It was the next day after school when the pair reconvened in the library. Much to Jonah’s dismay, Annie took on her new position as math tutor with much gusto.
“I thought maybe we could go over some math stuff first.” Annie said, handing Jonah a sheet of paper photocopied from a page of a textbook. “Here, why don’t you do the first five problems, and then we can look over them together.”
Jonah reluctantly took the paper and looked it up and down, then grabbed a mechanical pencil and hovered over as he began to scrawl on the page. No sooner than Annie had opened her book and gotten comfortable reading, Jonah slid the paper back across the table to sit in front of her.
“Oh, you’re done already?” Annie asked, taken slightly off guard. She picked up the paper for a closer look, scanning the hastily scribbled answer to each of the math problems—a dozen or so in all. She glanced up from the page and looked Jonah in the eye. “They’re all right.”
“That’s because algebra is easy.”
“Wait, I don’t understand. You know how to do the work, but somehow you’re failing your class?”
Jonah sat back in his chair and crossed his arms. His face was indignant, and maybe a little cocky. Maybe he felt a bit pleased with himself, imagining the mental wrestling Annie was doing in her brain right now. He could only guess the amount of disapproval she would spew after figuring out the fact that he wasn’t, in fact, a complete imbecile. He sat there, obstinately refraining from giving an answer.
“So you just are refusing to do the work?” she asked incredulously. “Why?”
Jonah first huffed in reply. He was getting tired of receiving the third degree from her, and after many attempts to just keep to himself, he finally felt challenged enough to let her have it. Or at least give an ounce of his pessimistic world view to shut her up for the time being.
His reply was sarcastic and cynical. “Let’s just say, why bother when no one expects much from me.”
In the short moment before responding, Annie tried to dissect this answer. Who was “no one” in this scenario. Surely his teachers expected something from him. And his mother must as well. Why did they supposedly not expect much of him? Did they not believe in him and so he set his own expectations low? Or is he creating a self-fulfilling prophecy by keeping their expectations low? The choice of words was too vague for her; she needed more to fully understand.
“Elaborate. What do you mean?”
Jonah chuckled, shifting in his seat and grinning cheekily as if preparing for a verbal battle he had been dying to fight. “Everyone thinks I’m gonna end up in juvie, or jail, or dead in a ditch somewhere. And they’re probably not wrong. So why pretend, why aim for anything more?” His voice became more resentful and self-derogatory as he went on. “I’m used to being a disappointment, so better to not give anyone any false hopes that I’m gonna be anything more than that.”
Annie fell silent. She failed to see the logic in his argument.
“So, what… you just want to prove them right?” she replied. “That’s kind of dumb, don’t you think? Rather than feed into their judgements, wouldn’t it be better to show them the assumptions they make about you are wrong?”