Wednesday, September 26, 2007

The J-curve

For a while now, I have been reflecting on the philosophy we had been pushing in public education (at least in the school district where I taught) that we must enhance the ego of out students. We had to provide them success. They were not responsible for their own success.

At one in-service I attended (oh, I do love in-service meetings, not!) the leader expounded on the merits of the J-curve over the old reliable, naturally occurring, bell curve. Her rationale was that these children today will be those who will be working when we are retired. They need to have successes in their lives.

The J-curve means that there are lots and lots of A’s, B’s and C’s, but just a few (maybe one or two out of one hundred and thirty) F’s. The children are all successful. They FEEL GOOD about themselves.

The problem here is that very simply put - they did not earn anything. There is no responsibility on the child. There is no responsibility on the parent. The teacher is the one who must make that child feel successful.

Well, I guess according to that rationale, I was a lousy teacher. I am a strong believer in personal responsibility. As much as I loved the subject matter, I wanted my students to leave my class knowing HOW to do things. If they chose not to do any work, they deserved to fail, and in reality they knew it. Padding grades did not help these kids.

One of my special memories was one boy who did not want to dig for anything. Since reading was such a big item on Texas’ standardized tests ( you know those tests - they tell you exactly how much a child has learned that year), we were encouraged to teach reading across the board. I would do an activity called "Directed Reading." It was to take the passages in the text book verbatim leaving out key words, or if really advanced, asking a question about the passage. Gasp!
This fellow didn’t want to read to find the answer. He wanted it given to him. I began using my questioning tactic designed to make (and help) him think things through. He was so frustrated he almost cried. I kept prompting and supporting. When he discovered the answer on his own, you could see the pride breaming from his so brightly he lit the entire room. He found success, and it was not easy. He did become an independent learner that day. In my class, at least, he became a true leader. He and I were proud. It was a good feeling.

I look in the paper about some of the products of that philosophy. This year alone, there have been six football players at University of Texas who have been arrested (all for felonies believe). I cannot help but think they are a product of the something for nothing J-curve philosophy. I have heard rumblings of leaving the J-curve. I hope so.

Like most of the "new revolutionary" ideas I saw in teaching, if you ride the merry-go-round long enough, there is nothing new. It all comes around again.

No comments: