The Root Cause of Educational Dysfunction – Lazy Students

A fascinating column by Alexandria teacher Patrick Welsh appears in today’s USA Today. Maybe the problem with the educational system in the United States today isn’t the schools or the teachers, he suggests, maybe it’s the students!

Drawing upon his experience as a teacher at T.C. Williams High School, Welsh observes that the best students in English class are foreign students. Native-born students, many of them from affluent families, enjoy a huge advantage when studying their native language but they get lower grades on average. The difference: The foreign students study harder.

What many of the American kids I taught did not have was the motivation, self-discipline or work ethic of the foreign-born kids.

A study released in December by University of Pennsylvania researchers Angela Duckworth and Martin Seligman suggests that the reason so many U.S. students are falling short of their intellectual potential” is not “inadequate teachers, boring textbooks and large class sizes” and the rest of the usual litany cited by the so-called reformers — but “their failure to exercise self-discipline.”

Compounding the problem is a widespread parental sense of entitlement. Teachers who hand out low grades are accused of destroying the children’s future.

Nowadays, it’s the kids who have the power. When they don’t do the work and get lower grades, they scream and yell. Parents side with the kids who pressure teachers to lower standards,” says Joel Kaplan, [a] chemistry teacher at T.C. Williams.

The root problem of our educational system may be the prevailing American culture of entitlement and the decline of the work ethic among American students and their parents. Politicians don’t get elected by blaming the shortcomings of the educational system on voters, but the fact is, this is a problem that no amount of money can solve. If we want to address the shortcomings of education in Virginia, we must start with ourselves.

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9 responses to “The Root Cause of Educational Dysfunction – Lazy Students”

  1. So a teacher is blaming everything and everybody else (except the teachers of course), and this is news?

  2. It would be simplistic to lay the blame on student motivation alone, but certainly this is an important part of the problem. It would also be simplistic to blame teachers. While there are bad teachers, the public education system itself is so broken it does little to encourage good teachers. Neither issue is the root cause of the decline of our educational system just like standardized testing isn’t the answer.

  3. Anonymous Avatar

    My wife was just telling me the other day about all the kids in her classes who take a full week of classes off for skiing, and if the principal even questions the request the parents whine to the school board. The kids get behind and the teacher is hard pressed to help them catch up (extra work beyond the contract hours.) It is 1,000 percent the fault of parents and their dumbass kids will be the end of this country.

    I’m getting old. I won’t be working for the Chinese or the Arabs. But my grandkids will.

  4. Anonymous Avatar

    The parents are a huge part of the problem, but not necessarily in the ways described in the article. My daughter is in 3rd grade. She gets average marks, but she does her own work and homework.

    Some of the other parents are doing the work for their kids. Not just helping with a project, but doing most of it. Sure, the project or report or math paper looks better, but what are these kids learning, except that Mommy and Daddy will make sure they get the highest grades so they can get in the best schools later on.

    No thanks. I’ll let my daughter do her own work and earn her own way, just like I did.

  5. Ray Hyde Avatar
    Ray Hyde

    I sometimes get carry out from a Chinese deli on the way home. In a corner of the store the owners have put up a little cubicle. Originally it was nothing more than a stack of drink crates arranged int an L shaped wall of sorts, but lately it has been remodeled into an actual study carrel.

    Their daughter was an adorable little girl, now a young teen. Every time I have ever been there, she is in her little study, where her parents can keep an eye on her. Sometimes she is practicing her violin.

    I don’t doubt she gets excellent grades, but I have never seen her smile.

  6. Anonymous Avatar

    Take a look at SOL scores from disadvantaged students in Arlington County. Pick any one school and compare the children. These are all poor children who qualify for free & reduced lunches.

    About 90% of Caucasian students pass the SOLs.
    About 95-100% of Asian students pass the SOLs.
    About 60-65% of African American students pass the SOLs.

    Why? I don’t know the answer. But there is quite a disparity. It’s not the teacher. It’s not the school. It’s not the brain or capacity to learn. It’s not the money.

    So what is it? I’m inclined to think it is the kids and the parents and the emphasis (or lack thereof) on the importance and need for education/learning.

  7. Blaming the parent’s can only take you so far. Where were the vast majority of those parents educated?

    Further, the problem with the ski trip is not that the parents are taking it. The problem is that we have a system that considers the government’s arbitrary decisions on what a kid should learn, and when, to be more important than the family’s decision of how to best use their time.

  8. Anonymous Avatar

    Everyone is making valid points, particularly Anaon 9:18 AM. I know teacher’s aides that practically do the work for the kids. They read them the tests, read them their homework assignments, tell them what to write and where to write it – it’s pathetic.

    In addition, kids are not that stupid. They know one thing and it’s how far they can push the system.

    Teacher’s have very little control over the classromm because some kid that is constatly disrupting class can’t be punished. If they are punished they will run home to mom and dad and say that they are getting “picked-on” by the teacher. The kids parents then call the school and complain and the principal jumps on the teacher.

    Teacher’s have no tools to discipline the kids because this scenario plays out all the time.

    In addition, all it takes is a kids version of the way an event goes down on school grounds and a good lawyer and the school is helpless to do much of anything, let alone defend a teacher accused of anything, no matter what it is.

  9. Anonymous Avatar

    Here I am again, Anon 8:25, and I’m not making this up — in the next barber chair this afternoon a man was describing his upcoming family vacation next week (pulling kids out of school) and the lady cutting his hair was very upset that such interruptions were on the same level with illness and complained about the way Chesterfield limits the number of days of absence (and applies sanctions beyond that point.) How unfair to expect the little kiddies to actually be in school if they want to pass. ‘Nuff said.

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