Schedule a conversation – Eric Isselhardt


Two Differing Views of Parental Responsibility in Education


This week, I am in DC, representing NNSTOY and expanding our brand in meetings with over a dozen national organizations.  I want to tell you how enthusiastically the news that STOYs have a professional home has been received by these organizations, who are eager to explore ways in which to utilize our teacher voices and partner with us on key initiatives.  They recognize your expertise and your reach.

Meeting with this many organizations in such a tight timeframe has been exhausting, and I actually was pleased when an early morning meeting today was canceled and I could eat breakfast!  In the hotel restaurant, I sat next to an elderly gentleman named Larry from Canada.  In conversation, my job arose, and he shared numerous anecdotes about the teaching profession in Canada.  One in particular resonated.

Larry shared that in one province, which shall remain nameless, a school district instituted a ‘no fail’ policy recently.  Teachers were ordered by the district to not assign students any failing grades; all excuses for not handing in work were to be accepted, and no student could be told that he or she failed.

In one class, a student did not hand in his report on the due date.  The teacher listened to his excuse and allotted him an additional five days to complete and submit the report.  The student told the teacher that he had a series of hockey games coming up and would not be able to meet even the extended deadline.  The teacher pointed out that the student had time over the weekend, during study time in school, while being transported to/from his games, etc. and that he expected that report on the new due date.

The date came and went, no report.  The teacher notified the student that he had earned a grade of zero.  The teacher was ordered to rescind the grade and refused.  The teacher was placed on suspension and ultimately fired.

In this same province, a school district passed a policy forbidding teachers from failing students who are caught cheating on tests or assignments.  This policy is currently under review.

I was so astonished by these policies that I went online and verified them; Larry was reporting accurately.

This newest twist on the ‘everyone gets at trophy’ syndrome boggles my mind as both a parent and as a teacher.  As Michael Sigman wrote earlier this year in a Huffington Post column, if everyone gets a trophy, no one wins.  http://www.huffingtonpost.com/michael-sigman/when-everyone-gets-a-trop_b_1431319.html

Taking that a step further, if no one fails – even when failing grades are deserved – passing grades are belittled.  What does an A mean anymore?  What value is placed on effort?  On academic success?  This is frightening.

Last week, I read in the International Herald Tribune, an op-ed piece by John M. Rodgers, on the juxtapositioning of his teaching experiences in South Korea with those he is currently undertaking teaching college freshman here in the United States.  In South Korea, the expectation is that no matter how well a student does, he/she can always do better.  He describes a school day that goes from 8 a.m. to 10 p.m. and a work ethic and expectation from parents and teachers that every student will adhere to this schedule.

He contrasts this with the level of student engagement in his American college classes, where a colleague told him, “that I was there for five kids, more or less. That those kids — the ones who asked questions, expressed interest — would go on to do great things because they “take themselves and you seriously.”  http://www.nytimes.com/2012/10/18/opinion/south-koreas-thirst-for-learning.html

Or, as an article in Freedom’s Ladder notes, “In order for students to be successful in school, and in life, they need the knowledge, skills and attitudes to make a smooth transition into the world of work and post secondary education.   Apparently they need all those things but don't actually have to do the work.”  http://www.freedomsledder.com/forums/index.php?showtopic=58882

Rewarding everyone, regardless of effort, seems a foolish way to teach children that there are expectations and responsibilities they will be required to fulfill in the ‘real world.’ What will happen to that Canadian student when he is on the job, and decides that he does not have to turn in his report because he prefers to go to a hockey game?  Or, chooses to forego a surgery that he is scheduled to perform, because there’s a family gathering he wants to attend?

And, how will he be globally competitive against those South Korean students, who have been taught the value of hard work and responsibility?

As Chris Elliott stated in a Bleacher Report column, “Competition is life. The jobs that we have, I am sure that many others applied to have the same position as we are now holding. Not everyone gets the job. Healthy competition and a desire to be the best for a certain reward or job are beneficial in life. The old saying "No points for second place" is true as is Vince Lombardi's famous statement "If it doesn't matter who wins or loses then why do they keep score?"”  http://bleacherreport.com/articles/1074105-sports-in-america-should-everyone-get-a-trophy

As teachers, we believe that our job is to educate the whole child.  This means instilling lessons in responsibility, work ethic, adherence to rules, being a member of a community, and the value of education.  Teachers in that Canadian district were sabotaged by a school board – and segments of the community - that seemed to place little value on the education of the whole child.  In South Korea, the entire community supported the schedule that students follow, and its resulting work ethic.

We would do well to examine these examples to see what we can learn from them.

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