The internet is a funny but scary thing. All of us can jump online and in the space of a few paragraphs establish ourselves as experts. The easiest subjects about which to do that is parenting and education. After all, we all have had parents, and most of us have been to school. Our individual opinions on the subjects should have a lot of validity. Right?
In a recent internet post complaining of the school she had chosen for her child, the strongly opinionated Ms. Lugie (who tried desperately to cloak herself in internet anonymity although her identity is easy to discover with minimal sleuth) stated that “my child’s teachers just LOVED entering zeros into the grade book. It’s statistically impossible to recover from zeros and an antiquated notion of grading at that.” As a government school employee who chose private school for her child, her idea was similar to those of school systems in the US and Canada who have made giving students zeros for assignments not completed a thing of the past. The theory behind the policy is that schools exist to teach students information. Giving a child a zero does not teach the student anything, but merely penalizes the student in a way from which they cannot recover. They learn nothing. But do they? (For a story on the no-zero policy, go here: http://www.huffingtonpost.ca/2013/04/25/no-zero-policy-reversed-edmonton-schools_n_3155630.html)
With the focus in government education on core curriculum, there is a stressing on objectives that are taught only directly in educational goals according to subject matter. What many teachers and parents realize is that there are many other lessons that we teach students that are part of what I call the “paraclassroom.” These are subtle lessons that may not always be objectified in classroom goals. One of these lessons is personal responsibility.
Unlike parents with whom I began working when I began teaching in 1987, or even ones that I worked with at the beginning of my counseling career in 1997, some parents today resist the discussion of personal responsibility. At one point last year I was told by a mother that her child was too young (at ninth grade) to learn personal responsibility. She argued that it was the teacher’s job to follow up with her child to make sure that she turned assignments in, or completed activities.
In my counseling work with typical students and students with learning differences, I have stressed the importance of “life skill teaching.” To be successful workers, students will need to learn skills such as completing projects on time, working together with groups of workers, and making their differences work for them. While different students work at different speeds and need different amounts of understanding and training, removing zero from the grade options of middle and high school students is harmful to the student who needs to learn that there are real consequences for work not done.
Old-fashioned? Thank God, yes. I love Ms. Lugie’s designation of giving zeros as “antiquated.” I happen to love antiques. They are beautiful and often reflect back to a wiser time, a time when parents knew how to hold their children responsible and “trained them up in the way they should go.” Some lessons are more important than curriculum reform would like to admit.