Why-oh-Why Do We Do What We Do?

Should the education process at work in private and public schools, be structured as if it is a race to see who learns the most, the fastest? Or, should it be a process in which we help all kids learn as much as they are able at their own best pace?

Should the education process be competition in which some students win and others lose, or should all students learn how to be successful and how to win?

Why is it that even though some students fail to master a lesson, we still move them on to the next lesson with the rest of their classmates?

When we enter a D or F in our gradebook at the end of a lesson module or chapter test, does that mean we are satisfied with that child’s performance? Does it mean that our job on that lesson with that child is completed?

Do we ever stop to consider that we are setting students up for failure on future lessons where success depends on their ability to apply what they have already learned?

If we let these children fall behind, lesson after lesson, how will they ever be able to catch up?

How important is the relationship between teachers and students in determining a student’s success? If we all believe, as I do, that that relationship between teachers and students is essential to a child’s success, why do we sever the relationships, every school year, just because the calendar turns to May and June?

We all know that some children are easier to love and befriend than others but how often do we remind ourselves that the child who is hardest to love is the one who needs it the most?

Almost all of us agree that the involvement of parents as partners in the education of their sons and daughters is important, if not critical, to the success of a student, but how many schools treat the solicitation and welcoming of parents as a high priority? How many make this an integral part of what they do?

Very often, having an adequate time is critical to the success of a student in many aspects of the education process. So, why do we not make time?

We mentioned, earlier in this post, that bonding with one’s teacher can make all the difference in the success of a child and that forming such bonds can take an entire school year for some kids. What they need is more time with the teachers with whom a student has bonded, so why do we make them start over with a new teacher in August or September; often, a teacher they may have never met?

Given that having sufficient time on lessons is critical to the child’s success, especially for children who must start from behind or who struggle, why is allowing sufficient time to learn from one’s mistakes not at the top of our priority list? Why do we not make giving students the time they need to learn an expectation of teachers, everywhere?

If most of us understand that our ability to learn from our mistakes is a critical component of the learning process, why do we not embrace mistakes as learning opportunities? Many teachers reading these words will insist that, “Oh but we do!” and they mean that, sincerely, but the evidence that they do not is compelling.

Mistakes are critical to the learning process but when we count the mistakes students make against them, what kind of message are we sending. Teachers use the number or percentage of mistakes a student makes as one of the factors that determine the grades they record in their grade books. How can students believe mistakes are nothing to be afraid of when the consequences of those mistakes are adverse? This is one of those occasions where there’s an obvious disconnect between the words policy makers and administrators say and the things they require teachers to do.

Why do we focus on failure rather than success? In everything we do, the level of enthusiasm for that activity is a function of how successful we are. The more we win, the more we want to play, and the activities at which we win most consistently are the activities we enjoy the most. Winning is a form of success, however transitory, and successful people are almost always winners.

Losing, on the other hand, is a form of failure. When we lose repeatedly—when we rarely experience success—how long before we stop believing success to be attainable? How long before we give up and become unwilling to participate? How long before we lose interest and stop trying? If all we ever do is lose (fail) how do we not think of ourselves as a loser and a failure?

Why-oh-why would we ever want to teach children to view themselves as a failure and as a loser?

There is no question that many student excel in public schools in spite of the flaws in the education process. For kids who begin with a disadvantage—who start from behind—however, there are few success stories. Most disadvantaged students leave school with very few choices about what to do with their lives in order to find happiness and meaning. Far too many end up on the schoolhouse to jailhouse express.

The question we might want to ask ourselves is, how much more would our exceptional students accomplish, academically, if they were not asked to slow down and wait for classmates; if they were free from the distractions caused by students who have given up on themselves and have stopped trying? Even our most accomplished students must endure the adverse impact of a system that is flawed in so many ways.

Why-oh-why do we do what we do? Is it because this is the best we can do? Or, is it because we do not challenge our assumptions; because we do not stop, routinely, to make sure that what we do serves our mission and purpose? Is it because this is the way we have always done it?

Whatever the reason, how can we ever justify the failure of so many our nation’s precious children? How can we atone for the opportunity cost to society of huge population of children who will never reach their potential; who will never make the contributions to society that we should have been able to expect? How do we even calculate the value lost as a result of this opportunity cost to a nation that so desperately needs the very best of every single American man, woman, and child?