Lackadaisical students have always existed, but never in such volume since America became an industrialized nation and never with such vigor as we see today. For those my age and older, think back to the worst students in your class: Back then, even the biggest of slackers still made it a point to do work and strive for some achievement because they had a greater sense of pride and a greater fear of repercussions from their teachers and, more importantly, their parents. Today’s classrooms (and the homes that breed their occupants) are so different.
Talk to a teacher and you’ll hear horror stories of huge numbers of kids who are completely incapable of – or more accurately “disinterested in” - meeting deadlines or completing assignments or preparing for exams, despite the modern students being spoon-fed their expectations through their syllabus, regular updates, and the internet (the latter of which allows teachers to post and rehash virtually everything of note, making it instantly accessible to students and parents alike 24/7). They’ll tell you that these same students relish just getting-by, and see a passing grade as some sort of reward akin to a good student earning a “90” on an exam.
Look at the statistics and you’ll see that approach to schooling. We discussed outcomes last week. What about those who don’t contribute to the outcome?
You would think that my school district (Royalton-Hartland) which -- thanks to the short commuting distance to Lockport, Amherst, and the like -- sees an income level atypically high for a truly rural district, would have a higher graduation rate (commensurate with the socioeconomic make-up of the community) than the pitiful 82% it sports. It’s not much more than the state’s overall graduation rate of 74%, which is driven down by the high dropout rates associated with dirt-poor urban areas like those in Buffalo and Niagara Falls. A 26% dropout rate is not the fault of the schools and in this era it is unacceptable, especially when every American knows how competitive the job market is and that its future remains cloudy. It’s so different from when we had agrarian and simple production economies in which one could get by comfortably in life following an uneducated adolescence.
While that 74% is bad enough, consider another number that contributes to the educational malaise: attendance. In Buffalo City Schools over 42% of all students miss 18 or more days per year, a month of school. Wow.
Those numbers point one type of parent, those who don’t love their children enough to ensure that they, one, attend school and, two, graduate from school. In today’s world it’s neglectful, outright abusive, to allow a minor to skip out on the system that prepares them for the Real World. By deemphasizing the value of an education and allowing a teen to be free-willed to that end, they destine the child to failure in adulthood and a lifetime of low-income wages and/or public assistance.
But for every parent who doesn’t love a kid enough, there’s another one who loves his child “too much”. The goals of parenting are to provide physical, emotional, and intellectual nourishment to your offspring while helping them become quasi-independent teens and, ultimately, truly independent adults. Many modern parents don’t foster an environment that creates those building blocks of dependence. You’ve heard of these helicopter parents who shield their youth from the harsh realities of the world and the life lessons that are necessary to overcome them. They protect their children from everything, from losses on the ball diamond to failure in the classroom, where they aggressively blame every teacher for every bad grade and totally take student accountability out of the equation, never addressing the pupils’ weaknesses and/or lack of drive, let alone the motivation and ability to succeed that was robbed from them by the overprotection.
Helicoptering has become such a sickness that numerous college professors have shared with me concerns over such parents continuing this behavior well into their kids’ college years. This practice has actually been legitimized and recognized by federal policy that forces health insurance companies to cover the insured’s sons and daughters until 26 years of age. Didn’t adulthood once begin 8 years earlier? How is it suddenly acceptable to baby someone into her 20s? By doing so, there’s no need to strive for achievement!
The discussion will continue in next week’s column when we look at the traits of the underachieving students who come from the ranks of the unloved and overloved.
Bob Confer is a Gasport resident and vice president of Confer Plastics Inc. in North Tonawanda. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
This column originally ran in the 02 July 2012 Greater Niagara Newspapers