Thursday, October 4, 2007

Ridiculousness rewarded

It's been a long time since I've posted, but things like this just make me really annoyed, and I have enough time to post a quick reaction.

In this NYTimes piece, a teacher has been assigning homework to his high school students' parents. The parents are required to read various items the children have been studying--poems, short stories, excerpts from speeches, etc.--and provide written commentary on them. This is done in the belief that it will increase the parental involvement in the educational process. Parents are warned that if they do not complete these assignments, the student's grades may suffer. The teacher is being lauded for his innovative approach, he receives a relatively uncritical write up in a prominent newspaper, and other educators are looking into using these methods.

I call this absurd. I would have objected to such insanity as a student, and I would continue to do so as an adult.

As a student, my grade is rightly dependent on my work. I am the one being evaluated, not my parent. I am the one who is both to put in the work and receive the reward. It is unreasonable to hold my grade hostage to the efforts of my parents.

Beyond that, the teacher is drastically overreaching his authority. The parents are not his students; he therefore has no right to compel specific actions from them.

Having parents involved in a child's education can be a wonderful thing. I'm happy my own cared about my academic progress. I did not, however, ever have them check my answers, or get their input on literature or historical events or whatnot. Nor should I have ever been required to, except possibly having them as interview subjects for something like a family history project or a poll to determine the level of knowledge about a given subject outside of my classroom. Just because this teacher has noble aspirations does not mean that his methods are acceptable. If this article is indeed an accurate reflection of how such assignments play out in his classroom, I wish more parents would be willing to tell him directly that this is an unacceptable assignment which he has no business requiring. Nor, for that matter, would the situation be better if he merely offered extra credit to those whose parents did fill out such commentaries. Placing the burden of a child's success so directly on another party is a stupid idea in a culture that is already so quick to blame others for any shortcoming. There needs to still be a role of personal responsibility in education.

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