to be or not to be

First, go read this story about some Very Unpopular Decisions the Saskatoon school division has just made. Go ahead. I’ll wait.

Now.

It’s a pretty dumb idea. It’s dumb because, like the whole “we won’t fail your kid because it will do your kid more psychological harm to be held back from his peers” business, it’s the kind of bee ess that eggheads come up with without really thinking things through. What’s more important in the long run? A child who does not have to suffer the horrible social stigma of being held back in grade four, or a child who can read and do basic arithmetic? A child who has learned that it doesn’t matter whether you do the work that’s required of you, or a child who doesn’t have the basic building blocks of his or her education? The people who came up with that asinine idea did so, I wager, because they weren’t actually teaching. They may have MEds and PhDEds (heh), but knowing education theory =/ being an educator and knowing how to teach.

And now this decision to refrain from penalising “bad” (read ‘unwanted’) behaviour and or/rewarding “good” (or ‘favourable’) behaviour. Before I get into how asinine THAT is and encourage you to stop doling out consequences to your own children when they misbehave and just keep giving them second chances to NOT hit their sibling, I’d like to make a point.

When I talked about how I thought it was really important that my kids learn about gender identity and gay/lesbian/transgendered/bi/questioning folks, and how I thought that should be part of the school curriculum, the point was made that it’s not the school’s job to teach our children morality and how to be Good People.

So, now it suddenly *is* the school’s job to teach our children morality and how to be Good People?

It’s okay for the school to teach our kids when it’s okay or not okay to steal or lie or cheat, but it’s *not* okay for the school to teach our kids not to make other kids’ lives miserable, regardless of the motivation? So what is it? Is it okay for the education system to teach and to reinforce our kids’ own moral/social education, or is it not?

I think the whole thing is a bit ridiculous, really. Don’t get me wrong; I don’t agree that positive reinforcement doesn’t work, and I don’t agree that providing consequences doesn’t work. I think children *need* discipline, and that includes punishment and reward. And I think that it’s just a little ridiculous to assume that any kid who comes through this system won’t be thinking anything other than “but if I learned where to *find* the information, that’s as good as putting it into my own words” or “but I *tried* really hard”. What’s happening here is pretty clear to me.

Here it is: We are devaluing primary education to the point where it really is just a glorified daycare. We bitch and moan about the “quality of education these days”, but how many of us have requested meetings with school teachers, principals, and superintendents? How many of us volunteer to work with the public school board? How many of us have even VOTED for anyone to take public school board office? How many of us are actually making an effort to affect change?

By the time our children get to University, they haven’t learned the most important quality for a higher education: The desire to learn. They don’t have the basic skills required to enter a University program, and so first year University courses are basically designed to bring high school grads up to a basic level of education. Most University students are so focussed on getting a degree so that they can get a better-paying job that the actual *education* is secondary. There really are no generalised study programs. At least, not around here. There are still some Universities that require their students to take foundation years programmes (usually anywhere from 1 – 3 years) which are condensed and focussed liberal arts  or science-based programmes. …what I’m trying to say is that most students entering higher education aren’t doing it for a love of learning, and that, I think, is a great tragedy.

Good Lord, I’ve got myself derailed.

Yes, it’s a stupid decision that the Saskatoon school system has made, and I do hope that parents will *do* something about it if it bothers them as much as they say it does. But I go back to my original question: when is it okay for the education system to be responsible for your child’s moral/social education and when is it not?

  15 comments for “to be or not to be

  1. 28 September 2010 at 6:32 am

    I think that you are comparing apples and oranges here. Sure, there is a moral element to both cases but the job of the education system is to educate and in making this decision the education system is crippling the parents ability to assist them with that job by hiding the problem. It isn’t about morals for me so much as it is about the quality of education that children are getting. If I know plagiarism is going on I can handle the moral stuff about it at home.

    I feel that the school needs to enforce the rules and implement consequences. However, I do not feel that they need to be “teaching” about the rules in place of reading and writing. I also think that in doing what they have been doing over the last decade, they have produced a bunch of “adults” who don’t feel the need to show up for work on time and who think the world owes them something. They have been coddled so much that they can’t spell and they also can’t cope with the harsh reality of life.

