Lately, the headlines in national education magazines have been quite alarming: “Only 8 Percent of U.S. graduates Ready for College or Career,” and “NAEP High School Math Scores Drop, Big Declines for Low Performers,” “Bill Gates: Ed Tech has Underachieved but Better Days are Ahead.”
For the past 14 years, teachers, students, and schools have been subjected to an education reform movement that has been trying to raise student achievement through test scores and accountability measures that mainly hold teachers accountable for student results on state, national, and international testing. When students don’t do well, more stringent measures have been put in place to either punish schools or teachers or both, oftentimes making teachers solely responsible for student success. None of these measures has worked, and as the above headlines indicate—and are quite obvious to many teachers who work in the trenches of the classroom—we are barking up the wrong tree.
Unmotivated students, varying student abilities or lack thereof, interfering parents, unsupportive administrators, and the effects of a litigious, entitlement society are what we need to be focusing on rather than on testing and teacher accountability. Coddling students is the norm, and teachers learn the peril of confronting, challenging, or consequencing students: dealing with offended students or parents who usually hold the trump card in the classroom. Indulging students is a major culprit that dumbs down students and jeopardizes society because students aren’t learning to take responsibility for their education or their lives. All the testing in the world will not change student scores until we address this issue.
Today’s students (and parents) are products of the “self-esteem” movement in education. Many children/adults born between 1982 and 2002 have grown up believing they can do no wrong. Praising children and avoiding all criticism has become the norm. For fear of damaging a child’s self-esteem, grades became inflated and honor roll was no longer a hard-won distinction but an honor bestowed on children. Rescue tactics rather than learning strategies have often been resorted to, to get children to achieve.
There is nothing wrong with helping children feel good about themselves if doing so is based on positive behaviors and genuine accomplishments. But, too many children’s self-images have been falsely inflated, and the good intentions of their parents have created children who have been over-protected; children who often aren’t allowed to experiment or make mistakes. Rather, these children seek a “beeline” towards success, jumping over the process and hard work of getting there, which should include trial and error, feeling bad sometimes, and learning to cope with disappointment and failure which are inevitably a part of life.
Parenting today is often like “raising royalty.” The core cultural values of self-admiration and positive feelings have led many parents to seek their children’s approval and to do everything to make them happy. Psychologist Polly Young-Eisendreth says that too many modern parents are innocently making the mistake of idealizing their children instead of loving them. They have veered too far toward obeying and pleasing children rather than helping them have a healthy desire to please adults and to respect authority. We are over-indulgent, over-protective, and over-controlling—giving our kids too much and demanding too little of them. Over-indulging kids can lead to fostering qualities such as laziness, greediness, envy, exaggerated self-esteem, self-righteous indignation, and intolerance of others.
The devastating effects of such parenting practices are being felt within the education system. Teachers’ professionalism is eroded because teachers’ opinions hold little weight in the scheme of things. Students and parents are considered the major stakeholders in education, and their demands far out-weigh those of the teachers, who used to be considered the trained professionals. Many teachers feel frustrated because they can’t truly hold students accountable for their education.
So when presidents, politicians, policymakers, and the public automatically blame teachers for the problems within our education system, they need to think twice about such a judgment. Entitled attitudes of students and parents are a driving force in the equation.
In his book Overschooled but Undereducated: Society’s Failure to Understand Adolescence, John Abbott recounts the story about a struggling butterfly:
A man seeing a butterfly struggling to break
out of its out-grown cocoon bent down and
carefully cut away the strands to set the butterfly
free. To his dismay it flapped its wings weakly
for a while, then collapsed and died. A biologist
later explained that the butterfly needed the struggle
to develop the strength to enable it to fly. By
robbing the butterfly of that struggle, the man
made it too weak to live.
Similar to the above story, coddling children robs them of their ability to grow into emotionally balanced, autonomous adults. They become too weak to do so. Today’s children are tomorrow’s leaders. Will they be ready to lead? And, where are we headed—as a society—if they are not? Coddled kids can’t cope.
(For a more detailed, researched discussion of this issue, you can purchase my book Taking Back Our Classrooms: A Teacher’s Perspective on America’s Dysfunctional Education System at www.amazon.com or contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org.)