In our cultural drive to reach equality in our society, we have delegitimized hard work and honest feedback. This has taken place foremost in our public schools on both ends of the academic spectrum. Lazy students are not pushed to work hard and competitive students are rarely awarded for exceptional academic excellence. Educators are being taught not to establish high expectations and standards or frankly report a student's progress since the child's self concept might suffer.
A student that does well with little effort should not strive to be even better as it would result in too much anxiety and widen the academic gap between students. High achieving students would create an atmosphere of tension and generate jealousy among his classmates. According to this convoluted thinking, to develop a cooperative classroom and school climate educators should blur the difference between students not accentuate it.
Students with little enthusiasm for school should be allowed to work as little as they desire. Grades are de-emphasized by giving high grades to everyone so a winner-loser mentality is not created. Dumbing down standards in this strategy makes everyone equally contented although it lowers the performance.
Compared to other countries student performance in our schools does not bode well for our future. Yet, educational "experts" are persistent in focusing on children's feelings rather than performance. They believe the lack of significant learning and inflating grades can easily hide performance. The parents are hoodwinked into believing their child is doing well. This easy adjustment of the grades does make all students temporarily feel good. This is supposed to strengthen their self-esteem even when the student's effort is mediocre.
We are witnessing in youth sports the same modern cultural thinking that everyone has to be treated equally on the team regardless of their dedication or athletic ability. Everyone plays regardless of effort or talent. In many of the games there is no score kept so as not to hurt anyone's feelings if they did not win.
America's greatness has not been derived from being equally complacent but from individuals who have the freedom and opportunity to work hard to earn their dreams. Noting failure is essential to learn to be strong enough to bounce back from defeat and become a winner. These lessons prepare a person to deal with real life situations.
In our recent past, when a student did well, he earned privileges but when he failed to do his best, he lost them in school. His parents would give him another dose of even more bitter medicine once he arrived home. Everyone was on the same page of the importance of trying to do one's best.
Appropriate consequences administered by a dedicated teacher motivates students to work toward their optimal academic level. Before this foolhardy high self-esteem phenomenon, there was no fear on the part of the teacher to honestly evaluate students. Not only because it was a true reflection of the student's competence in the subject areas but parents wanted to know the truth about their children to assist them. This has changed.
Today student's high grades on the report card allows for bragging rights to friends and family. Parents want to stick "My Child is on the Honor Role" on the back of their car to display to everyone what good parents they are. They do not want to understand that high grades do not insure or even mean their child is learning as much as he could. Without valid assessments, high standards and expectations no one can determine where they rank amongst their peers.
Teachers are instrumental in assisting students in learning specific ways they can improve or point out when the student did improve. This honest input from the teacher, parent and peers built momentum for the student's progress to the top. Student's positive actions may be annoying to peers who do not make good choices to improve discipline although it may inspire them to try harder to achieve. Once students see the real benefits to being a winner/a better student, the classroom dynamics change inspiring everyone to try and do his best.
As in any organization the elimination of appropriate consequences in school creates mediocrity. American taxpayers deserve better results than year after year excuses for our educational stagnation. We are stalled in the back of the educational rankings of developed nations. We should stop imposing elaborate and impractical policies from the bureaucratic top and allow teachers to develop and implement procedures from the bottom up. The more these classroom policies are created by the local administration and teachers the more likely they would be enthusiastically implemented.
Teachers should be empowered to be honest with students, parents and administration. We need to decentralize power in our schools and return it to the hands of the teachers. Our schools need to reestablish legitimate and meaningful consequences in the classrooms to energize our educational system and motivate students to be the best they can be.
Dr. Maglio is a columnist carried by various newspapers, an author of several books and owner/director of Wider Horizons School, a college prep program. You can visit Dr. Maglio at www.drmaglio.blogspot.com.