Q: My son has needed a tutor for every science class and most math classes he’s taken in high school. They’ve helped him get better grades, but it’s expensive and time-consuming. Is it the right thing?
Tutoring should not be a long-term solution for a child’s struggles. Many believe it should not be a solution at all. In some cultures, tutors are only used to accelerate a child, not remediate him. If, for instance, a child is much better at algebra than his peers, the parents might hire a tutor to teach him trigonometry. In our culture, we do it the other way around. But what long-term effect does this have on the child if it’s done year after year, course after course?
I would say “forced dependency.” The child will learn to always rely on someone else in order to either succeed or understand. At some point, he may even forget that he possesses the ability to comprehend and reason for himself. That’s not good.
Instead, consider options that teach the child to be independent. If possible, enroll him in a lower level class where he can keep pace. Make him put in the required effort at home, but alter your expectations: if he’s studying an hour a night and only making C’s, teach yourself to be happy with C’s. At least they’ll be his C’s and no one else’s.
Don’t get caught up in the content. A “D” in biology isn’t going to wreck someone’s life, but being unable to stand on one’s own two feet and take on obstacles as they come might. Like Ruskin said, education isn’t teaching kids to know the things they don’t know. It’s teaching kids to behave the way they don’t behave.
Q: You recently discussed schools “dummying down the curriculum.” But many students come from underprivileged backgrounds and school is too hard for them. Won’t you be leaving those students behind?
Many students indeed come to school with an underprivileged past. However, if we don’t give them a quality education, they’ll be leaving with an underprivileged future to match.
The reality is that by watering down the curriculum, we’re leaving them behind already. Raising the standard, I will grant you, may be cold comfort to those kids who lack initiative and determination, but at least it will open the doors of freedom to the countless others who have been locked out by our diluted expectations.
Here is a truth that educational leaders should preach to themselves every day: pity is not a substitute for an education. I truly feel sorry for my underprivileged students, but I know that handing them a weak, sloppy education won’t help them.
The least we can do is afford children an opportunity to nourish their way out of the morass by giving them access to all the trees in the orchard. But they must pick from those trees themselves. Forcing them to glean the ground for rotten leftovers while we look on in pity is educational malpractice of the highest order.
Q: You put down states that are ending suspension for “disrespect,” but the truth is that many students are being put out of school for things that can be dealt with in schools. We need something more compassionate.
What would you do if a man came into your house, sat down in your living room and refused to leave? What if he proceeded to destroy all of your furniture and threaten your children? What would be your “compassionate” response?
Schools call it “disrespect,” but we might be better off calling it what it is (and what they call it in the real world) insubordination.
“Insubordination” is defined as a “defiance of authority; a refusal to obey orders.” Think seriously for a moment what that means. It means the child or teen who is guilty of it has demonstrated no regard for authority. He chooses to obey no one but himself.
That seed, when sprouted, is a danger to all of us. Schools must do everything they can to ensure that it does not take root. What would society look like if we only obeyed the laws we wanted to?
Schools have no obligation to feed a child’s willful, selfish whims. They do, however, have every obligation to ensure that all students have an orderly environment in which to learn.
I’ve been in schools where chaos reigns because callow administrators are more afraid of hurting an insubordinate child’s feelings than of doing the hard job of keeping order in their community and − perhaps more importantly − keeping a bitter weed from taking root in society’s garden.
In those conditions, suspension is the compassionate choice. I can easily think of a dozen that are just as reasonable but far less merciful.
Jody Stallings has been an award-winning teacher in Charleston since 1992 and is director of the Charleston Teacher Alliance. He is the recipient of the 2018 first place award in column writing from the South Carolina Press Association. To submit a question or receive notification of new columns, email him at JodyLStallings@gmail.com. Follow Teacher to Parent on Facebook at facebook.com/teachertoparent and on Twitter @stallings_jody.