No! Every Child Cannot Get Straight A's

In a previous post I asked the question: Can Every Child Get Straight A’s?

Oh wow, did I get some interesting responses. Every single person, except one, said no. The only person to say yes was my lady’s father, thanks Ravendad.

The overwhelming outcry was that students should not get straight A’s. Or, that it was an unreasonable or an unimportant expectation. Innumerable explanations were given in the comments and on Facebook. Here are some of them:

  • “There has to be losers in life”
  • “If you lower the bar enough, yes”
  • “Some kids just aren’t great at school”

Those were real comments. Others did give more complex answers with references to various experts (or pundits). But, I think the point stands, we have very low expectations for our children.

It’s no surprise that our education is barely competing worldwide with so few adults expecting us to do well. Many of us would probably like to blame this on schools or teachers. The documentary, Waiting For Superman, provides amunition for just that by pointing out all the problems and inadequacies they have.

Which is exactly where I draw the line. I get so worked up when adults blame our problems on schools, I even walked out on that movie in protest.

We do not have an education problem. Our schools are doing fine, if not exceptional. In every aspect of education our teachers, principals, and schools are improving. They are establishing uniform standards, trying new teaching methods, and in some cases radical reforms.

The results have been pathetic. Tiny gains or no gains all across the board.

Which has befuddled the entire country. You mean that money, radical changes, and firing teachers can’t fix education?

To which any educator will give you the “no duh” response. There is something more important than that, something so overwhelming that it makes anything else impotent. Parents.

There is no single factor more important than parents.

To which I propose we switch our conversation away from education reform and into parent reform. Now, this is not another finger pointing exercise, we have enough of that already. This is an attempt to engage in discourse that is productive. Like two children beating each other up, nobody wins. But if you can get them to talk first, to understand each other, then they grow and everybody wins.

If given the stage here’s an example of what I would say:

During the teenage years the child brain suddenly becomes the adult brain. Experiencing a large growth in ability. Beneath the raging hormones is a mind that will soon be able to perform geometry, calculus, write abstract essays, and more.

Very few understand this and even fewer understand how to respond to it.

Fortunately, our middle schools do and they focus almost entirely on skill building. They teach the rigor necessary to enable those powerful minds.

During grades six to eight, the content suddenly becomes repetitive. Topics that were covered in earlier years are rehashed, only to be covered again in high school. Which leaves teachers free to focus on:

  • Writing outlines
  • Organization
  • Punctuality
  • Forming paragraphs
  • Structured notes (math, science)

If successful the classroom turns into an escape from the chaos of puberty by establishing daily routines and regular practice. You would be surprised how relaxing it is for teenagers to have a well disciplined and quiet place to practice writing outlines. It’s like a hush comes over the class.

The same is true for parents. I had so many successful parent-teacher conferences where the sole discussion was on how to organize a backpack. At first the parents would look at me with shock. Where was the typical laundry list of problems or successes. Instead, I would explain about their child’s growing brain and the need to build basic skills. Then a few weeks later they would come back and thank me profusely.

It is these basic skills that form the foundation for future success in high school and college. If delivered at the right age it is almost magical. Providing students with exactly what they need, simplifying the parents challenging role, and allowing teachers to, well, teach.

Further, I can provide an example of this at every age, every grade, and every stage in life. I can offer to adults and parents critical knowledge that will save them countless hours and headaches, while making straight A’s a reasonable achievement.

Now, not everything I would say is perfect and backed by all educators. But, it does set the foundation for productive discussions. I would love national debates that introduce these largely unknown facts to parents. Instead of the pointless and unhelpful debates we have now.

I can only imagine how much improvement we would see if our education reform suddenly was about education and not money or blame.

What do you say, did I make a convincing argument for parent reform?

6 thoughts on “No! Every Child Cannot Get Straight A's

  1. I don’t know. I don’t have extensive experience with parents of neurotypical children. The only parents I know well have special needs children, like myself. Our children do not usually receive letter grades, but they do sometimes make honor roll, through the alternative assessment program. Progress and achievement are important to us, but we have different kinds of goals. And we KILL ourselves to help our children learn self-help and academic skills.

