Falling down doesn’t have to equal failure

Public education caters to the weakest students, hurting everyone along the way

F is a letter that is not often found in classrooms today, and soon it won’t be found at all if our educational systems continue to degrade their standards.

As long as public education has existed, it has had to fight for student attendance against competing concerns. From early church-run schools in Scotland to 18th and 19th century schools in rural America, the public education system has had to contend with students’ need to work at home or in farm labour for months at a time. Now, public schools have to contend with poverty-stricken families’ need for the extra income from child and teenage providers, as well as disenchanted children who find ways into gangs, drugs or crime.

In an effort to “leave no child behind,” some public school boards have begun to adopt a policy that tries to motivate students with achievement. Somehow this has translated into a lack of failure.

These policies have led to a lowering of standards in curriculum and have crippled the ability of educators to criticize their students’ work. To find examples of this, we don’t even have to look at the traditional subjects, like reading, writing, and basic mathematics.

Take gym class, for example.

Some school divisions’ mandatory physical education curriculum components, which initially sounded like great steps forward, were revealed to be less than ideal.

The problem is with how students may fulfill this “physical activity” requirement.

Activities may include amateur sports, club teams (like swimming or hockey), gym class, and walking the dog a few blocks. While the program is billed as creating a more active youth, the amount of activity needed to complete the program is far below what is required for most children to break a sweat, let alone increase their fitness level.

For instance, walking the dog – or better yet, jogging with the dog – can be a great form of exercise in sufficient amounts, but the suggested activity levels are so low that any child could lie about the activity and no one would be able to tell the difference without 24-hour surveillance.

In short, by creating a system without failure, there is no extrinsic reward for success.

Perhaps by high school it is already too late. The grade school curriculum is becoming more and more akin to franchise restaurant chains, with cookie-cutter programs and static flavour. A child who can read, write and add by day two of kindergarten has nothing to learn for a year without a teacher willing to expand upon higher material.

Right from the beginning, our educational careers are intellectually regulated based upon the slowest learners, so that they do not fall behind. Because we all know that as soon as a child slips and falls, they will never get back up again.
This dilution of our education system doesn’t succeed in keeping teens enrolled and engaged at school. At best, it delays the development of youth. At worst it fails to prepare society’s youth for the challenges of leading a productive life.

Josh Boulding is a University of Winnipeg student.

Published in Volume 63, Number 28 of The Uniter (June 18, 2009)

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