In The Know: Are Tests Biased Against Students Who Don't Give A Shit?
While obviously facetious, the pundits in this clip bring up a very real worry that permeates the ranks of educators and the public at large. Many students seem to be very apathetic about their shot at a free education today. Watching this clip makes me think of an article in TIME Magazine about Steven Colbert and Jon Stewart's Rally to Restore Sanity. With all of the crap being thrown around about education, teachers and otherwise, it's tough to know what the facts are and what the statistics are saying. People are making into extreme issues those that are not and the middle- the vast majority of Americans- are being left out of the conversation altogether. Pundits like Stewart, Colbert, and the people at The Onion, seem to be doing a better job of "reporting"on the middle's opinion than any other news source simply because they are pointing out how ridiculous the information is that we're being fed. In this case, they don't try to point fingers or make sweeping assumptions, but instead make fun of an obvious, but now very serious and extreme issue: many students don't like going to school.
Why don't kids give a shit? From my perspective, there are a lot of reasons. Here are a few:
- They attend school in a system that is in desperate need of revamping. Americans don't work factory jobs anymore. Let's stop pretending that our students are going to (unless they move out of the United States).
- The media and many parents tell students that teachers are incompetent, in part because teachers did their jobs so well over the past several decades (ie sending students to college) that a lot more people have just as much higher education as teachers do. Assuming they are incompetent, who would want to sit through seven hours of listening to morons? I certainly wouldn't.
- Progressive reforms in education have done a pretty good job of teaching students that they should question information being given to them, while the standards movement results in the opposite. Teaching to tests sends the message that there is a set of correct answers to be memorized, whether the tests are designed to assess that or not. It seems that these conflicting messages make for a disjointed education that is both confusing and off-putting.
- Video games and cell phones are far more exciting to the majority of children than listening to teachers talking at the front of a classroom (which is still the most common form of instructional delivery). Granted, this does not mean that a majority of students don't listen to teachers. It's simply more difficult for a single human voice at the front of a room to keep our students' attention. In the adult world it doesn't seem much better at times, as you can see plenty of adults on their Blackberries and iPhones during their work meetings when they should be listening to a single voice at the front of the room.
- Parents are working more and talking to their children less. How many families arrive home at approximately the same time these days and sit around the kitchen table to talk while they eat? While the advent of the T.V. did plenty to erode that picture, the large array of digital devices we use these days certainly pulls us away from the face-to-face interaction that accounts for much of childhood socialization. When children show up to school, they are less accustomed to listen to adults and other people in general when they are spoken to directly. It seems as though it's literally becoming more difficult for children to pay attention to humans in the non-digital form.
- There are some bad teachers out there that simply aren't worth listening to. Sad, but true, but a very small minority of teachers in general.
- Social promotion allows students to be passed along no matter what they do. A few students figure this out by the sixth or seventh grade and stop working. That's tough to turn around.
- Controlling large classrooms of students used to be much easier, as most children were taught from a young age that adults meant authority. While most children listen to their parents, our society seems to have shifted from authoritarian parents toward nurturing parents. The teaching profession has also shifted (or attempted to shift) from an authoritarian model to one where the teachers nurture their young charges. It's very difficult to nurture thirty-five students when you have an average of less than two minutes per day with each, however.
- Finally, what might be the most significant issue, teachers are charged with educating all children. A couple of decades ago many, if not most, of the students who really did not care at all simply did not go to school and were therefore not bringing down any teacher's test scores. The behavior problems they would have brought with them never walked through the school doors. It's much like the skewed perception of dropping SAT scores: privileged white males were the only ones who took the SATs thirty years ago- of course there is going to be a drop in the scores when a much more diverse cross-section of society begins to take them.
This list may be incredibly presumptuous and none of these individually account for the majority of the students who simply do not give a shit. In fact, I would assume each only counts for a small portion of the students who really couldn't care less about school. Combined, however, these factors seem to have led to a sizable chunk of our student population walking into classrooms around the country ready to do absolutely nothing and being perfectly fine with that.
And so for education, this video, however comical, speaks to a truth that the middle is worried about, but which they've been aware of for some time: some students simply do not give a shit. Is it solely the teachers' fault? No. Is it solely the parents' fault? Nope. Are the poor choices students make, and therefore the students, solely to blame? Uh-uh. In an era where passing the buck is the most fashionable thing to do, each group of stakeholders in our children's education tends to point their fingers elsewhere. To most of us in the middle, however, it's clear that it's a village issue, not just one factor that raises our kids.
So when are the major news sources going to talk about that?