Have We Made Things TOO Easy for Today’s Kids?

Blogger’s Note:  My thinking in this post is unpolished, y’all.  

While I’m wrestling with homework and grading policies and the role that schools play in teaching kids to be responsible, I certainly don’t have any clear answers to what are obviously knotty questions.  I thought the conversation was worth having, though — and hope you will join me in thinking about a challenging topic.

– – – – – –  – – – – – –

No joke:  When I found out who my fifth grade teacher was going to be, I almost crapped my preteen pants.  You see, Mrs. Morosini had a BRUTAL reputation in the circles of ten-year-olds who lived in my neighborhood.  Her nickname — Meanie Morosini — had been earned only after YEARS of putting the kids assigned to her classroom through the educational meat-grinder.  Had Harry Potter been written in the early 1980s, I’m sure we would have called her a Death Eater.

#nojoke

As an example of her no-nonsense approach to taking care of business, Morosini gave us homework in pretty much every subject every single night.  Each school day started with frantic scribbling in our pocket assignment notebooks — remember those? — as Mrs. Morosini stood at the front of the room droning out task after task.  Nothing was posted on the board for us to copy.  The expectation was keep up and stay organized or you’re screwed.

And “you’re screwed” took on new meaning in Morosini’s classroom simply because missing ANY task on the day that it was due meant redoing EVERY task assigned FIVE times.  Forget to practice your cursive letters?  Better be ready to do your math problems again (and again and again and again and again).  Leave your salt map of Africa — remember those? — home on presentation day?  Better be ready to do your science worksheet again (and again and again and again and again).

#noexcuses

Complicating matters for those of us trying to survive Morosini’s class was the fact that we were born before the Internet became a basic tool for communicating expectations between home and school.  Morosini wasn’t posting regular updates and extra copies of handouts online for our moms and dads to check.  Heck, Morosini wasn’t even posting regular updates or extra copies of handouts in our classroom for us to check.  Lose your paper in Morosini’s room and you had to borrow a friend’s to copy it by hand.  The mimeograph machine — remember those? — was too expensive to operate for teachers to give irresponsible kids new papers every time something went missing in the bottom of a backpack.

Complicating matters even MORE for those of us trying to survive in Morosini’s class was the fact that we were born before parents saw it as their primary role to stick up for their kids in every circumstance.  My mother and father didn’t send emails to Mrs. Morosini every time that I had to spend hours recopying homework assignments as a punishment for forgetting a task.  Instead, they grounded me to my bedroom — where my Carl Douglas Kung Fu Fighting album (remember those?) was my only entertainment — as soon as I was finished with Morosini’s consequence as a reminder to be more responsible the next time.

#nofun

On the surface, Morosini’s approach to homework — and my parents’ tolerance of it — seems unreasonable.

As a guy who has always worked to give kids extra chances to complete tasks and who has used the Internet to post homework since Geocities made websites — remember those? — doable for regular people, part of me can’t believe that there was a time when kids were expected to spend hours and hours on school tasks every evening, where the only communication that parents expected was a grade on a report card at the end of each nine-week marking period, and where severe consequences for missing work were expected, maybe even appreciated, by most families.

But one thing’s for sure:  As hard as Morosini’s class was, I learned a TON about the importance of paying attention, being responsible and finishing my work on time.

The consequences for forgetting were very real and very relevant to me.  No one was going to bail me out if I didn’t have my homework done each day; no one was posting tasks online that I could access if I forgot to copy my homework down or file my handouts properly in my binder; no one was going to accept late work for full credit until the last day of the quarter no matter when the original due date was.  Instead, everyone was expecting me to follow through — and following through is something I got REALLY good at after being grounded to a bedroom with nothing but a record player and a book shelf a few times.

#nophones

#nocabletv

#novideogames

I guess what I’m wondering is in a world where teachers are always just an email away, where homework is constantly posted online, where grading policies favor second chances over consequences, and where schoolwork doesn’t sit at the top of anyone’s to-do list, have we inadvertently made things too easy for today’s kids?

Was there merit in Morosini’s practices?  As coercive as they were, did they make me a better person — someone who understands that in the end, deadlines matter and that the responsibility for completing tasks rests on my shoulders?

Or were Morosini’s practices unproductive and hurtful?  Did they take away from my ability to enjoy learning for learning’s sake or interfere with my ability to spend time pursuing passions beyond school?  More importantly, did they work better for me just because I had a mom and a dad who were ready and willing to support me once I got home?  Is it possible that my peers from struggling families learned nothing about “being successful” from Morosini simply because “being successful” in their homes meant keeping the light and heat bill paid and the children fed from month to month?

I know there’s no easy answers to any of these questions, but if we still believe that kids need to learn to be persistent and responsible in order to be successful — if we believe that work behaviors matter — I think this is a conversation worth having.

