs he learned about studying, and the lack of role models in his family caused the lack of interest in the habit of studying. Luis is simply perpetuating the family tradition of not going to superior school. We cannot blame this youngster for not being interested in obtaining a higher education because it was not something that was considered important in his family, his culture, and his environment.

There are some factors that contribute to a “bad attitude” towards studying:

GENETICS: More and more we discover that some personality traits of an individual are transmitted by genes. From a very positive optimistic father and a very optimistic mother, chances are that the child will be optimistic, while from a negative father and a pessimistic or depressed mother, the offspring will tend to be negative and pessimistic.

EXAMPLE OF PARENTS: The most significant people in our lives are generally our parents. We try to emulate their behaviors. It is well known statistically, that if parents attended college, their children will generally attend college and from parents who did not attend college, their children will not either.

EXAMPLE OF OTHER SIGNIFICANT PEOPLE IN OUR LIVES:  Other people who also live with the child, also play a very important role in the development of positive or negative “attitudes” towards life in general. To develop a healthy attitude towards studying, a good uncle or aunt, a good teacher, a good adult friend of the family, for example, could help a child develop a good attitude towards higher education.

CULTURAL REASONS: I believe that all cultures see the importance of their children being highly educated. However, some cultures emphasize the habit of studying, while others do not insist that the children attend higher education. The Jewish culture, for example, expects their children to be very educated. There is the cultural expectation that their children will become doctors, lawyers, and highly educated individuals, which produces a high rate of educated people in the Jewish community. Without the cultural expectation, the child frequently becomes lost among the majority of youngsters who in the culture do not believe in the importance of higher education.

So, how do we change our attitude towards higher education?

First: We need to understand ourselves genetically. Remember that we have half of our genes from our fathers and the other half from our mothers. It is important to know about their past, their genetic factors, their tendencies, and their healthy and unhealthy traits. This knowledge could enrich our understanding of our genetic makeup. To do this, I recommend that we talk with our parents, understand the reasons why they did not go to school. Maybe we will see that they did not have the opportunity to study. Fortunately, today you and I have many opportunities to study. We do not have an excuse for not studying to obtain a higher degree, which we know will help us in the future.

Second: Understand our family and our culture better so we can learn from the experience of others who do not go to school and remain in a style of life where they permanently live in some type of social oppression and poverty.

Third: Find and surround yourself with successful and educated people and socialize with people who live better socially, educationally, and economically.

Finally, if you find yourself having a negative attitude towards college, maybe you need some professional help to understand your past and understand yourself better. You will also learn to be more patient with your past and with your “attitude” today.

Jorge Espinoza, Ph.D.

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