Lacking Leverage

Since I’m on a roll about my frustrations with public school, I’ll bring up what I think is the crux of the matter. Teachers lack leverage.

In college, the student is paying to be there. If the student skips, who cares? The money’s in the school account. If the student disrupts the class, he needs to leave — he can’t waste other people’s money. In other words, the only people who show up are the people who care — all of the responsibility is on students’ shoulders.

Conversely, if the student does her work quickly and with excellence, she has time to spend on what she wants to do. Often, a professor will excuse a student early if she finishes the exam early. Why should she have to wait for everyone else to finish? And if she can do the work and just show up for a few classes, more power to her! Bravo! Here’s your A on your transcript.

But public school isn’t a business model. It’s a containment model. Results aren’t the focus, nor are kids. It’s very naive to think so.  What matters are seat hours, number of students, number of needy students, and federal and state handouts.

This sets us up for all sorts of problems.

The goal is containing the most amount of kids possible within our walls for an allotted amount of time. This massive undertaking poses such problems that we rarely get to the secondary goal of educating them while they are there.

If a student is really good at something and finishes in record time, he gets two choices: do something quiet or do more work.

In real life, there exists a natural reward for doing something quickly and with excellence — the remaining time is yours to spend as you wish.

This is how a good homeschool is set up. An hour is allotted to math. An assignment is explained and given. If focus and excellence is applied to the assignment and it is completed in a half hour, the remaining half hour is for play! It works like a charm for setting minds to work. The goal is a) excellence and b) efficiency.

The goal is not — how can I keep your minds occupied on math for an entire hour?

That is an invitation to a battle, really, which I believe the public school classroom often looks like. Sometimes, it’s out-and-out war!

How I wish that I could excuse good students who have completed their work to the commons to chat comfortably with their friends! What a natural motivator it would be for the rest of the students stuck in the classroom! They would want to finish the assignment a) quickly and b) correctly to get on to their own agenda.

Good work would be rewarded in a simple, realistic way. No silly prizes or tickets or raffles. The burden is placed where it should be: squarely on the students’ shoulders. This is your education, your life.

Instead we have exhausted teachers trying to drum up another way to entertain students for an hour. And we fall into the gravest danger where there is much teaching, and little learning.

In my own public school, where kids are excused to do as they wished after completing excellent work, I see another benefit. I could put my focus on the kids who really need me. The kids who struggle would get more time devoted to them. Perhaps we’d see them improve instead of gimp along in a system falling apart.

Wouldn’t it be nice to treat education as a privilege that cannot be hijacked by students who don’t wish to learn? The burden would fall to parents to teach their kids to respect learning or they would have to deal with their own kids.

Again, all of the responsibility falls in the right places.

The streets might be filled with ne’er-do-well kids you might say.

For awhile.

It would be uncomfortable for a few years. But I think parents would figure it out.

Train your kids to respect the school or deal with them yourself.

We can’t do that, though. We need those kids on IEPs because they mean more money. We need all of the kids we can get, cram them into classrooms, and say we’re containing them, I mean, educating them.

But I’m dealing with a huge, puffing, grinding machine skidding dangerously on its tracks when I discuss the public school system. I can’t stop it. I just watch and wince when we lean dangerously over a cliff.

I do my best to explain and assign and have high expectations. To love and to lift and inspire.

All those hopes are in any teacher’s heart.

I think we all wish, though, for a little more leverage.


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