I actually think our perspectives are compatible. You’re right, my students are not helpless blobs or passive figures that I need to simply pour compassion into. I need to respect their agency as well.
Part of my perspective on this matter is to assume that people are doing their best with the limited resources that they have, and to provide them with agency and trust, as well as accommodations, to help them do the things that are a priority to them. This post is not about giving all my student’s A’s, or having no expectations for them — it’s about having flexible, dynamic expectations for people, and to provide support that they can use how they want to use it.
This includes trusting homeless or addicted people to make their own free decisions about what they want to do with their money. If I have made the free, compassionate decision to give someone cash, I am comfortable with the fact that I do not know their life and their needs better than they do, and that they have the freedom to choose to buy cigarettes, band-aids, alcohol, granola bars, whatever else. There is an element of structure and biology at work here — addiction can override willpower — but I can’t fix that by myself overriding a person’s willpower with my control. All I can do is provide supplementary support.