While attending graduation, I am always grateful for the outstanding students that have come into my classroom and those that have done their best to gain important life-skills. Those skills? Discipline, intellectual curiosity, elasticity of thought to deal with changing circumstances, and a willingness to engage in risk. But how many students overall actually engage in these? How many instead actively avoid these challenges, relying instead upon their parents to "bail them out" once a tough issue arises - like a poor grade on an exam? Unfortunately, we have become a society that denigrates educators so much that whenever a student does poorly, it surely has to be because the "teacher hates my child" instead of the parent or the student taking personal responsibility for their failure to complete assigned tasks or accomplish a required level of competency.
Just this year I encountered more students unwilling to meet the requirements of my courses because, well you name it. "I work", "I have anxiety problems", "I have too many difficult classes", the infamous, "You hate me so why bother?", or "I've never gotten anything under an 'A' before so why are you being so difficult?". Does this sound familiar? When my own children were in school (even before I went into the education field), I made sure to inform their teachers to "kick their butts" - so much so that I demanded they give them work that was routinely more difficult than required of their fellow students. When they struggled, I offered to help - not in the form of an email or phone call to complain to an administrator about their teachers, but to help my child overcome their hurdles and achieve competency. As you will all admit, life is sometimes complex and requires more effort than anticipated, but effort is required in order to achieve. Any athlete understands this. Unfortunately, less and less students and their parents seem to these days.
And it is not limited to the students and parents. There also seems to be a general refusal to acknowledge the obvious deficit we face in education from our administrators and school board leaders. As I attended another graduation, I was reminded of this fact when our administrators and school board members publicly announced their pride in certifying "the Class of 2015 as Scholars entering our community." Scholars? Really? I left high school 39 years ago, undergrad 35 years ago, grad school 34 years ago and law school 31 years ago and I am still learning! Despite my accomplishments, I would never presume to be a "scholar" - learning is a life-long journey. To claim one is a "Scholar" upon graduating High School is just another lie perpetrated against our students, their parents and our communities. But what do we do about it? Pat them on the back and "move then on through the system?" Except what is our system today? Do we reward academic risk taking? Do we reward arguing the unpopular position? Do we demand excellence or accept mediocrity? And why do we gauge success based upon standardized tests that routinely reflect nothing more than "checking a box" on the educational "check list?" And please - don't label this unfortunate phenomena the result of "Progressive Liberalism" because Jeb Bush's Conservative "No Child Left Behind" further aided in the decline of our education system (and it is too early to accurately gauge the effect of "Race to The Top"). But one thing is clear. Scholars require an appreciation for dedicated intellectual work, discipline and an ability to bounce back from temporary set-backs. But very little of this can be found in the general education of our youth today.
So Rubin, what are you doing about it? Despite not always being a student "favorite" I continue to maintain very high level of expectations for my students. Most make it and some do not. Sounds a lot like life doesn't it? And I will do anything to help my former students achieve both in college and beyond. But shouldn't we expect something from our students? Shouldn't we expect them to raise the bar of excellence on their own? Shouldn't we as parents instill this ethic in our children, knowing when "push comes to shove" in this life, Mom and Dad can only do so much to help you?
As President John Adams once wrote; "Let us tenderly and kindly cherish, therefore, the means of knowledge. Let us dare to read, think, speak, and write." To my graduating students, Congratulations, but please, dare to read, think, speak and write! Have a great week!