Seizing a pensive moment while my daughter sat glued to the TV set watching a DVD of Ed Sullivan Muppet sketches, I laid out some thoughts about a topic I agonize over a lot in my profession: What is different about the kids of today as compared to those of the past? There's a documented slip of scores on achievement tests, a decline which I believe began very close to the Ed Sullivan Show days, and I'm interested to find out why. Here are some hypothesise:
Emphasis is now placed on boosting the child's ego as a separate aspect of the child's personality, instead of developing pride through actual accomplishments based on hard word, practice, and trial and error. I need look no further than the classrooms I see on a daily basis to see an abundance of kids with impeccable egos, verging on complete arrogance, none of which is based on actual skills with which to show off. The result is a really confident, but fairly stupid kid. People I respect are humbled by their ignorance and quietly seek to remedy the gaps in their knowledge or skills by practice or submitting to those who better skilled... These guys think they're the shit at absolutely everything and have nothing to show for their big-headedness.
Rewards are given to reinforce too many behaviors nowadays, making the reward the goal in place of pride of accomplishment and success. It seriously has gotten to the point that we have to say "great job" to a kid merely for showing up at all, even if it's 15 minutes late to a class. I think that's patronizing to the child and they even recognize it. I had a conversation with a kid who said she knowingly did a half-ass job on an assignment, got all this praise and candy from her teacher. She said she was disgusted and never made much of an effort after that.
If you lower the bar, the kid knows it and will lower their effort too. Again, I believe in developing pride in a job well done. There's nothing wrong with saying "that's a good start, but why don't you try this..."
Generations before me had a choice... Enjoy the privilege of getting an education or else work on the family farm/business/etc... It made going to class a lot more appealing, as described by Glenn and Nelson (1989) in Raising Self Reliant Children in a Self Indulgent World: Seven Building Blocks for Developing Capable Young People. So what choice do today's kids have? The privilege and right to an education or the DVD, satellite/cable, video game consoles back home? Hm. Tough one, that.
It's for this reason that the teaching profession does have to find some way to compete with that, and it's a tough battle to fight. The last thing I want is to have to learn how to teach the distributive property while juggling with a chair balanced on my nose to make sure the kids are entertained as they are educated, but I believe in making learning fun and inspiring even. Of course that can only happen with a number of other things in place, but I'll save that discussion for another time.
Parents don't love their kids any more or less than they used to, but their relationship with teachers has turned pretty ugly over the years. I don't know if it's based on their own poor experiences with teachers in their own childhoods or if it's because of horror stories about shitty teachers being plastered all over the news, but parents don't trust teachers and, in fact, go so far as to prepare their kids to aggressively oppose teachers, their rules, their expectations, and their principles. It's gotten to the point that our administrators even side with parents over us teachers for the sake of keeping them happy over what's actually best for the child. The result is rather like a kid playing two divorced parents off of each other... It's an ugly situation and although the kid acts smug about the whole thing, it's doing them no good whatsoever.
Parents and teachers need to have more opportunities to interact and prove that they're all on the same side, but this would require parents to at least give correct and working phone numbers that have voice mail with space on them. Out of the 12 kids I had this year, I was able to regularly keep in touch with 2. The rest gave incorrect or outdated numbers, had perpetually full voice mails, got disconnected then didn't give me the new number once they got one, gave phone numbers of other people to feign living in the district etc.
Okay. I'm going to stop ranting now because I really should get my butt onto the Wii Fit board.
PS: RIP George Carlin.