Thursday, April 10, 2014
Joanie runs home after school and tells her mom. The mother, a member of the school's parent-teacher organization, calls Mrs. Neri, the school principal, and tells Mrs. Neri that Joanie should be moved back to her original seat. The next morning Principal Neri "suggests" Mrs. Meyers return Joanie to her original seat. Mrs. Meyers complies.
That afternoon Joanie and her friend Ellen chat continuously during the quiet reading period, Mrs. Meyers ignores their whispering and giggling. Mrs Meyers doesn't even look up from her book.
Now Joanie feels empowered. At age nine, she has discovered that with the help of a parent and a willing administrator, a student can tell a teacher what to do.
Flash forward ten years. Joanie attends the local community college. She's taking freshman composition, a required course. When Mr. Bowers, the instructor, returns Joanie's first paper, the grade is a "C." Joanie tells her classmates as she leaves Mr. Bowers' class that she is going to complain to the dean about the grade and about Mr. Bowers' teaching.
Off Joanie goes to Dean Carter's office. Joanie makes an appointment, fills out the proper complaint forms, and schedules a time to seen Dean Carter in person.
When Joanie and the dean meet, Joanie tells Dean Carter that all the students in the class object to Mr. Bowers' teaching methods. "No one likes him," Joanie tells Dean Carter. "He marks up our papers something fierce and then tells us to re-rewrite them. I don't have time for that! I'm working 30 hrs. a week!"
Dean Carter tells Joanie that he will have a talk with Mr. Bowers, and he does, telling Mr. Bowers that his grading is too hard and that requiring students to rewrite essays is not part of the community college curriculum.
Joanie smirks in class the next day when Mr. Bowers tells the students that they will not have to re-write their papers any longer. Joanie feels empowered, knowing that she is now in control of the English composition class. Her grades on her essays go up to "B's," and she wonders if she can also manipulate her "C" grade in her American history class.
The next semester Mr. Bowers stops grading English papers so closely. He now uses the English Department rubric for each paper. Few, if any corrections appear on Mr. Bowers' students' papers. There are brief comments on the rubric--very brief.
Mr. Bowers also stops giving grades below a "B-." He raises a grade if a student complains, and the student does not have to revise and edit the paper.
The above examples show what's happening in American schools. Teachers who are tough and want their students to learn are being pushed aside in favor of those teachers who are "nice" to the students and give everyone high grades.
I know one school where there used to be two or three students from each grade school class at the quarterly honor roll breakfast. Now almost every student attends. One teacher who was holding out was reprimanded by the principal for only having three students at the honor roll breakfast. "Mrs. Radke has all of her fourth grade students going," the principal said. "I hope next quarter you can up your student count."
Ah, the velvet hammer.
I'm not sure how things got this way in the short time since I left Fremd High School in 2007, but the problem is pervasive. I sat for countless hours in a dean's office at Kishwaukee College last semester because a student complained to the dean that I was censoring his journalism/newspaper stories.
You know what I was doing? I was trying to figure out how to revise his sentences so that they made sense. The kid couldn't write three words without making a mistake.
But this student knew he had the upper hand. He bragged at the Kaleidoscope editorial board meetings that he was going to meet with the president of the college because the dean wasn't moving fast enough for him.
I guess it worked because I'm sitting on my butt writing this, and he's blissfully going to class at Kishwaukee bragging to his friends how he ran "the bitter old man" out.
What can be done? I have no clue. I know that I'm not going back until I get a guarantee that requiring my students to write COHERENT papers will be encouraged.
So the next time you hear the Chamber of Commerce or the Illinois Manufacturing Association moaning how Illinois students can't write or do math, think of little Joanie and of all the other students who now run our schools. And think too of the administrators who are empowering them.