I will protect your pensions. Nothing about your pension is going to change when I am governor. - Chris Christie, "An Open Letter to the Teachers of NJ" October, 2009

Thursday, August 4, 2011

Lawrence O'Donnell Nails It

When students can shuffle off their failures onto their teachers, are we really creating a culture of accountability?

When I brought home a bad report card, it never occurred to me, or my parents, to blame my teacher... I also hated and did badly in anything involving writing of any kind. Which is kind of like wicked ironic since I then grew up to be a writer. That just points to the unpredictable ways we learn things.
As I have argued here before: failure IS an option. It can be a very powerful motivator for a student (or a parent). I know some of you who think you know what goes on in schools will misinterpret what I say here, but the fact is that great teachers regularly let their students fail; sometimes, it's exactly what they need.

When you tie a standardized test result to a teacher's livelihood, however, you remove that option for the student. You encourage the teacher to drill-and-kill, to sacrifice intrinsic motivation, to take short-cuts around higher-order thinking: all so the student "passes," and the teacher can keep her job.

That isn't education; it's training. We may as well give the merit pay bonuses to the kids. What do you think, Merit Pay Fairy?

Dat ain't no bad idea.

ADDING: Go to about 3:50 into the video. Look at the videos behind O'Donnell. Don't they look familiar? I mean, where have I seen those before...


DeclineRedux said...

I see what you're saying; I know what you mean and I know you're intentions are good. But I disagree. It was my job to do everything possible to reach a student and help them learn. If they failed I saw it as my failure. That doesn't mean I passed every child because there were some children that just never developed academically. However, if a child failed and I felt like I did everything in my power to help that child learn, then I just had to hope that child was going to get the support they needed through some other avenue. The concept of letting students fail is a dangerous proposition especially with teachers who have a hard time with professionalism or who struggle with truly engaging children.

Kristine Gallagher said...

I think it depends on the age of students. As children get older it seems more acceptable to let them fail if they aren't taking any responsibility.

Duke said...

DR, you make some very good points. Let me think a bit before I respond. Although I would agree with Mrs. G as a general rule.

DeclineRedux said...

Duke and Mrs. G,

I agree a lot depends on the age of the students. High schoolers who no longer care and have little support at home are very difficult to reach. However, I always reached out to the student regardless of whether I thought the student cared or not. Did a few of my efforts go without response or change? Yes. But at least I knew I tried to reach out to a student.

I think we all agree that students can learn valuable lessons when they underachieve or hit adversity, but I don't like the general sentiment of letting a student go or fail as a teaching strategy.

Duke said...

OK, now I get it. I'll have to post again because I'm not clear here:

I am NOT talking about giving up on kids - far from it. I am talking about using failure as a tool to ultimately achieve success.

"Never confuse a single defeat with a final defeat." F. Scott Fitzgerald

"You always pass failure on your way to success." Mickey Rooney

We all learn from our failures. I would argue that we can't experience life without some failures. If we didn't reach beyond our grasp, how would we ever grow?

So that's my issue with all this: we won't accept that humans fail on their way to achievement.

DeclineRedux said...


Unknown said...

Jazzman! I was on teevee! And they showed my sign! I was on right before Matt Damon- does that count as having met him? Ya think Lawrence will be giving me a call?

PS To my wonderful,loving, cousin Eric- they showed my sign- the other side...

Duke said...

jcg - I know! When I first saw it, I said "It's jcg! Who else took her picture?"

Then I realized it was me!

I think we should get t-shirts or something at least...