Eighth grade Amy Snodgrass was leaving school in tears every Friday afternoon. Outraged, Mrs Snodgrass descended upon Principal Hanson and demanded that the responsible teacher be reprimanded. Amy’s teacher was subjecting her to totally unreasonable demands and probably should be fired.

Principal Hanson was a dedicated educator but he was no fool. The Snodgrass family was wealthy, well connected, and politically influential. Mr. Snodgrass probably played golf with the Superintendent of schools. Hanson apologized profusely and promised to deal with the offending teacher. Somewhat mollified, Dame Snodgrass flounced out with the tart promise that she would call tomorrow to see what had been done “to teach that terrible teacher a lesson.”

Hanson met with Amy’s teacher, Rochelle Brown, that same afternoon. The class that Amy found so stressful was a special class for talented and gifted seventh and eighth graders. The class featured individual and small group projects which allowed the students a great deal of leeway in how they did their work. Individual initiative, problem solving, and creativity were strongly encouraged. At the beginning of the year, the class as a group wrote up a set of rules for guiding their behavior. Every Friday afternoon, each student spent a few minutes writing their personal answers to these three questions:

  1. Have I faithfully followed our rules this week?
  2. Have I tried my best in my work this week?
  3. Are there areas where I need to improve?

The answers to these questions went into their personal journals. No one (not even the teacher) saw their answers. The exercise was strictly for the student’ own benefit.

It turned out this was the exercise that left Amy Snodgrass in tears each Friday afternoon.

Principal Hanson asked Rochelle, the teacher, if she could drop this exercise? Perhaps it is not a critical part of the program, he suggested.

Rochelle answered immediately, “No. Getting the students to reflect on their behavior is critical. It’s important for this class.”

Principal Hanson was unusual only in that he ended up supporting the teacher (and infuriating Mrs. Snodgrass!).

Moral of the story: Teachers quickly learn that anything at all that stretches the students will get you in trouble with the influential parents. Anything beyond memorization (e.g., critical thinking, problem solving, analysis skills, creativity exercises, visioning, life goals, values clarification, etc.) is sure to get some students upset and thereby invoke the wrath of VIP parents. Therefore, to stay out of trouble, stick to teaching facts, preferably ones which can be tested for with true-false or multiple choice test questions.

This is a major part of what is wrong with US education.

Contact me: I love to hear from readers. Email me at cyberneticapress at gmail dot com. Thanks, Barry Clemson

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