    • 28 September 2010 at 9:08 am

      It’s *not* apples and oranges. I’m asking where to draw the lines between ‘teaching kids the basics of reading and writing and history (which you can’t really teach without a discussion about morals anyway, so morals and ethics sneak in there) and art and physical education’ and ‘teaching children how the real world works’.

      Why should the school inform you that your child is stealing if it’s not their job to interfere with your own teaching your kids morals? I’m saying you can’t have it both ways. Either you *do* believe in the school reinforcing right and wrong, or you don’t. If they’re not to teach morals, then there ought to be no discussion at all of right and wrong. There ought to be no reward system or penalty system at all, because that delineates right and wrong.

      And look, even if you DO do a good job of teaching education your children on morality and ethics, your hard work only matters as much as the next parent’s ability and desire to do the same.

      The reason kids are growing up with the idea that the world owes them something and can’t cope with real life has, I think, little to do with the primary education system. That’s too pat an answer. I think it has much more to do with not being invested in themselves, with not having any work ethic, and with never having to do any actual real work their entire lives…not just at school, either.

      There’s no reason education has to be a choice between “the rules” and “reading and writing”. Just like rhythm is the framework within which we understand music, rules and discipline form the framework within which we can begin to develop and evolve as humans. Rules and discipline do not need to be cruel (in fact they work better when they’re *not* cruel), but they do need to exist. And rules and discipline are usually formed on some kind of system of ‘right’ v. ‘wrong’. So if you’re against allowing the education system to teach your kids right v. wrong, how do you propose it introduce and enforce rules and discipline?

  2. 28 September 2010 at 8:05 am

    Speaking as a parent who does involve himself in all levels of his children’s education, I am pretty disappointed with our primary level of education. You are absolutely right that we are ending up with kids that don’t desire to learn. It’s something I’m struggling with Little Bear. She doesn’t seem to get the idea that it’s fun to learn just to learn it. Well that’s not entirely true, she does enjoy to learn but is too quick to give up as soon as it interferes with her ability to hang out with her friends.

    As far as the morals go, I’ve always told my children’s teachers the same thing. Feel free to dispense consequences and rewards as you see fit to run your class room but every single behavior issue that comes up must be reported to me. Her HS teachers were kinda like ‘Really?’ And I said ‘Yeah, or I’ll be phoning/emailing you every day for a report.’ So they’re happy to help.

    Part of this is so that I can help her learn the right/wrong of situations but also so I can make sure the school isn’t teaching things I don’t want them to teach. Like the passivity of dealing with situations. ‘Oh sit there and report your problem, but we won’t tell you what the results are because that violates someone’s privacy.’ Yeah right. Some kid beats on my kid and she can’t defend herself or know what her reporting does? BS. Hate that policy.

    Or when they’ve punished her too harshly because they don’t understand how those consequences will affect her.

    But y’know what really pisses me off? Policies like this are part of why my kid is about two years behind in her math/science/language skills despite being incredibly bright. Because they have to slow down to the dumbest/laziest kid in the class so the rest suffers. And that is failing a lot more than the kid they are coddling.

    • 28 September 2010 at 11:07 am

      Whereas whenever I meet with our kids’ teachers, I tell them that I want to support and supplement whatever they’re doing in the classroom, and that I consider myself to be support staff *to them* rather than the other way around. I make it clear that what’s most important to me is my kids’ academic proficiency and that provided school policies are clear and just, I will adhere to them. I certainly don’t expect the school to come to me with every single behaviour issue my kids have; to me, that would be micromanaging. In fact, there was one teacher who used to send really nasty little notes home every time The Captain did something that offended her delicate sense of propriety.

      We had a meeting with her and I asked her to give me concrete examples of The Captain’s “acting out”. She couldn’t. She said, “oh, well, he makes funny noises sometimes”.

      I said, “is he chatting and being disruptive during class?”

      She said, “yes.”

      I said, “What is the school’s policy on how to deal with those sorts of issues?”

      She said, “oh, well, we ask them to stop, and if they don’t, we send them to the principal’s office or we give them some form of detention.”

      I said, “Do you keep him in at recess every time he does this?”

      She said, “No, only when it gets really bad.”

