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Who Cares?

We received some big news from the Seattle Public School board. As of March 11, 2020, they are instituting "E" grades again. What is the significance of "the E"?

Too Fragile to Handle an "F"

"E" is the socially acceptable designator to signify a failing grade. It was apparently decided long ago that giving an "F" was much too damaging for a failing student's self-esteem. According to their thinking, the "F" signifying flunk, fail, and flop was just too mean and damaging for the fragile students. However, even moving from the damaging "F" to the more neutral values of "E" (as in eww, embarrassing, and error) was still a little too harsh for the delicate sensibilities of our feel-good generation.

So, in time, those nasty Fs and Es were replaced by the even more ambiguous "N," which stands for No Credit. Getting an "N" for a class is the academic equivalent of winning the immunity idol on Survivor. An individual's poor performance is Neutralized by a grade that does not get credited to their GPA. Because of this new ruling, with a little bit of planning, a student could theoretically fail Math, Science, English and History, get an A in PE and emerge the semester victorious with a 4.0 GPA! This is "real" learning.
And we wonder why our schools are failing! In the scientific realm, we believe in Newton's Third Law of Motion, "for every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction", but in the educational realm we deny it. In our public high schools, students can embark on a four year "adventure in mediocrity" and be propped up by a system that refuses to acknowledge the failure of its students. My guess is that students from such high schools will fully experience Newton's promised "equal and opposite reaction" about a day after entering the job market, where failure is always an option, and a frequent one at that. You see, in the real world, Newton's Law is enforced by Darwin's Law, i.e., "survival of the fittest." Students will learn to deal with failure quickly, or they will never succeed in any professional area.

Why do some leaders fail to understand that "natural consequences" are, in fact, natural? Why can't they see in the normal course of events some students will succeed and others will fail? Why won't they acknowledge that emphasizing good feelings does much more harm to failing students than allowing them to experience a little "reality-based therapy."
Traditional answers to this question are often framed around self-esteem arguments. Specifically, a person who feels good about themselves will eventually seek to become the person they believe they truly are. But by emphasizing their inherent "goodness," failing students are protected from the one reality check that might open their eyes to their true situation.

Despite plenty of evidence to the contrary, I believe what our educational leaders lack is NOT common sense (though this may sometimes be an unpopular opinion, work with me for a moment).

I believe what they lack is ownership. After all, who cares about one student in a sea of hundreds or thousands of others?

The Timeline of Neglect

Our children are caught in a system that is designed for throughput rather than education. Quantity over quality, if you will. Think about the normal progression of events from the time your precious child enters the public school system.

First there is half day kindergarten followed by half day daycare. Here, Junior is conditioned to behave in a way that will minimize disruption. "Getting Along" is the chief civic virtue. "Sharing is caring," "treat others the way you want to be treated," "if you don't have something nice to say, don't say anything at all." These are all great values, but the motivation in teaching these values (at least for some) is not to create model citizens who are kind and compassionate, but rather obedient students who are quiet and docile. Easy to "teach".
For the next six years, Junior is passed annually to a new teacher who becomes the custodian responsible for managing their behavior and, hopefully, teach him a thing or two. Each year, Junior must learn to deal with a new educational custodian with new rules and styles of teaching.

When Junior becomes unbearable for a single adult to deal with for a full day (generally around 7th grade,) the burden is broken into more manageable 50-minute segments, also known as "class periods." Ownership of his education becomes even more diffused.

After nine months learning to deal with multiple custodians with multiple sets of expectations, Junior and his entire grade gets packaged and shipped downstream to the next group of unsuspecting educators. Heaven Forbid any student should fail! That would mean that teachers would need to endure them for an additional year!
If he doesn't drop out, Junior will graduate having achieved, on average, one of the lowest levels of academic preparation of any industrialized nation.

You get the picture. The process starts at the time a child steps on the public-school stage and is perpetuated and reinforced by each actor in the play. No one in this sorry chain of events ever takes real ownership of the child's education! Many teachers feel they cannot influence a student to care about their grades or education because they have 30+ other students to oversee! "Maybe next year Junior will take charge of and be passionate about their education!" they think.

If Not Them, Then Who?

I believe we are experiencing a cultural "tragedy of the commons." When something is owned "in common" few, if any, will be fully committed to protect and nurture. It happens in our world all the time - from African wildlife reserves to inner city parks. When the ownership of something is unclear, people feel less constrained about misusing or exploiting it. Vacant buildings attract graffiti vandals like curriculum sales attract homeschool moms!

Ownership promotes responsibility and constrains exploitation.

So how can we use this insight to address our very real "Tragedy of the Educational Commons?" First, we need to begin again promoting ownership in education. But, if not the government, who should own the education of our children?

Parents KNOW their children and LOVE their children - something that is impossible for the State to replicate. Care is a lousy substitute for love. Children know and respond to those who love them, but they can smell phony "care" a mile off. I sometimes wonder if the onset of "normal teenage rebellion" might just mark the time when kids finally get fed up with adult "care."

Kids deserve the commitment of parents, not just the care of the State. I believe all children have a natural hunger to learn that can be suppressed only by systemic neglect. Some kids find the connections they need to thrive in our public schools. Far too many, however, get lost in a system that was designed to deal with groups, rather than individuals. Children and parents alike are tuned in enough to know intuitively that something is amiss in our schools.
But reform moves in geologic time while children grow at light speed. Parents, recognizing the system won't change in time to benefit their own children, are left with a choice. Do they sacrifice their kids to what they know is a failed system, or do they take on ownership of their kid's education through homeschooling?

Homeschooling parents reject passivity and assertively take ownership in their children's education. They protect their children from negative societal influence and place them in an environment where they can thrive. They cherish, they challenge, they correct, but most of all, they love. They do all this because they want their children, as unique creations of God, to get an education perfectly suited for their needs.
For these counterrevolutionaries, the new rallying cry has become: "Who cares? WE DO!"

by Matt Binz
Mr. Homescholar

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Thursday, 13 June 2024

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