What Was The Question?
We are asking the wrong questions about education. Studies and focus groups churn on. Newspapers outline the inadequacies of our children’s teachers. Folks scream for revamping the traditional methods of teaching, while the older population bemoans a return to “the good old days.” Chaos reigns and nothing changes. Throw in demands to tie teacher pay to student performance, and the powder keg smolders.
It seems logical that compensation for any worker should be based on production, whether it’s a teacher or marketing executive. If a marketing person loses a large account due to errors in judgment or a lack of understanding of her client, she is held accountable. For the most part, she is in control of her destiny. Plus, her boss has the ability to fire her, especially if her erros are repeated. Thus, his productivity isn’t compromised due to his employee’s shortcomings. Their compensation is reflective of their own efforts and judgment.
Teachers, however, have little or no such control over their charges. In fact, it’s the other way around. Let’s take a look: Twelve year old Brittany and her family have been homeless for six months, so they have moved repeatedly during that time. They’ve lost their car, so Brittany has been enrolled in three different schools, and has had eighteen different teachers. Each teacher was in a slightly different place in the curriculum, which means that there are huge gaps in Brittany’s educational progress. Coupled with the emotional horror of her situation, her chances of reaching required scores on “the test” are minimal. And totally out of the control of the teachers who happen to find her sitting in their classrooms on testing day.
School districts do a good job of broadcasting the importance of these tests and the implications of the scores. Marquees in front of schools scream the test dates as parents drop their kids off for school. Flyers are sent home in backpacks, phone calls are made to parents of often-absent students, rallies are held. Yet, there are still parent who don’t notice. So, on testing day when sixteen year old Karl wakes up and doesn’t “feel good” as a mechanism for avoiding the test, Mom lets him stay home. Make-up day comes, and he has a mysterious relapse, and Mom is still clueless. His teachers have no control over this parent’s lack of knowledge or desire for her son to succeed. Yet, his teachers’ pay will be dependent on it?
So, what are the correct questions? Schools reflect the society that surrounds them. They are as flawed as the citizens of that community allow them to be. It doesn’t matter what our hopes and dreams are for our schools if we are not willing to be held to the same standards of behavior that we expect from our young people.
We howl in horror at some of the acts of violence perpetrated in schools, but what is the violence like in the community surrounding the school? We expect children to undergo a transformation while they are at school, but we ignore the fact that many come from homes with little or no supervision and often no one there addresses right and wrong. Some parents teach their children to defy authority, and these parents effectively role model that behavior every day. Many parents hold to the concept of “You’ve got them during the day, so don’t bother me” while their kids are creating havoc at school. And in many homes, children of all ages watch anything they want on TV at any hour of the day or night, and have unsupervised access to the Internet, pornography and all.
Ethical behavior seems to be in short supply, with adults from all walks of life and positions of leadership succumbing to convenience, comfort, and profit. We all know the right thing to do in most cases, and can spout those platitudes from a dais as admirers eat their $200.00 dinner. But when the cameras stop rolling and the audience goes home, what’s right often gives way very quickly to something quite different. And then we expect our children to comport themselves with dignity and restraint at school. It’s not logical, or ethical, to have such expectations.
Therefore, rather than ask why schools are “allowing” such poor behavior and sub-par performance, maybe we should really be asking why we as individuals aren’t willing to behave the same way that we are expecting our young people to behave and perform at school? Why doesn’t the mother know (or care) when her son’s most important test of the school year is being given? We might say we want our children to behave responsibly, yet we repeatedly drop the ball ourselves.
Why do we merely shudder at the crime rates in our cities, but cry foul when those acts of violence spill over into the halls of the local schools? Girls are raped in bathrooms at nearby schools, but what’s going on along the streets leading to that school? What are we doing about that?
And what effect is this having on test scores? Studies show that teens routinely cheat on their schoolwork, but isn’t that the same thing that is going on in the boardrooms and government offices across this country? Too often, our “leaders” believe that as long as an action is legal, it is also ethical. Because of that erroneous belief, we have city governments all over the country rife with corruption, and Congress people who have proven to be untrustworthy time and again.
It’s easy to let educators take the fall for sub par schools, but they can’t control the players: The parents and those making the rules. It’s up to us as individuals to level the playing field. We must control our own behavior and then model those positive lessons as if we really mean them. Then, there might be a chance of having schools that are true places of learning and preparation for the future for our children and our society.
Until then, we’re asking the wrong people the wrong questions.