Erin Chawla: The Kiducation Learning Curve


Is School Making Your Kid A Slacker?

Do You Need a Mean Teacher?

There is a post going around these days on ways to be a mean mom. It discusses such unpopular parenting decisions as enforcing your child’s bedtime and not giving in to their every tantrum. I like the post — it’s a cute reminder that being a parent is about setting limits and giving guidelines. I don’t believe that the art of developing our children’s sense of responsibility has been completely lost and I know many parents are doing an excellent job — the author of the meanest mom post is far from the only one making her kids do hard things.

But, we all know the perception of the millenials — those young adults that seem to believe the world owes them something and they don’t need to put in a lick of effort to get it. And there is no denying that in this day and age, countless children fall victim to the "I-get-everything-I-want, no-limits" household. I continue to meet these kids in my classroom year after year.

Parents are not the only people responsible for instilling strong character traits in our younger generation — school has a big role as well. Has our constantly evolving educational system played a part in producing generations of students with a serious dearth of work ethics? Absolutely!

When I went to teacher’s college, I was surprised by a few of the policies that have changed since my days as a student (too many years ago to admit). For example, the policy around late assignments for students in middle school and high school. When I was a kid, if you didn’t hand your assignment in on time, you were docked ten percent a day for a few days, and then given a zero. When teachers went to calculate an end of term mark, a zero on an assignment had an impact. Not so anymore. These days there are a series of steps a teacher must go through before even considering docking marks for a late assignments. For example, teachers are encouraged to give a due date and then a second “ultimate deadline” that a student may hand in their work. Also, we are instructed to base report card marks on the work that has been submitted — however little that may be — rather than allowing missed assignments to influence the final grade.  

What does this teach our kids about responsibility, commitment, and accepting consequences? Seems to me that in this case, the school system is giving kids excuses to just not complete the task at hand. Now, I completely get that there are special circumstances and I would never consider docking a student if there was something going on in their lives outside of their control that truly impacted their ability to work. And I also understand the part of the policy that urges teachers to coach students through the process of getting things done and explicitly teach good work habits, but I also believe it would be easier to teach those work habits if there was a solid, predictable consequence to a student simply choosing to disregard a deadline. Extenuating circumstances should be dealt with on a case by case basis, rather than be a prevailing excuse for every student to take advantage of.

I was also surprised that there was no such thing as “failing” a grade. By the time I attended teachers’ college, holding a student back a year had long since been disbanded. Again, I certainly understand the value of social promotion (keeping students in classes with their peers, even when they do not achieve the expectations for the previous grades). I’m a big fan of individual education plans and tailoring education to specific needs of the students, rather than a blanket approach. However, there was something to be said for the healthy fear of failing a grade. I think for some, knowing that being held back was a possibility motivated kids to work harder.

I love the more student-centred approach of education in the modern day, but I worry we may have gone too far in removing all the consequences that helped our kids build a sense of responsibility, a respect for deadlines and drive for success. I loved the part in the “mean mommy” post where the author suggested we stop pulling strings for our kids.  She suggests many of our kids get a rude awakening when they enter the world of employment and realize that the rules do indeed apply to them. It’s not just up to parents — school also has a responsibility to give students the tools to deal with difficult situations — and sometimes that means setting and enforcing the rules.