Tuesday, February 9, 2010

False Praise and other Ignant Shiz

I just got back from a workshop on “Challenging Behaviors in Students.” I learned about a lot of helpful ways to approach the challenging cases, who I call “the stinkers,” but I also learned a lot about the contradictions and confusions that each kid faces (because of teachers, and a broken education system) every day.

I was telling a story about how hard it is to get through to some kids with the notion of “where they're supposed to be” to pass on to the next grade when, no matter what, they will. This was when a woman piped up, rather passive aggressively, to tell the group how “saddening it is to hear people say 'kids can't read” because we should be positively encouraging them at every turn. Then the workshop leader tells us that we should be nurturing kids to read for reading pleasure, not just to move on to the next grade. This is an entirely valid point, which I bring up to my kids frequently. I tell them that I practice reading, and show them the stack of books (usually 2-3) that I keep at my desk for my own reading, because I like to. At the same time, it's an incredibly moot point. Just after the workshop leader tells us to nurture kids for the sake of reading, she also adds “yes, education is a broken system;” she acknowledged the problem that kids get passed into the next grade without merit constantly.

My point is this: in order to create a permanent and viable solution1 to this enigmatic “broken system” we're all speaking of, we need to help these kids excel within and beyond it. If a child goes through school, reading only how and what they want because it “nurtures” them, and they pass along to the next grade, lacking the knowledge necessary, it will eventually be a detriment to them. There comes a point where false praise and “success” bites you in the ass, and that point is college applications. If a kid can't take a test or even take it because they don't feel like it, they won't get into the higher education that they're told they're capable of—the world isn't as shiny, comfortable, and successive as we tell our kids it is. Once the youth are educated in a way that allows them positions of power within and around schools, then the “system” can change. However, to argue that inadequate reading and learning practices are acceptable because it makes kids “feel good” is a ridiculous notion. It won't feel so good when the 2nd grader I tutor now gets to high school or even junior high, and realizes she's been cheated and left behind.

Children need to know where they stand and what they stand to lose. Do I think I should tell my 2nd grader she can't read? No. Should I make it clear that, while reading can and mostly is fun, reading at a certain level is vital to continued success? Absolutely. Many educational theorists (Jonathon Kozol and bell hooks) advocate the idea of a metropolitan solution that would reform education(the kinds that enforce cross district busing in certain areas to reduce white flight, etc.) and fix our achievement gap. I propose an individual solution that involves each educator being open and transparent with their students, eradicating false praise that breeds confused, bored, and lazy citizens. I advocate honesty.