Thursday, December 17, 2009

Single Digits

I have nine teaching days left.

At some point I'm going to take the essays on this blog and attempt to compile them into a book, which I'm sure no one will want to publish. I have to figure out what my overall thesis and large-scale organization will be, but I imagine I'll concentrate on the following items:

- The fundamental mistake that educators and parents make from which nearly all of our problems ultimately stem: The idea that every child is an "A" student by default. Everyone's a winner, everyone gets a trophy, and no one is ever "better than" anyone else at anything. If you're a student, anything and everything you do is just fabulous. From this notion springs most of the counter-intuitive and counter-educational policies I've seen in schools that actually prevent kids from learning: entitlement grading, subjective standards, differentiated instruction, to name a few. Not to mention the irrational ideas this puts in kids' heads, e.g., that daily work is optional, due dates are just a suggestion, and they should pass any class in which they cannot do the work.

- The desire to forgive kids for actions, decisions and behaviors that are at best irrational and inappropriate, and at worst deplorable and sociopathic, because they're "just kids," thereby enabling even more, and even worse, such behaviors.

- The idea that we "can't expect kids to" do this or that, or to know this or that.

- The refusal to teach kids manners, empathy or even basic decency.

- Teaching kids that their feelings matter, but their choices don't.

- Preventing kids from becoming better readers by focusing on what they read, instead of how they read.

I'm sure I'll think of more. Most of the material, I'm sure, will come from my experiences on Long Island and at the phony, corrupt so-called "School of the Arts" in Queens between 2001 and 2003. These ideas all basically revolve around the same theme: That we've spent so much time wrangling over the roles of teachers and parents, we've completely lost sight of what the student's obligations are with respect to his own learning. To phrase it as "blame the students" is to over-simplify and miss the point; this is not about blame. This is about action. What does the student need to do in order to make sure that he learns? I think we need to ask, and answer, this question. We need to realize that the student has a role to play in making learning happen.

No comments: