Monday, August 22, 2011

School Starts Today--or Soon

In many areas of the country, school starts today.  Yesterday I had a conversation with a relative about the state of our country, world, and schools.  He asked me what was the biggest problem we have in schools today.  I have blogged about this before, but it bears repeating--especially at the beginning of school.

Our students are intelligent and capable of learning as much as any foreign student.  Our students go to school more hours a week than any foreign students.  Don't believe those myths about some countries going 6 days a week.  I have researched it by hours.  Students in America spend more hours in class than any other country.  Our teachers are more educated and more accountable than they have ever been. 

So if we have all this great stuff going for us, what is the problem?  The problem is low expectations.  Who has low expectations?  Parents.  I cannot tell you how many times I had a conference with a parent, or worse grandparent, who claimed the assignment was too difficult for their baby.  It happened when I was teaching 1st grade.  It happened when I was teaching 5th grade.  I happened when I was an administrator at the high school level.  Here is the scenario:

Teacher:  You have a research paper due in 6 weeks.  It will need to be 5 pages long with 5 references. One book reference, one magazine reference, and three Internet references.  We will go to the library during class so you can gather the information.

At Home:
Student (age optional):  Mom, that's too hard.  I won't have time to go to the football games if I have to write a research paper.  And besides the prom is coming up.  I want to go shopping with my friends.

Yes I know this is not the correct timeline, but I have heard excuses just this ridicules.

Parent:  Well that does seem like a lot.  Surely they won't ask that much in college.  I'll have a conference with the teacher.

Parent/teacher conference:
Parent:  I wanted to speak to you about this research paper.  Why do they have to do that?  That seems like a lot to me.
Teacher:  They will have to do a lot more in college.  If they write a thesis, it will need to be more than 40 pages.
Parent:  Well that is not until next year.  Don't you think that 5 pages is too much for a high school student?

As parents we always see our children as younger than they are and believe in our hearts that when they reach a certain milestone, they will be able to accomplish a particular task without struggling.  In truth, we all do things in baby steps.  Your baby did not get up a walk one day.  They took a few steps and fell down.  You sat on the couch and waited, because you knew he would get up and walk again.  And each time he fell and got up, he was stronger and took more steps.  Why can't we apply this principal to our child's education? 

What does that mean?  It means that we start with the end in mind.  If we expect our college student to write a 40 page thesis, then our high school student should be expected to write 20 pages, our middle school student to write 10 pages, and our upper elementary student to write 5 pages. 

What does that mean?  It means that yes, the student may have to miss a recreational activity to complete the assignment.

What kind of thinking is that?  It is the kind that has priorities right. 

What message does that send the student?  You don't enjoy the good things in life unless you work for them.

For those of you who are still reading this, thank you for not angrily clicking off before the end. Feel free to disagree with me.  The comment section will hold your words and my shoulders will hold your emotions.
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