      I said, “So you only enforce the policy when it’s annoying?”

      She moved on to another topic. I don’t *want* to be micro-managing a teacher’s job. I really, really don’t. Not to mention that being at school is an aspect of a child’s life that I think to a certain point needs to be THEIRS. I love sharing it with them, but I don’t need to be meddling with every single little thing. Now, if it’s a BIG THING (like The Captain getting into fights in the schoolyard), that’s a different story.

      • 28 September 2010 at 4:21 pm

        Let me define behavior issue: continued disobedience to established rules. I don’t have them call me every single time my kid talks in class. But when she starts to get pissy with them about talking in class, then yeah I wanna know.

        • 28 September 2010 at 4:22 pm

          The threat of the daily hassling is when they don’t report with the continued issues. I don’t want it to turn into a big thing. I don’t expect them to report daily but when a continued issue happens I want to know so I can make sure it doesn’t happen again.

  3. Smarty Pants
    28 September 2010 at 9:06 am

    What Melistress said.

    And Coyote, be thankful for teachers who are willing to help you out in that daily reporting thing.
    My experience with teachers is that they’re very willing to help if it doesn’t require any time or effort.
    Had one teacher who refused to get my son a math book because they were stored in a closet on the other side of the school and she had more important things to do.
    It seems to me that teaching is no longer a calling, but just another job. “Hiding the problem” is just a way to “smooth the work flow / process” for the teachers.

    • 28 September 2010 at 9:12 am

      I don’t think the problem is teachers.

      Having been a teacher, and having come from a long line of teachers, I can tell you that there are far more of them out there who care about your kids’ education than there are teachers out there who just sit in a chair to get a paycheque at the end of the year.

      If you have a problem with a teacher, it’s your JOB as a parent to bring up the problem with the teacher first, then with the principal, then with the Superintendent, etc., etc., etc.. So if you have a problem with the way your kid’s education is being handled, **it’s your job** to do something about it.

      In this case, though, it’s not the teachers. Why are you blaming the teachers for a policy that their egghead bureaucrats who most likely don’t deal directly with students and who haven’t done for years have come up with?

      • brielle128
        28 September 2010 at 9:35 am

        thank you.

      • Smarty Pants
        28 September 2010 at 9:44 am

        First of all, my statement about caring teachers was more a comment for Coyote than a direct response to your statements. In that regard, I agree with Melistress.
        Second of all, I know what my job as a parent is and I *do* bring things up and follow the chain of command etc etc ad nauseum. What I am confronted with more times than not is raging apathy. I’m sure there are wondeful teachers out there, but they are becoming fewer and fewer in number, and they certainly don’t work in *my* school division.
        This exciting new way of removing any accountability from *anybody* only serves to hurt students in the long run. I don’t see it as moral at all. To me it falls in the realm of “practical” and this new policy is not practical at all.

        • 28 September 2010 at 10:58 am

          According to the Education Act and the guidelines at the Saskatchewan Teachers Federation, if you present an issue to a teacher, it must be addressed to your satisfaction within a reasonable time frame (definitions of ‘reasonable time frame’ range from a couple of weeks to a couple of months). If the issue is not solved to your satisfaction, you may address the principal, in writing and/or in person. At this point, you *must* receive a written response indicating what, if any, action would be taken, and the explanation for the decision to take that action.

          If you are still unsatisfied, you may go to your regional superintendent, which again must be followed *by them* in writing. And if your problem still is not addressed, you may take your grievances to the school board and/or to the Ministry of Learning. That is the chain of command to follow and if you’re willing to be diligent, and risk “making waves”, then I’m positive your concerns will be addressed.

          In my experience (which, granted, has only been in the past six years), we have only come across one problem teacher. And we have taken steps to address the issue (I’ll keep you posted, if you’re interested). I have seen *no* apathy on the part of teachers. We live in the same school division you do, btw.

          I DO see an awful lot of hand-wringing by policy makers and bureaucrats who seem to be doing their very best to make teachers completely irrelevant to the education system in general.

