the missing piece of what? you ask. The missing piece of the puzzle that is public education, I would answer. The programs, the partnerships, the personnel are all in place, so what’s the missing link? Finger pointing surfaces at this point in the conversation, finger pointing that has been going on so long as to eliminate any hope of identifying its’ origin. Who’s participating in this pointless (pun intended) activity of perpetual finger pointing? Parents, teachers and school administrators are the participants.
Parents often blame the teacher and/or the school administration for their child’s lack of progress or success in the classroom. At the same time teachers are desiring more support from parents and more back up from their administrators. All the while both parents and administrators are holding the teacher directly responsible for each student’s success or failure in the classroom. Who is conspicuously absent from these aforementioned groups of people concerned with the education of students today? The students! That’s whose missing from the very public discourse on public education today.
While all the adults concerned are busy blaming each other for the less than positive things taking place in our schools currently, no one is holding the students’ feet to the fire, no one is holding them accountable for pursuing, participating in and obtaining their own education. They are flying beneath the radar, watching the battle over public education rage all around them, content with their non-responsible, victim status where no one is looking at them with any sort of expectation. After all, the students are the victims of the system. (one of the aforementioned myths) They are not expected to bring anything to the table of their own education.
Allow me to illustrate. On a typical day in a typical high school where I work, the bell rings and the students go to their class. They come to class well prepared, but prepared for what would be the question. They enter the classroom full to be sure. Their hands are full of chips, candy or whatever food they have at the moment plus pop or perhaps a sports drink. Their ears are full of their music as they have earbuds in or beets on as they enter. They also have their phone, (which they are usually on at the time) their ipod, a charger, sometimes a hand-held electronic game and sometimes a notebook, not the paper kind, the electronic kind. This is what they bring each day to the table of their own education.
There is work on the overhead for them to do upon entering and usually papers for them to pick up for today’s lesson as they enter in at the door. But their hands are already full and they are busy texting, talking and listening to their music. They are too busy for the business of learning, their own learning I might add. The teacher already knows the material and has a college degree. The need is the students’ need to acquire the skill and the knowledge in each subject area necessary for them to accomplish their goals. Nevertheless, it is the teacher who is held responsible for the students’ decisions and actions. The students know this, so there is no reason to change any of their behavior. If the consequences of the students’ behavior are someone else’s consequences, there is no incentive to change.
So the cycle continues. Students come to class with nothing to write on and nothing to write with. (these, the teacher must provide in the classroom) Homework is a forgotten concept and in-class work appears to be following in those footsteps. Teachers continue to be held accountable for students’ poor academic performances. This results in more teacher training in methods and management, more requirements and more paper work for teachers showing their planning and accountability, all the while ignoring any notion of student responsibility for their own choices and behavior.
Example, the teacher is held responsible if the student sleeps during class. But the teacher has no control over nor responsibility for how the student has chosen to spend their time previously, ie. up late watching TV, playing video games or on the computer. Schools don’t want to be “failing schools” based on test scores, so even more pressure is put on the administrators of these schools, who pass that on to the teachers. Standards are lowered in an effort to pass more students. This ultimately serves no one well, particularly the students, although they appear to benefit from the decision at the time.
Teachers and administrators are under tremendous pressure to produce a “product”, the successful student. But education is not a “for profit” business and should not be run like one nor evaluated like one. Schools have gone test crazy in an effort to “prove” that results are being achieved. Results that are not “real” for many reasons. (referring to test results) The proliferation of all kinds of standardized testing ( a huge money making business in and of itself) has been forced upon public education as a means of justifying its’ existence, to the detriment of the actual learning experience that used to define true education in the classroom. Being forced to spend time “teaching to the test” is one of the many negative results of this trend toward over testing, testing that takes up valuable time that could be better spent in actual interactive teaching/learning time.
So the “missing piece” in the education puzzle, the student, continues to be missing from the dialogue and the decisions about how to solve the problems of public education. In the name of compassion standards are lowered in various subject areas so more students can pass on to the next level/grade. There is nothing compassionate about this response. It says we have no expectation that these students are capable of performing at the required level, so we will “rescue” them by changing the standard. In the name of compassion students are allowed to remain in school despite behavior, such as fighting, property damage, cutting class, verbal assaults etc. Again, there is nothing compassionate about allowing their behavior to continue without consequences to them. The consequence to the school if students are expelled is the loss of more funding, funding which is based on enrollment numbers. But living “consequence free” at school doesn’t prepare students for the real world. They come to feel “entitled” to things such as grades without the expectation that something is actually required of them to earn those grades.
Change will come when we start holding individual students responsible for their own behavior; not their parents, not their teachers, not society at large. I just returned from a country where children are grateful for the opportunity to attend school. At home they sleep on the floor and go without food and may be mistreated. At school they behave well and work hard. They are not victims, they are an inspiration. These children are no different than the students I see here in that their circumstances are often difficult, they have much to overcome. But here I see entitled victims, in those classrooms I saw empowered participants. And that all the difference makes.
Allowing our students’ wrong behaviors to continue consequence free in the name of compassion because they have a hard life and live in dangerous places is not working for them or for the schools or for society in general for that matter. It’s time to shift our focus to the “missing pieces” and to hold them accountable to participate in their own education. Now that just might be true compassion.
sincerely, Grace Day