    I don’t think parents don’t expect their children to do well. I think there are other issues at work.

    Also your experience is one thing, but from my observation, at least at my son’s school, is that the parents are highly involved. Back to school night, events, and assemblies are standing room only. Parents are volunteering there every day. And they seem highly involved in helping their children achieve. I think most schools support and welcome that parent involvement, and would be surprised that parent reform is as needed as you say.

    There are other realities, however. My child does have access to general education classrooms, and I think the problem is not so cut and dried as inadequate expectations. It’s not a question of just allowing teachers to teach. Those classrooms have 25 to 35 students. The increased responsibilities on teachers in the past few years has been enormous. And classrooms are incredibly diverse. Many of them include special needs children, as well as children for whom English is not a first language — they come from Latin America, China, Russia, Somalia…from all over. Some come to that school not knowing a word of English. There are fewer native born children at my school than foreign born.

    1. Exactly! We have all these parents with a deep intense interest. It is such a waste to squander that. Imagine if “parent involvement” was about child development and learning about the development stages of the child brain. I mean we have all this new and amazing research on the brain that is being ignored.

      Many are saying I am oversimplifying the issue, but it does work. It’s like the movie The King’s Speech. In it the King is seeing all these doctors prescribing ridiculous treatments for his speech impediment (it is the early 1900s). Then he meets a guy who just talks to him and gives him practical advice (singing helps him to speak clearly). He instantly improves.

      I feel like that is exactly where we are with parenting, no more gimmicks, just practical advice.

      The increased responsibility is something I wanted to talk about too. The reality is that master teachers can do well no matter the class size. Lesser teachers need help in learning to do so but they get there. Certain subjects like english and history are tougher because they require writing and that takes time to grade, but teachers have all sorts of methods to help with that. The best, imo, being to have students read/grade each other’s work.

      The real problem is that teachers are increasingly expected to be parents. Being do-gooders all teachers accept this and rise to the challenge. Unfortunately, it takes time away from learning school subjects, instead focusing on life skills. Every teacher across the nation knows what I mean, they spend more time in a parenting role than in a teaching role.

      Worse yet they then get blamed for the resulting dropping scores and such. Their whole profession gets damned.

      Even more I would say this is why students in poor neighborhoods do worse, but that is another post…

      I ask this question to educators all the time. They give a typical response of “yeah we can do better, here is what we are doing…”. Then I ask them about this parenting issue. At first they are reluctant to say it but after a while they soon start dishing out against parents. It’s true but so forbidden that we (and they) will never talk about it…

  2. I’m amazed people would say those things about kids. I just finished this book by Mary Karr where she talks about being a recovering alcoholic, and one of her friends constantly asks her “what’s your source of information” and if it’s just something she thought up than it’s probably wrong. I can’t imagine anyone could say “there has to be losers in life” out loud a few times and think that is even close to reasonable.

    This caste system we have set up in education where some people “are just better than others” is a joke. No one should accept any of those lazy answers. My guess is none of the people who say those things would say that about their own children. And I completely agree with you that any child can excel. It’s their parents and adult role models that make excuses.

  3. I agree with you completely. I’m a middle school student and so many of my friends have just been repaying what their parents tell then about how our schools are soooo terrible. Many of them and their parents blame their failures on the school when they just didn’t try. Their parents encourage this and have tried to get several of my teachers fired because they are not doing as well in their class as they would hope when they refuse to study !

    1. Thanks Castkid4. I was once a middle school teacher (history) and so I know firsthand what you are saying. The first kids to complain about a bad teacher as usually the ones not doing their homework.

      The parents just make it worse, but that is also true in life. Those working hard and finding success are happy and content. Those not are often complaining and blaming others.

      I hope you continue to study hard and avoid the problems of these types of folk!

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