Tuesday, February 24, 2009

A good name for a bad concept

Eduwonk is having a contest for re-naming "No Child Left Behind." With all due respect, I disagree with the idea of changing the name of this program. The name is perfectly appropriate; it is the concept that is flawed.

I should point out that I am looking at this from a high school teacher's point of view, and maybe an elementary teacher would see it differently. But the name "No Child Left Behind" implies that education is something that is done "to" or "for" somebody. As a person who deals with 15-18-year-olds, I can tell you that I can't educate anyone. I can't force any of them to come along with me. I can make it possible for every one of my students to be successful (and that ain't easy!), I can motivate, and I can make my classes as interesting as I possibly can. But I can't force my kids to become educated. It doesn't matter how hard I work at it, if my students are going to be educated, they are going to have to have some desire to do that, and they are going to have to do most of the work themselves. I can do everything in my power to give all of my students the opportunity to be educated, but I'm sorry--I can't ram it down their throats. "No Child Left Behind," just as the name says, is based on the idea that I can. And that's why the program is fatally flawed.

If we want reform that will improve education in America in a meaningful way, it needs to be based on the idea that we will provide the opportunity for a quality education for every child. That includes providing the best possible opportunities for kids with various learning disabilities. However, implicit in that concept is the acknowledgement that there will be kids who will turn their backs on education. Certainly we should try to motivate and encourage kids to take advantage of the opportunity, but eventually we must accept their decisions. If a student won't try or won't behave appropriately, that student should be removed from the educational setting or at least separated from those who do want to be educated.

I know I sound like a broken record when I keep saying this, but kids affect other kids in the classroom. When we say that we will leave no child behind, we are making sure that we will leave many behind that don't have to be. When we say that we will educate every kid whether they like it or not, and we will force them to stay in their classrooms no matter what they do or don't do, we are condemning countless kids who have wonderful possibilities to be stuck in those classrooms with them. For too many that means an inferior education or no education at all.

5 Comments:

Blogger Peach Pod said...

"No child left behind." is what I shout when I'm trying to get the kids on the buses at the end of the day!

2/24/2009 10:42 AM  
Blogger Mrs. C said...

Hey, do I get to yell "preach it" two posts in a row?

Have to play devil's advocate though. Since we're chatting. How young can a child make that decision?

IMO school should be totally, entirely and absolutely voluntary. That would mean if I didn't feel like teaching my child to read in English, that should be my choice. Too often we get caught up in standards and that sort of thing and forget we don't have uniform children.

My two-y-o is almost entirely non-verbal. What if he never speaks? I'd like him to use a PECS system (picture cards) rather than teach him ABC when he doesn't speak (exercise in futility).

Yet...

The LAW says if I keep him home from public school, I must teach him a certain number of hours in communication arts, science, math, etc. etc. As if that's gonna work. I have to wonder if they make laws like that for parents like me to be absolutely, positively unable to educate their children without professional help. Um, which on my budget means I am FORCED into public ed. And they're closet-lockers here at the elementary.

I'd rather my child just get left behind, thanks. :[

2/24/2009 11:10 AM  
Blogger mazenko said...

To respond to Mrs. C's question, historically, sixth-grade was about the right age for kids to make that decision. Of course, they didn't have much choice, as responsibility forces kids to mature, and that was when most of them were asked to step up.

There is also the idea that nature considers kids mature and ready at the age of about sixth grade. Granted, that has evolutionary significance, as people needed to reach child-bearing age with as many years as possible to reproduce, ensuring greater chances of survival.

However, cultures across time have used that age as a marker as well, from the vision quests of indigenous peoples to the bar/bat mitsvahs and confirmations. There is much to say that contemporary American society "arrests" that development. Even knowing the brain and sense of morals/ethics continues to develop into our thirties, there is potential for readiness to make decisions at about the age of thirteen - precisely the age Benjamin Franklin graduated high school.

2/24/2009 3:20 PM  
Blogger Dennis Fermoyle said...

Michael, thank you for giving me some basis for an answer that I was never sure of. I would have answered, "I don't know," but I know it's impossible to teach anyone from ninth grade on if they've made up their minds that they're not interested.

2/24/2009 5:01 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I'll post something I left at D-Ed Reckoning on a similar subject ...

Perhaps we just haven't been serious enough :-)

In Harry Harrison's sci-fi comedy "The Stainless Steel Rat Wants You!", our hero's twin sons attend the "Dorsky Military Boarding School and Penitentiary."

At one point in the story, we have the following exchange:

Hero: "Bolivar, I see by your school record that you had good marks in navigation ..."

Bolivar: "I had to. We were chained to the desks without food until we passed the test."

Hero: "Details, details ..."

Perhaps we need to develop some skill in "encouraging" the children to want to learn :-)

[And I'm glad to see a few posts while waiting for hockey to resume!]

-Mark Roulo

2/24/2009 5:10 PM  

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