          Accountability is part of morality…it’s an outcome of it. You can tell students all you want that stealing is wrong, but if you don’t provide them with consequences (‘accountability’), you’re not actually teaching them moral, ethical behaviour; you’re just standing on a stool and waving your arms around hoping something will happen. That, in essence, is an exercise in futility. If we want our education system to teach morality and ethics (which includes accountability), we must be consistent in our support of it. If we don’t want our education system mucking about with such weighty concepts as good and bad and consequences and accountability, then we shouldn’t make a big stink when that’s exactly what the education *system* chooses to do.

          Of COURSE the new policy isn’t practical. But the reason it isn’t practical has more to do with it having been tried (and failed) *at least once*. What pisses ME off about the whole thing is this attitude that it’s okay to muck about with my kids’ quality of education *without consulting me first*. And I don’t know how much consultation the education system did in this case. Maybe they held all kinds of meetings that parents couldn’t be arsed to go to. Ultimately, these sorts of policy decisions are made without the benefit of actually *testing them* in a real-life, short-term environment. It’d be like saying, “I think that adding whatever’s in this jar to my co-worker’s coffee will increase his work ethic” and then doing so and being surprised when your co-worker ends up dying because it was a jar of rat poison.

          THEORIES are great. But you don’t base policy on theories. You base policy on real-world situations. If the Saskatoon school division that’s doing this would have come out and said, “We’ve *no idea* if we think this is going to make any difference at all; our THEORY is that it will have such-and-such effect, and a similar theory didn’t work in Ontario, but here’s how we’re doing it differently…we’re going to try it for two years in junior high school and if it doesn’t work, we’ll turf it”, I’m sure reactions would have been different.

  4. Cheruby
    28 September 2010 at 2:33 pm

    Oh God, yet another reason to homeschool my kids when the time comes.

    The education system has our kids for seven hours every weekday for the majority of the year. That’s a huge amount of time and I do not expect that certain aspects of my child’s moral and behavioural education should CEASE while they are there. Yes, as a parent, I have a responsibility to educate my kid. But that can only go so far. I expect that in school, my kid would learn HOW TO BE A GODDAMN STUDENT.

    When I first went to university, back in 1994, I was shocked that I was actually expected to read my classroom material. In high school, I had learned that I could get acceptable passing grades by not doing homework. I received another shock when I got my first job: you mean… they actually expect me to do things and exert myself? These people don’t owe me anything and they’ll fire me if I mess up? My primary and secondary education had failed to prepare me for what the world was really like.

    From what I understand, I was the last of those students who were culture-shocked by first-year university. Entrance requirements have dropped. Primary and secondary education has become even softer. Post-secondary institutions have experienced a flood of dumb-as-doorknobs first-years who don’t know how to work. Rather than just giving these people flunking grades, which they deserve, they’ve just changed their courses so they’re easier. Flunking students don’t pay for further education do they? And government bureaucrats start complaining if too many kids get flunked, don’t they?

    I think the worst part of this new system is that teachers won’t give bonus marks for doing extra effort. If my kid overachieves, behaves and makes the classroom a better learning environment, she won’t be encouraged? Rather, since there’s no incentive, she’ll just do what I did: coast through education, relying on innate smarts. She’ll feel entitled to good marks and when she grows up, reality will slap her in the face. Lame lame LAME LAME LAME!

    And why the hell shouldn’t the school system be teaching my kid about the immorality of plagiarism? I would rather that my kid learned this hard lesson, as I did, in school when it doesn’t matter, rather than later in life when it could ruin her professional career.

    The whole “no child left behind” attitude blows mummified goats. Punishment and reward are what drives humanity. It is how we learn.

    I suspect that this destructive attitude has caught on because of the actions of a minority of teachers, but has been embraced by school boards not because they’re interested in better education, but for reasons which benefit school boards ONLY. For one thing, fewer failing students looks better to the bureaucrats who dole out money. For another thing, it is, in a sense, an abdication of responsibility on their part. If schools aren’t officially responsible for morality in the classroom, that’s one less series of parent/educator debates and lawsuits they have to deal with. Less bother from parents, less money spent, budget balanced, handshakes all-around, “Good job, superintendant”, “Thanks, Brad Wall,” “Say, superintendant, isn’t that your kid stealing my hubcaps? Get away from there you little shit!”, “stfu noob!!!!1!!eleven! i b haxxor’d ur |7I23//13I2 c4r kekekekekekeke”

    So yeah, schools should be responsible for moral and behavioural education.

