I have some concerns about the direction that public education is currently taking. I suppose not all public schools are following this route, but I can speak of the experiences I am witnessing…
Kids with special needs have Individualized Education Plans (IEPs). IEPs document the strengths and weaknesses of each child who qualifies, with goals they need to aim for (academically and/or behaviorally) and what supports they need to accomplish those goals. In order to level the playing field, they are given supports above and beyond what the average kid can get in order to be just as successful. If they need two days to be able to do what everyone else can do in one, they get it. If they need someone to read the questions to them in order to understand them as well as their peers would, they get that.
So what happens when ALL kids are entitled to those supports too? Should ALL students have IEPs? If the definition of success is measured against every single child’s unique set of strengths/weaknesses/progress, what does a graduation from high school really mean? We are being asked to provide such supports for ALL kids and the implication is that it would be perfectly possible for a student who does not have a disability at all to graduate high school with the same set of skills and learning as a child who is mentally retarded.
This ties in nicely with giving students the mistaken impression that they may have second, third, fourth, fifth chances every time they behave inappropriately, never teaching them that sometimes life doesn’t give you a second chance for you to sit back and willfully fuck up the first time. It gets so bad that these kids think they’re having a whale of a time goofing off, knowing that they’ll have plenty of opportunities to do it again and again until the teacher is finally able to get them to pass, get it right, or behave appropriately. Even better, they might be taken under the wing of a kind hearted administrator or counselor and feel even more empowered to continue to “express themselves” and simply run back under that wing anytime any other adult takes them to task. And EVEN BETTER, they may be given rewards that well behaved students are not given the opportunity to experience because the naïve hope is that if you give gifts and prizes to the badly behaved child you’re bonding with them and going to somehow remedy a deeply ingrained persistent problem.
By all means, take into account individuality, but to eliminate basic standards of expectation is not an act of kindness and sympathy. It cheats the kids. It provides them with subpar educational experiences and robs them of the successful future they may have had if their violent behavior had NOT been treated lightly, had they been expected to show up on time and every day, had they been expected to learn to make fewer mistakes rather than wait for the next chance to roll around AGAIN.
I think all teachers need to watch The First 48 more often. Look where we are sending our kids to after graduation. They don’t have the skills or the etiquette to get the better jobs, they don’t have the self control to stay out of trouble, and they definitely don’t see the wrong in their actions because they were also taught and handled on their terms.
I dread the day I read the news and see the names of the ones who have “anger issues”. The ones who we had to tread lightly around for fear of setting them off, who were forgiven for their outbursts and their violence time and again because they were never expected to actually control their anger or were never given the medication they needed to be able to do so.
The key is to use knowledge of the kids to raise them up to some sort of predetermined standard set for all kids. They may reach it, they may not, but having a universal goal to work towards and measure them against isn’t evil. We must always bear their futures in mind, and not be so shortsighted as to simply worry about dragging their butts through the next few years of school.