Skeptophilia (skep-to-fil-i-a) (n.) - the love of logical thought, skepticism, and thinking critically. Being an exploration of the applications of skeptical thinking to the world at large, with periodic excursions into linguistics, music, politics, cryptozoology, and why people keep seeing the face of Jesus on grilled cheese sandwiches.

Friday, March 11, 2011

Another modest proposal

Yesterday, I posted about my reaction to the passage of the Wisconsin bill that would strip public workers of their collective bargaining rights, and I explained why I thought this would have devastating results, especially on schools.

Well.  You'd have thought I'd proposed solving the world's overpopulation and famine problems simultaneously by having poor people eat their children.  Admittedly, I had a good many positive responses, but also some violently negative ones, including one which said, and I quote, "Teachers' unions and the tenure system are destroying public education in America.  It's creating a workforce of teachers who don't give a damn about quality teaching, and are just putting in their time until early retirement with full benefits."

I won't even address the factual inaccuracies of that statement, which are, I hope, abundantly clear.  However, this has spurred me to answer the anti-union crowd's rhetoric with a modest proposal of my own, to wit:

If you want to hold me accountable for the academic success of my students, and tie my job retention or my salary, or both, to student test scores, then allow me to fire underperforming students.

That's the "business model" that so many of these folks tout, isn't it?  Chock full of personal responsibility and the Get-Ahead Motive That Made America Great?  If an employee can't be bothered to get up off his lazy ass and do his job, fire him -- there are plenty other qualified candidates who'd love to have his job.  Same should be true of quality education, right?

Note that I am not talking about students with legitimate academic difficulties, nor even about the earnest but hapless types who honestly want to be in class, and are interested in the subjects being taught, but sometimes can't get out of their own way long enough to turn in assignments.  Heaven knows my own children fell into both of those groups at times.  No, I'm talking about the small minority of students -- in my experience, under ten percent -- who don't give a damn about school, do the bare minimum (if that), and cause as much trouble for teachers and other students along the way as they can manage to do.

A few examples.  Names have obviously been withheld, and details occasionally modified, to obscure the identities of these individuals.

1)  The young man who had a 14% in my class, and whose father said he wasn't successful because I wasn't "challenging him enough."

2)  The girl who, as far as I could tell, copied every single assignment she turned in, and in fact copied the answers on the first quiz from her neighbor, not realizing that I create two versions of every quiz, with scrambled answers.  She got a zero on the quiz, and then had the temerity to demand to know why she'd gotten a zero and her neighbor had gotten an 85% "when our answers are exactly the same."

3)  The young lady who is so savvy about our school's attendance policy, which will only drop you for non-attendance if you miss twenty consecutive days of school, that she has been known to skip nineteen days in a row and show up on the twentieth so she won't be expelled.  She is the current record-holder for the lowest overall grade in a class in my 24 year career -- a 3%.

4)  The boy who showed up stoned to class every single day, and whose mother said, at a parent conference, "Well, I know my son is having academic difficulties, but at least I'm happy to say that he's never used drugs."  This statement was met with stunned silence, followed by the counselor saying to the parents, "We need to talk privately."  Mom, when confronted with the facts, wouldn't hear of it, and refused to have her son drug-tested.  Three weeks later he was caught with marijuana on a school-sponsored field trip.

And so on.

Again, it must be said that this kind of kid constitutes a very small minority, but it's that small minority that causes the vast majority of the discipline problems schools deal with.  They also skew the standardized test scores, dropout rates, and every other metric applied to schools.  How is it fair that I'm somehow responsible for the 3% average of the student who can't be bothered to show up?

You want to tie my wages and job security to success rate -- allow me to tell the kids who don't give a damn to go out and get a dose of reality, maybe come back when they've discovered that you can't get anywhere in life if you're an uneducated dolt.  Let me change the attitude of students and parents to what it is in many other parts of the world -- that education is a privilege, not a right, that it is something to be cherished, not hurled back into the faces of the people who are working tirelessly to make learning exciting and relevant.

And until such time as that happens, don't come to me with nonsense about how the public education system in America is failing to educate students, and blather on about how "teaching is the only profession where you get paid the same thing regardless of whether you succeed or fail at your job."  Don't make the absurd claim that school funding should be based on student success on a single standardized test.

And dammit, don't try to strip me of my right to have a say in my own working conditions.


  1. I would allow you to "fire" those students. If you would allow me to return to a school system before the Dept of Education - a time when states and communities controlled their own school systems.

    Let me return to a time when classes were made up of students that learned at the same rate and were not held back by the slower students. Give me DECA and trade school, not everybody is going to college. We need plumbers, electricians, carpenters and auto mechanics (some of them make more than I do).

    It is not insensitive to recognize that not all of these children will go to college and teach them differently. It is an injustice to treat them all the same when some will never make in college (some will never even want to go to college).