Just getting by damages self-esteem

Chapter Eight: Infected

       I had a high school student that had gone through most of her primary school years with an “exceptional” label on her forehead. She had been at the top of her class in all subjects. I was surprised when I got her first assignment. It was sloppy and poorly written. When I asked her to stay after class, she looked terror struck.

       “Betsy, how much time did you spend on this?” I asked.

       “It’s not very good, is it?”

       “How much time did you spend on it?”

       “Not very much.”

       “How much?”

       “About five minutes.”

       “Do you have any idea what grade this will earn you?”

       “Probably a ‘D’.”

       “I don’t think so.” She brightened up.

       “Higher?”

       “Nope.”

       Now she really looked terror struck. “An ‘F’?”

       “That’s right. I know you, Betsy. I know your parents. I know how smart you are. I can’t imagine why you would shoot for a “D” when an “A” would be so easy. What’s going on with you?” At this point she started to cry. “Look, I just know you’re capable of better. You have until next period to hand in something worthy of your abilities. You’ll get docked for handing it in late. But if you do your best this time, you’ll be getting much higher than the “D” you were aiming for.

       Can you guess what happened? She handed in a stellar report. When she brought it to me she was actually skipping into the Music Room.

       What had happened to Betsy over the years? Had all the teachers been like me and always given her a second, third chance? Had she become competition weary? Had life in the coop had its effect? You’re likely to get your feathers picked off if you get better grades or don’t act and look like the rest. Even sparkling stickers can lose their appeal as a motivation. Had she been deprived of opportunities to discover and create? Was she showing the effects of being confined? There are literally millions of young people just like Betsy all over this country. Will you take the chance of this being your little one’s story?

       Knowing Betsy, and being familiar with the school, I think she caught the oozing “passing grade” infection. This is a disease that has infected the whole Public School organization. The government spends billions to figure out the cause and find a cure. And yet it continues to spread. The oozing “passing grade” disease is found where teachers become teachers. To get their teaching degree they are held to standards of “just enough to get by.” The required 2.0 GPA is mediocre, it’s just getting by.

       The programs of the Public School are meant to keep all the students in the middle math level, the middle reading level etc. It’s only possible to teach twenty kids if they are all at the same level. It’s impossible to teach twenty individuals. Is your little one an individual? Would you like him to remain one? Keep him free of the Public School!

       Public School will give awards, grades and rewards for excellence where none exists. Average is dressed up and treated like exceptional. Why? Excellence is demanding. It is rigorous. Excellence is individual. It has no grades or limits.

       The quest for excellence involves some discomfort. But it is exhilarating discomfort. The discomfort your little one would feel in the Public School would have nothing to do with the quest for excellence! The Public School teacher and administrator do not want any discomfort. They don’t want to hurt anyone’s feelings. And so they let the “passing grade” ooze continue to grow. These are the same people that carry out programs that demean, restrict and dehumanize. And yet, when it comes to academic achievement, they don’t want to make anyone uncomfortable!

       For all its declarations and tag lines about pursuing excellence, the Public School stifles it. Why take time to inspire Greg? He just doesn’t care. Why take time to help with Tory’s behavior? He’ll be that way the rest of his life anyway. Why give Pete access to books he can’t read? The computer says he won’t understand them.

       It is perfectly acceptable and honorable for a teacher to work for mediocrity. As long as the kids pass the test, as long as most of the class is on the state’s track for their grade, the teacher can be completely satisfied that she is doing a good job. Why take on the stress of trying to convince the little inmates that they are capable of excellence? They have been conditioned by charts and stickers and levels. To undo all that would require more time than any teacher has. Besides having to “uncondition” them, she would also have to make up for last year’s mediocrity. Very few teachers would be willing to take on the task. If they did, they would run into an administrator that is paid to enforce the school district’s and state’s policies, all of which are geared toward mediocrity.

       Mediocrity is ensured by letting it pass. The standards in your community’s Public School are for average achievement. Average is middle, medium, mediocre. If a little person reaches the school’s standard he is rewarded and applauded. His parents get a note from the ultimate authority in their child’s life (no, not you mom) that he is doing well. Everyone is content and thankful.

       The little person that doesn’t even meet the averageness of the school’s standard will get special attention to bring him up to the middle. He will get a tutor, go to a special class and even get one on one time the teacher.  In an environment where the little person is starved for any meaningful validation and attention, this can be a wonderful situation to be in. Furthermore his parents feel a sense of gratitude that the Public School cares so much for their little one.

       The lower group gets special attention. Why give that up? In the middle group they think they are doing great. They believe that they are achieving. There’s no reason for them to question if they are capable of more. And even the higher achievers, like Betsy, get sick from the oozing “passing grade” infection. The little person that is striving to do her best will find herself spending endless hours waiting for the teacher to get to the next lesson. There is already so much tedium programmed into the school day that if a little person has to spend even more time bored, certain changes will begin to happen. Over time she will adjust to the median. She might just settle in and enjoy the satisfaction of being at the top of the class. The trouble is she will never know how much he could have actually learned! An “A” in your community’s Public School does not necessarily reflect excellence. If the standard for the school is average, what exactly is excellence? 

       Why does the U.S. lag behind other industrial nation in academic achievement? Perhaps one reason is that the Public School calls mediocre achievement excellence.

       A mediocre teacher might well see himself as excellent too. With a crop of new teachers needing only a 1.0 GPA to get their degree, the mediocre teacher looks pretty good!

       What would Betsy have been able to achieve if she had not been infected? Think of it on a broader scale: How much of our national power and potential do we destroy by infecting our kids with the “passing grade” ooze in the Public School. Are you willing to send your little one to a place where daily he will be exposed to such a nasty disease? The chances of him catching it are very great.

Please consider well before you expose him to the oozing “passing grade” infection.