The (Flawed) Culture of Education Today

The cartoon above depicts one of the most troubling aspects for educators today.  Teacher accountability is spiraling out of control; from parent blame for their child’s poor grades to pressure from administrators and government officials who decide how much funding the school receives based on student test grades.

Fifty years ago teachers worked in a simpler educational system; corporal punishment did not carry the stigma it does today (although I do not condone the practice) and the curriculum did not have to be altered in an effort to produce better test scores.  Today, technology-driven students are driven by instant gratification while being over stimulated through smartphones and social networking.  This, in turn, has led to a culture of youth entitlement and parents adhering to their children’s every need, however ridiculous.

What this means for teachers is that their class’s attention span continues to wane, forcing them to be more like “edutainers” than educators.  While not all teachers subscribe to this ideology, most if not all are affected by their students’ behavior.

To find some form of solution, as minimal as it may be, teachers must first look towards their administrators.  As mentioned in a previous post, the culture of education in America is lacking and parent involvement continues to dramatically decline when it is the most needed.  That is not to say all parents fail to play an active role in their child’s education.  Many parents are very outspoken and critical of schools and educators.

In many cases, if a parent is upset by the way a teacher is conducting their class or their child is receiving poor grades, they by-pass the teacher and go straight for an administrator.  This is where steady communication between teachers and administrators is essential as it eliminates doubt on both ends, producing a singular narrative.

The problems with some children today are their growing dependency upon their parents, shortening attention spans influenced by instant gratification and stimulation overload and overall apathy towards learning.

How do teachers combat this new breed of student?  That is a great question.  Technological approaches never hurt as teachers use one of their most prominent barriers in reaching students and use it to their advantage.

My teaching philosophy has always focused on a student-centered, expeditionary learning model with differentiated instruction/assessment, so developing lesson plans that are stimulating and diverse is a necessity.

Some teachers, disenchanted with the prospect of change, are not willing to conform and remain conservative in their philosophical approach.  It is usually this type of teacher who gives the anti-tenure argument strength and validity.

To use another political cartoon, the one above shows how teachers continue to be stripped of leverage and authority within the classroom.  As hard as any teacher attempts to adapt to this generation of student, the politics are grossly one-sided and not in their favor.

I ask again, what can teachers do to not be the punching bag for both parents/students and administrators/school boards?  Does reinvigorating your lesson plans and catering to the students’ un-quenching desire to be electronically stimulated help?  What about basing their pay on student performance on standardized tests?

Quite honestly, there is no definitive answer.  The debate between merit pay and tenure is for another post, but the sheer existence of merit pay illustrates how teachers are under fire from every angle.

Both of the cartoons portray explicit messages illustrating the low respect shown towards teachers.  Students will not, and cannot, accept blame nor take any responsibility for their actions, parents refuse to believe that collaborating with teachers will help their child succeed, and administrators expect high test scores because they are instrumental to the school’s flow of revenue and prestige.  It is worth noting that the United States is not alone in this problem.

France is going through this same stage of change in parent attitude towards their partnership with teachers.  The emphasis on preserving the child’s self-esteem while sacrificing their fortitude and ability to accept failure is a major concern for the United States and beyond.

Do parents over-protect their kids?  How bad off are teachers really?  How can this be remedied?  Please share your thoughts.  And remember, when I explain students, teachers, parents and administrators I do not use absolutes.  By mentioning a group I do not imply every single teacher or every single student.  There will always be exceptions to the rule and in this case there are plenty.

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What We Can Learn From China: The Family Matters

It is often noted that China’s educational success has heavily contributed to the country’s emergence as a world power.  China’s academic achievement is most notably found in their international test scores.  In its international standardized testing debut, Shanghai dominated the Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) sweeping the three content areas of reading, mathematics and science.  But how did the United States do?  Mediocre at best.  Out of the 65 countries which participated in the PISA, the United States ranked closer to the middle than they did to the top.


So what makes China’s education so great?  Is it because they implement innovative lessons and alternative assessments?  Do they focus more on building the individual than acquiring knowledge for the test?  Nope.  Instead, China is a high-stakes testing juggernaut with more pressure on exams than the United States if you can believe it.

The capstone of China’s testing is their National Higher Education Entrance Examination, or the College Entrance Exam (CEE).  The CEE is the ultimate indicator on the student’s future both academically and professionally.   School curriculum is at the mercy of this test and most of the Chinese dictate their early lives preparing for it leading to many dramatic and extreme consequences.

Since China promotes high-stakes standardized testing just like the United States, the most pressing question is why is there such disparity in test scores?  The answer is simple and embarrassing; the culture of China emphasizes academic success with multiple social pressures with the most notable one for this discussion being family pride.  The families of Chinese students rigorously work to ensure their children are being properly educated around the clock pressuring them not to bring shame upon their family.

This may sound like a simplified answer, but it is geared to illustrate how students in the United States need to understand consequences while also demonstrating that parental involvement is an absolute necessity.   Within the United States, and especially in rural areas, the percent of parents involved and invested with their children’s education has dropped.  A key cause for concern is the nearly absent presence of foreign-born parents.

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How can educators fix this endemic?  Schools continue to incorporate technology to bridge the gap between themselves and parents with online grade books and homework schedule while giving the parents a direct link to communicate via e-mail.  These are all excellent ways to promote closer communication but if the parents are unwilling or unable to speak English then it is all for nothing.

Teachers need to take advantage of any resources their school, district, and/or community can offer.  ESOL teachers, bilingual colleagues, or even grant proposals to the district International Review Board can be used to bridge the language barrier and make the parents feel as though they are not being ignored or isolated.

But this does not solve the dilemma found in teachers trying to reach out to apathetic parents who are not concerned with their students’ academic wellbeing.  Strategies for this particular issue are vast.  Parent-teacher collaboration is a delicate relationship with many partnerships failing due to perceived animosity or indifference by one or the other.

Collaboration strategies deserve their own post (which will happen in due time) but here are some basic understandings necessary for positive parent-teacher relations.  Initially, teachers must find a way to get them into the school.  The teacher must be understanding of the parents’ culture and mentality but at the same time they must be persuasive (but not aggressive) in convincing parents of the importance of a proper education.

If possible, assignments can be given to students which involve parent input such as interviews concerning the parents’ interests, hobbies and jobs, or have the students create a piece of art or story illustrating their parents’ family story.  Of course these examples are geared towards a younger audience, but this concept is not limited to them.

Teachers can always utilize the cornerstones of parent-teacher correspondence of letters home, e-mail exchanges, newsletters, and mailed letters to the household, but this will most likely not affect the apathetic parents.

Please share any strategies you have used that have produced stronger parent involvement in their children’s education.