Saturday, June 17, 2006

When Education Isn't a Right

In case you're wondering why I've been so quiet lately, I've been gone on the annual Fermoyle family vacation for the last nine days. We went to sunny Florida, and managed to break their drought by bringing Alberto with us. (For the first three days of our vacation, the most commonly heard phrase from any member of the Fermoyle family was, "Sunny Florida, my a--!") I actually felt guilty leaving my fellow bloggers without a word, but since I use my real name, and I've told everybody where I live, I didn't think it would be prudent to announce over the Internet that my wife and I would be gone from our house for a week. In any case, I'm back! And I'm armed with all kinds of new knowledge after reading Blogging For Dummies (I even understood some of it!), and Jay Greene's Education Myths (which Anonymous Teacher shamed me into finally reading). I also read Caleb Carr's The Alienist, while laying out by the pool working on my future skin cancer, but I'm afraid that won't do much for my blogging skills.

I have to admit that I was thrown off by the comments on my post about "the right to an education," especially the ones by Anonymous and DCS. I did not expect so much agreement. I thought that some would view me as an angry old man who can’t wait to start kicking kids out of school. Just before I left for my vacation, I prepared a follow up to deal with that. Even though I didn't get the disagreement that I expected, I'm still going to go with it, because I think it really helps make the case. What I want to do is to describe an educational situation that I have been involved in for 32 years where kids don’t have the right to be there--high school hockey. Granted, being on a high school athletic team is not the same as being in the classroom because being on the athletic team isn’t compulsory. Nevertheless, I think there is something to be learned here. And by the way, I am admittedly plagiarizing from my book, but I can’t find anything that makes my point better than this.

Playing on a high school athletic team has not been interpreted as a right, so coaches can dismiss players if their actions are hurting their team. Because it is clear that coaches have this authority, it rarely has to be used. For example, during my seventeen years at Warroad, we always had between thirty and forty players on our varsity and JV teams. During that period, only two players were dismissed for failing to live up to our team’s behavioral standards. And believe me, the behavioral standards for our hockey teams have definitely been higher than those of a typical classroom.

I can only imagine what it would be like if coaches didn't have this power, and players simply had the right to be there, as they do in a public school classroom. The effort of players in our hockey practices is excellent, and most of that is because they want to be good, but part of it is because players know that a lack of effort won't be accepted. Because of the energy our players put into our practices day after day, our teams and our players get better and better as the season goes on. What would happen if a disgruntled player could simply quit trying, but depend on being able to continue playing on the team because he had a right to be there? What would happen if a player could skip practices, and know that he could return whenever he wanted, and also know that the worst thing that could happen to him would be to have to serve detention? There is no question that our teams and our other players would not be as good as they are. Yet, this is exactly the situation our society has decided to tolerate in our classrooms. Considering this, one has to wonder if our society really believes that academics are more important than athletics.

There are those who think that giving teachers the power to remove disruptive and apathetic students from their classrooms is a radical idea, but it is really just common sense. Up until the late 1960s, this was the way things were done in public schools, and there was never any public outcry that students’ rights were being abused. Masses of students were not being thrown out of schools for spurious reasons. In fact, most people believed the system worked pretty well. But then some Supreme Court justices decided to step in and fix what wasn’t broken, because some students had been suspended for political protests in their schools. Making decisions to guarantee political and due process rights to students might have seemed reasonable at the time, but I wonder if those justices could have foreseen that their decisions would eventually lead to a high school student in Kansas thinking that he could intentionally vomit on his teacher and get away with it. I wonder if they had any idea how many students they were condemning to worse educations.


Blogger nessie said...

Your point concerning the athletics team is a valid one. I am from MTL, QC and it is much the same here - especially when it comes to hockey.
However, in a team - and this is why sports are so valuable - the concepts of working as a unit with others that you may even have competition with is valuable. How often do we have that sensation in the classroom? In fact, it seems more and more that students are being segregated from each other more and more.

6/17/2006 7:43 PM  
Blogger Deb Sistrunk Nelson said...

I think that if more teachers and parents would incorporate coaching techniques and values into teaching, our education system and families would be in a lot better shape. The values need to be modeled by students and adults. How's that from one of your resident you-know-what disturbers? LOL

BTW, welcome back! Glad you got some well-deserved R & R.

Finally, who told you that you were old?? You're just a baby. :-)

6/18/2006 2:37 PM  
Blogger Deb Sistrunk Nelson said...

Happy Father's Day!!

6/18/2006 2:38 PM  
Blogger Dennis Fermoyle said...

DCS, you are a sweetheart! It's so nice of you to suggest that I'm not really gettin' old, but I've got to face reality. My older brother once told me that after you turn 50, the big question every day is, "What's going to hurt today?" I'm afraid I've been able to identify very well with that statement the last couple of years. Also, I read Coach Brown's post where he talked about what a good time he had having a conversation with the other young teachers in his school about fun things. I remember when my peers and I used to talk about fun things, too. Now we talk about different kinds of surgeries and health insurance plans! :)

6/19/2006 1:25 PM  
Blogger the anonymous teacher said...

i agree with this to a point, but i think there has to be somewhere for the disruptive/apathetic students to go. i just don't think we can give up on them.

a lot of times they just need something they can't get in the traditional classroom.

6/20/2006 6:01 PM  

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