December 14, 2006


Is the only word I can pull from my limited vocabulary to describe this article in the Boston Herald commenting on the somewhat infamous decision by one Massachusetts high school that abolished the honor roll. This one just might set a record for getting the most spurious conclusions per paragraph, which is quite an accomplishment in education journalism. There is stiff competition.

The columnist discusses how schools have been banning honor rolls, rough play activities like dodgeball, and inflating grades and then somehow turns around and blames the parents for all this.

I've seen many overprotective parents who mollycoddle their kids, but the banning of dodgeball, the elimination of honor rolls, and grade inflation all originate with the schools. The problem, to the extent there is one, is that most parents meekly go along with such crazy things because they look to their schools as some sort of authority figures on education and related activities.

So what we have in affluent towns like Needham, Newton, Wellesley and Brookline are expensive tutors and SAT courses, private college consultants, one-on-one sports coaches and more therapists prescribing more anti-depressants to more 15-year-olds. Meanwhile, few are expected to clean up their rooms or walk, heaven forbid, the half-mile home after school. What we have in affluent towns - and this is about affluent towns - are overinvolved parents, hoverers, I call them, so busy greasing the skids for their kids that their kids cannot learn to fail. And they’re afraid to as well: What will mommy or daddy do?

Who hires a tutor for a student who is is doing well in school? Usually, the tutor enters the picture because the student is struggling in school, which is to say, the student is failing. The tutor is there so the student will stop experiencing failure. Stick with me here: students who fail become unmotivated and disengaged, students who are unmotivated and disengaged tend not to attend to their school work, kids who don't attend to their school work tend not to do well in school, kids who don't do well in school usually wind-up staying at mom and dad's house well past the point that mom and dad want them to, not to mention the fact that they probably won't graduate from college or be forced to take one of those easy majors, like journalism, which ensures the student will be in mom and dad's pocket for years to come.

But you can’t learn how to get up if no one lets you fall.

But you may stop getting up if you fall too much. It is a delicate balance.


Anonymous said...

I think what we have with that article is a bit of classism. The author seems to resent that these parents can afford the things a lot of us would want for *every* kid, and they hold it against those who do have access.

I agree with you on this one.

See? It can happen.

Anonymous said...

"That’s because a hallmark of middle-class parenting, 2006, starting in preschool, is to stamp out any situation that teaches children how to deal with, say, getting picked last, over and over, in a schoolyard pick-up game - assuming your kids’ school even allows pick-up games anymore."

This is her premise, and it's just plain wrong - a strawman. She blames the schools a little bit, but most of the blame is put on the parents. She just wants to get on her soapbox and spout off. Write a column; push a few buttons; get a reaction; success. One could have a meaningful discussion about honor rolls (or affluent parents), but not with her.

I live in an affluent town and most of the parents are quite sensible and often go out of their way NOT to coddle their kids. It's a fine line and most parents make these decisions on a daily basis.

In our middle school, there are three (!) levels of the honor roll. Lots of kids get on the honor roll, so it doesn't mean a whole lot. What I find more interesting is that the vast majority are girls. There is hardly one boy in the top two honor levels. There are a lot of things to think about and discuss once you get past the trivial.

Our public schools did a survey and found out that parents expected more from their kids than the schools. Many parents get frustrated and send their kids off to private schools. This is not coddling them. It's expecting more from them. Parents with kids in public school find that they have to work harder to make sure their kids are properly prepared for high school. Tutoring is not coddling. It's an indication that the schools are not doing their job - that parents expect more.

Our lower schools can't tell the difference between developmentally appropriate and needing a swift kick in the pants. If the parents rely on the schools too much, the kick never gets applied. Many parents rely on the schools too much.

There is a big difference between the problem of a few parents and school policy, curriculum, and grade-level expectations. Parents aren't forcing schools to use social promotion, spiraling curricula, and lower expectations.

As our survey showed, parents expect more from their kids than their (K-8) schools.

Anonymous said...

Parents aren't forcing schools to use social promotion, spiraling curricula, and lower expectations.

Teachers are workers in a collectivist system; they can't earn more by working harder, so they "earn more" by finding ways to work less. Follow the minutes. Teachers are paid for a fixed number of minutes each day, and so all effort is directed towards reducing what they must produce in those minutes.

At least teachers are rational within their economic system.

Parents can be very irrational. I'm not very sympathetic with parents anymore. I've seen too many parents damn a teacher for disciplining their one child who is a real hell-raiser, and then these same parents will turn right around and demand that the school step in and fix the problem of their other child not getting the ball passed to him in the pickup games of soccer at recess.

Academically speaking, parents are irrational when they buy what progressivist schools are selling: that children can work less and learn more. (That sounds familiar; more for less, where did I just hear that? Except children don't have a union contract.)

The answer is school choice, and teacher-pay-for-performance... but you guys already know that. Parents who believe that children can work less and learn more... can send their children to schools that maintain that fiction. Parents who think that children should work more to learn more... will find that the market will supply the schools and the teachers to meet their needs.

Catherine Johnson said...

Kids wouldn’t be so stressed if we just allowed them to fail

That's the headline!

Kids wouldn't be so stressed if we just allowed them to fail!

yeah, we've seen how well that works around here

kids who are failing school radiate happiness, calm, and inner peace

Catherine Johnson said...

The tutor situation is way past the question of "struggling" students.

In Irvington we have people hiring tutors right and left for the kids in the accelerated math class.

We have known burn-out cases in the high school teaching required courses for which students will have to pass Regents tests. Parents take it for granted they'll be hiring tutors to get their kids through those classes.

We also have a riproaring Irvington teacher tutor business going on.

A mom I've gotten acquainted with recently, who has kids in high school, told me that last year her house was Grand Central Station for tutors.

The district stonewalls. They refuse to address the situation; refuse even to acknowledge the situation.

One of the tutors here told a friend she estimates 50% of the kids in Scarsdale are being tutored.

This is about wealthy parents remediating the schools through the only means available to them, which is hiring tutors or reteaching content themselves, which they also do.

It's horrifically unfair to the children of non-wealthy parents who also attend these schools - but the unfairness is coming from the school's tacit reliance on tutors, not from the parents.

Catherine Johnson said...

Our public schools did a survey and found out that parents expected more from their kids than the schools.

This is the crux of our problem, though our district seems to have evolved a murky and complex dysfunctionality somewhere along the line.

The district manifestly does not share parents' goals for their children's achievement. District goals, to the extent that the district has goals for achievement, are far lower than parents' goals.

The middle school also engages in some kind of grade deflation, or certainly did last year. (We have the smoking gun.)

The district has also, more than once, tenured and then defended to the hilt teachers who parents say are failing to teach their kids.

This means parents are hiring tutors not only to boost their children's achievement, but to fight the school's active downward push on their children's achievement.

it's the war of the tutors