What we hear on the news, night after night, is how concerned educators and parents are that their kids have fallen behind during the almost a year and a half of a pandemic that has placed the entire world in turmoil. It seems only logical we are striving to figure out how to help students catch up. The question is, catch up with what?
Educators and parents are encouraged to step back and rethink their concern about the need for students to catch up and get back to where they would have been had their lives not been so unexpectedly disrupted, for what seemed like forever. Unfortunately, none of us can go back to where we used to be or where we think we should be. Life is forcing us to create a new normal and this presents us with an incredible opportunity to change the course of history.
Educators are preparing to make decisions that will have long-term consequences for every single one of our children, so let us be sure to make the best decisions possible. The truth is, we cannot help students catch up nor should we.
We must change our perspective so that we can understand our students are not behind—”they are where they are,” to paraphrase a popular idiom.
Our challenge must not be to return to our practice of pushing kids ahead more quickly than they are ready, which has long been one of the most devastating flaws in our existing education process. Most of our students have been pushed ahead before they were ready from one lesson to the next, since Kindergarten.
Educators worry about test results, but what test results have revealed, for decades, is whole populations of students who are behind where someone thought they ought to be. Our interpretation should be something else, altogether. What test results reveal is that what we have been doing has not worked for millions of children. Do we really want to repeat the mistakes of the past?
Let us re-clarify, for ourselves as well as for our students, that our mission is and has always been:
“to help children learn as much as they are able at their own best pace, in route to whatever future they will choose for themselves, some day.”
We must have no illusions our children will all end up in the same place on graduation day, all headed in the same direction, any more than we should cling to the illusion they should all be at the same point today, or any other day, on an arbitrary academic development track.
Not only is it true “they are where they are!” it is equally true “what they know is what they know, not what we think they ought to know!”
It is from what they know, today, that our schools should restart the marathon, helping students along a path to get where they will someday want or need to be, at their own best pace; not a pace designated by arbitrary standards and schedules.
A truth we already know but must be reminded of is millions of children start from behind on their first day of school and most of them never catch up; not because they are incapable of catching up rather because the education process is not structured so that helping them catch up is a priority.
The Hawkins Model© is designed to do what we should have been doing all along; determine where kids are on an academic preparedness and emotional development continuum, beginning on the day they become our responsibility, and then tailor an academic plan to help them progress, one success after another, toward whatever future they will choose for themselves, someday.
Our initial goal must be to help all students build a solid academic foundation and a healthy self-esteem on which they can create their own unique futures. It does not matter who gets where, first; what matters is learning enough to give themselves meaningful choices.
What matters, whether we are talking about reading, writing, math, science, social studies, or learning how to ride a bicycle, is not how fast they learn, or how quickly they make up lost ground. The only thing that matters is whether they have learned to ride that bike and utilize everything else they have learned to get to where they need to be or to go. Our objective must be applied academics—how well can young people apply in real life, all they have learned.
We do our students no favor by pushing them beyond the cusp of their capabilities. Instead, we must remind ourselves, repeatedly, everything our students learn today becomes the pre-requisite knowledge and skill they will need to learn the lessons of tomorrow and all the tomorrows that follow. If they reach a point where their portfolio of pre-requisite knowledge and skills is empty, we have set them up for failure; the kind of failure from which many of them will never recover.
If we began today, by this September of 2021, we could implement the principles and practices of The Hawkins Model©, adapted for the age and grade level of every student. From that point forward, students would begin moving from one success to the next where they will always find themselves well-prepared.
One of the exciting things about teaching kids to think of success as a process is once they master that process, their pace of learning will accelerate until the next thing we know they have progressed further than they could ever have gone had our minds been focused on catching up.