Tuesday, February 27, 2007

They're Singing My Song- Part I

If you listen, you can hear my old song being sung in many places today. Since the late 70s, when the current parenting and teaching philosophy, which values self-esteem more than actual accomplishment and which offers tangible rewards for every semblance of an effort, I have been a frequent (and occasionally vocal) soloist.

I have often spoken and written about the dangers of teaching children to desire only tangible rewards. Real adult life has few tangible rewards.

I have often urged fellow educators to praise children only when the they have WORKED to accomplish something that was hard. When they are praised for "smiling right" (my principal once told me I should pass a child who did nothing to earn a grade because "surely he smiled right"!), children only learn that effort is not worthwhile.

I have been puzzled by the trend in recent years to make awards totally meaningless by giving "awards" to every participant no matter how little was actually accomplished. What does the award mean to the student who has worked and actually learned something and given a good presentation of that knowledge? Nothing, that's what. What will the student who did nothing meaningful but also got an award learn? He/she will learn that only fools work to accomplish something.

Also puzzling and troubling to me is the requirement that children give valentines to every child in the class -- no matter how rude and unpleasant a child is to others, he will receive declarations of love from the other children. How will he learn that his behaviors are undesirable? He won't. What will the valentines mean to any of the children? Nothing.

Uh Oh! I have got in sermon mode here. My intention was to present here two recent reading selections realted to these issues that I believe affect the tone and nature of our entire society.

I found the first reading selection at The Weekly Scheiss . This blogger writes about a group of students she worked with in a higher education class. She says this about her under-35 students: (ellipses indicate where I have edited for conciseness)

...they had teachers who were loving and kind and understanding and never assigned homework and really didn't force their fragile-egoed little students to do much of anything except sing and draw and scamper and play. Their classrooms were full of hugs and positive assertations and read-alouds about the holiday traditions of everycultureunderthesunexceptours...

. . . . They could put their names on their papers, or not, it really didn't matter. They could fill out a worksheet, or not. It was being given the CHOICE that was the important thing. Everyone was equally special. Everyone was equally gifted. Everyone was equally deserving of privileges.

...There were few expectations, no consequences, and nobody was better than anybody else. It was all about FEELINGS....

Most of them washed out in high school. I do have a handful of students with a high school diploma, although I'm wondering what it stands for as they are my lowest achievers....Oh, and in case you are curious as to what these students think of those smiling kind-hearted teachers down in lower elementary who never made a sweet little child do things if he didn't WANT to.. . . they hate their guts. "Why didn't she make me do the math sheets? I'm 32 years old and I don't even know my multiplication tables. " "I wish she'd shown me how to label and organize my stuff. I still can't do it. I got into bad habits in fourth grade and it was just too easy to let them get worse. Nobody made me do it. Nobody MADE ME. Now, I can't make myself do it.".... "Miss ______ told Mom not to force me to read because it might make me hate it. Hell, if somebody had forced me to read, maybe I could read better than a little kid NOW.".......

Parents and teachers, are you tired of the "entitled" attitude of children all around you? Those who are convinced that their opinions are just as valid as that of any expert who has studied whatever-the-subject-is for a lifetime? That "self-esteem" has been taught and fostered by his/her parents and teachers. Do you wonder about all the sociopathic (uncaring that other people have feelings and wishes too) behaviors in society? Look back to the parenting/teaching philosophies of the last 25 years or so.

Later today, I will share an article from this morning's AJC about a recent study done at San Diego State University. They have learned most of the words to my song too! Maybe we are moving past my solo and small ensemble performances. Maybe a concert choir is being assembled at last!

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