Social promotion has been in the news recently. As an educator, I am concerned that a growing number of students are graduating from high school and beginning college as functional illiterates. Although they have high school diplomas, some high school graduates can barely read and write, never mind critically think and problem solve.
Social promotion is not the sole reason our children are educationally deficient. Not only do we need to raise the bar of expectation across the board, but we also have to provide our teachers with the tools and the supports they need to be more effective in the classroom.
It is not enough to re-write standardized testing and/or change the requirements for a regents diploma. Our whole approach to education needs to be re-visited and in many instances be radically changed. Social promotion is the tip of the iceberg.
It is unconscionable that some school districts are using outdated textbooks. Others are hiring non-certified teachers. Still others schools are ignoring their students with special needs.
The school environment must be a welcoming and warm place, whether it is Miller Place or Wyandanch. As educators, we must face that today's student is beginning school with a life experience very different from the student who began school in 1973.
The world has radically changed in thirty years. We went from Smith Corona electric typewriters with built in whiteout to Dell laptop computers with spell and grammar check. The educational technology available today is mind boggling, but not equally available to all.
We need to call our teachers to a higher standard and also compensate them appropriately. As professionals, they need to be respected and supported. School administrators have to become more focused on creating a positive learning environment within their schools and become less obsessed with the politics of education.
Parents need to be called to a higher standard of involvement. Working and other commitments cannot be used as an excuse for not being involved in one's child's learning experience. We need to establish more creative opportunities to keep parents involved. Some districts are already doing that. Others need to take their lead.
Problem students who are disruptive need to be handled differently. Dumping them in BOCES, home tutoring or out of school suspension is not really addressing the problem. Teachers should not be compromised and forced to be babysitters and/or social workers. However, we need to find more life-giving alternatives then just abandoning them or praying that they just drop out.
Discipline is becoming more and more a concern for the rank and file teachers. They need support and school administrators need the support of their school boards to more effectively confront the out of control students.
In addition to our concerns about discipline and academic performance, we need to be more attentive to character formation. Fundamental character formation should begin at home. However, it needs to be reinforced at school and probably far more than we would like to admit, it probably will only begin in school.
Too many teenagers have a twisted understanding of honesty and the truth. Plagiarism is on the rise. I recently confronted a college freshman over a paper he had written. He was shocked and appalled that I gave him an F on that assignment. He was told the next time, I would feel compelled to refer it to the special committee that deals with this issue.
After having a rather extensive conversation with this student, it was apparent to me that he really didn't understand the seriousness of the issue. The student was not being flip or indifferent. The student really was unable to grasp the seriousness of stealing someone else's material.
Another student got in trouble for having a cell phone away at school. He was a senior in high school. This particular prep school has very strict rules about all cell phones and beepers. It was clearly written in their student handbook.
Right before mid year recess, he was confronted about having a cell phone. He passionately lied to the Dean. He was a campus leader and was cooperative on all fronts. Thus, the Dean believed him.
Two weeks ago, the prefect in charge of residential life was checking rooms and discovered a phone charger right next to this senior's bed. He reported it to the Dean. The Dean went ballistic.
The senior was permitted to finish his senior year, but was stripped of all his senior privileges. He was not permitted to walk with his class at commencement.
A number of people thought those were harsh consequences because it was only a cell phone. It was not drugs, alcohol or illegal firearms.
The Dean conceded that to many looking in, this might seem to be an overreaction. However, the Dean very clearly clarified what the real issue was. It was not about a cell phone. It was about a blatant violation of the school's honor code, which clearly considers any lie a serious breach of the code.
The breach was further ruptured by the fact that this senior's father knew the school's policy, sanctioned the cell phone and paid the bill from his home address.
According to the Dean, the code of conduct is as important as a student's academic record. Normally, if a student is found guilty of breaking the code of conduct, he is automatically dismissed from the school. This particular senior was really extended a courtesy because of his superior academic record and the fact that he was well liked.
However, the Dean also pointed out that this breach of conduct was most serious and could not be dismissed or overlooked.
When I heard this story, it only reinforced how sadly lacking character formation is and how we need to revive it and comply with it.