    • 28 September 2010 at 3:00 pm

      *snicker*
      “blows mummified goats”
      *snicker*

  5. 29 September 2010 at 4:52 am

    In the nordic countries, teachers are among the highest-paid professions. Why? Because if you want to create bright and clever people you need to have bright and clever people teaching them. Smarty Pants is right when he says teaching is now just another job. It ought to be something to aspire to and a role that the community cherishes, but when the pay is so weak, the best of your society are going to find work elsewhere.

    As for teaching morals, if the school system did a better job (er, *any* job?) of passing on critical thinking skills, the rest would follow – without a need for the school to impart any one particular set of ethics.

    I’m tempted to move to Sweden just for the kids’ sake.

    • 29 September 2010 at 9:43 am

      It’d be great if our government would advocate for a strong education system in the country, but they won’t. They’re more interested in cutting public funding. In Sweden, and in most other Scandinavian countries, their state funding for institutions like education, sport, culture, etc. are FAR superior to ours. They also have lower crime rates, fewer domestic problems with poverty, and a generally healthier population. I wonder if there’s some kind of correlation there. (/*)

      I wish. I WISH I WISH I WISH Canadians valued their children’s education more. I wish parents were more proactive rather than reactive. I wish this would translate to hiring/electing MPs and MLAs who were invested in supporting education. I wish our school boards were less bureaucratically bunged-up and more focused on actual learning. I wish our teachers could be paid like the kings and queens they are.

      Any time I hear someone kvetch and moan about teachers, I get really defensive. I know what it’s like to have to corral a classroom of thirty little ingrates whose parents have been telling them that what matters is that they *try hard*. And whose parents storm into the classroom and bitch about little Beezuz being held in at recess because her homework wasn’t finished and THAT’S NOT FAIR. I know that most people out there have *no idea* how hard teachers work and just how tied their hands are with the stupidity that is school administration. I know that what we DO have in Canada is a posse of people who are, for the most part, committed to education *in spite of* it being a poorly paid, poorly supported, thankless job.

      I mean, they’re sure as hell not doing it for the money.

      So I agree with you, VP, but I also think you have it backwards. And I think Smarty Pants has it backwards too. I will be the first to admit there are bad teachers out there, just like there are bad writers, bad doctors, and bad managers – people who just aren’t any good at what they do, for whatever reason. But teaching is NOT “just another job”. Anyone who thinks that way won’t be a teacher very long. I *guarantee you that*.

      It really *should* be a calling, and teachers *should* be cherished by the community. But saying “the best of your society are going to find work elsewhere” is …well, it’s wrong. People who care about education will still become teachers, even though the pay is bad. Sure, we could do better if people cared more, but isn’t that our national identity?

      On to your second point – critical thinking is one thing, and it’s imperative that children learn it (most don’t. I’m shocked at how many people come out of University with a mouthful of letters after their names, who are still virtually unable to think critically), but discipline is another, and so is social …for lack of a better term, ‘justice’. If the only thing you want a school to do is to teach Beezuz the alphabet and how to do long division, then why not just get Beezuz a set of automated instructors and let her learn that way?

      This is also, as I see it, one of the dangers of home schooling (I am a fan of home schooling done right, but very, VERY few people do it right) – sure, you can edumacate your kids up to your own standards (take that however you want to), but children need social skills too. They need to learn how to meet new people, how to interact with their peers, how to operate in new places, new situations, and in unfamiliar territory. They *must* fly from the nest. Some home-schoolers supplement their children’s formal education with sport programs and cultural programs, and that’s good. But part of the role of education is more than just to give kids ‘book-learning’. It’s also to teach them how to function in a society that, whether you like it, hate it, or are ambivalent toward it, we all must function in. And that requires the impartation of some kind of understanding of morals and ethics – GENERAL morals and ethics, not “any one particular set”. ie) It’s “wrong” to steal, it’s “wrong” to hurt others physically, mentally, and/or emotionally – it’s “right” to work at what you do, it’s “right” to respect others’ differences….etc.

i make squee noises when you tell me stuff.

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