_____________________

Related Radical Reads:

Giving Zeros Just Doesn’t Work

More Thoughts on Why Giving Zeros Just Doesn’t Work

Does Persistence Matter for Today’s Kids?

Saying Thank You to Mrs. Morosini

7 thoughts on “Have We Made Things TOO Easy for Today’s Kids?

  1. Lauren Patterson

    As a student and future classroom teacher, I think it important to instill some responsibility in students. While learning should not be a consequence, I think teaching, now, is too focused on entertaining students and making sure they ‘like’ the way the material is delivered. In addition, parents EXPECT teachers to practically give their child a passing grade although they do not put in the extra time with their child at home, check their planner for homework assignments, or communicate with their teacher. Mrs. Meanie Morosini may have seemed to be tough in your eyes but i’m sure you can agree that she instilled some good habits into you and your classmates.

    1. Bill Ferriter Post author

      Lauren wrote:

      In addition, parents EXPECT teachers to practically give their child a passing grade although they do not put in the extra time with their child at home, check their planner for homework assignments, or communicate with their teacher.

      – – – – – –

      This is the big difference for me, Lauren — and it’s probably MORE important to me than the conversation about students who need second chances. I’m all down with helping kids who need help because they come from struggling circumstances at home. What I’m not down with is helping families who couldn’t be bothered with school to begin with.

      When I was a kid, school was the number one priority. Period. End of discussion.

      Today, it seems like many parents see school as a nuisance that gets in the way of the rest of life while simultaneously expecting their kids to learn more and achieve at higher levels than ever before. Those dual expectations can’t coexist with one another.

      Any of this make sense?
      Bill

  2. Rudy Terpstra

    I don’t think “we’ve made things too easy for kids”. The problem with many parts of the educational system is that it is based on compliance. Sometimes I think the reason we can’t get rid of grades is because it is our last bastion of compliance. Yes, the lessons learned are valuable, but often those lessons are learned by the students who – as it appears by your narrative – have a supporting family and network. The students who don’t have support networks, don’t learn the lessons, but end up with zeros. My own kids always do their homework, despite it being repetitious worksheets of things they already know and despite the fact that it is past 9:00 p.m. because they have been at soccer practice and they should be in bed; however, there are no “punishment” consequences.

    Another point is that I have never been a believer in using learning as a consequence.

    To me what current assessment practice and “making things too easy” should do it let kids know that learning is important.

    Signed, a principal who has handed in a few papers late in his academic career.

  3. Matthew Caggia

    (I remember clearly the pocket assignment notebooks, Salt Maps, mimeograph machines, and building Geocities websites!)

    Great question. I wonder if this is a matter of a pendulum swing. Where teachers of the past were over the top with their draconian methods (by what we do in the classroom today). So teachers today, the students of “Meanine Morosini” and the like do not want to put their students through the same rigor that we saw little purpose in. But I wonder, will our students today, the future generation of will look back and ask the same question in the converse: Were we too lenient resulting in not enough emphasis in personal responsibility? When they become teachers, will they take a route closer to the more strict methods of our teachers, but tempered some by their own experiences?

    Could this also be what causes political push back in state legislatures today? Today’s lawmakers were also subject to the same type of “torture” in school resulting in deep rooted anger and hatred (maybe too strong a word) for public schools that now they have the opportunity to “get even” with the institution that caused emotional scars when they were young(?)

    1. Bill Ferriter Post author

      Matthew wrote:

      So teachers today, the students of “Meanine Morosini” and the like do not want to put their students through the same rigor that we saw little purpose in.

      – – – – – – – –

      This is a great point, Pal: “Pointless rigor” describes a lot of what I experienced in schools — and it could be that those experiences have shaped how I see classwork and projects today.

      I think the real issue is that we live in a world where everyone expects customized experiences all the time. I want to watch the TV show I want to watch when I want to watch it. I want to stream the music I want to hear when I want to hear it. I want to play the video game I want to play with anyone that I want to and from any device I own.

      We’ve grown so used to what technology makes possible that we expect everything to be possible all the time and from everyone.

      But schools and teachers serving thousands of kids on a shoe-string budget can’t pull that level of customization off — so there’s a tension between the necessary standardization that comes from delivering a ton of lessons to a ton of kids and the desire for individualization that people see in their personal lives.

      Any of this make sense?
      Bill

  4. Sergio Villegas (@awesomecoachv)

    Qiestions: You learned a lot about doing work and being prepared, is this true for all students? Does this approach have a diminishing return as students get older? How does variation in HW policy at secondary level (which can be huge from teacher to teacher) impact how effective it can be in skill building?

    I love the topic of grading, assessment, and homework. I personally never saw behavior changes by my rigorous policy teaching HS (students that were not organized and did not do HW on week 3, were the same on week 30) so I started to experiment and change systems. The only thing that I have really learned are A) there are no easy answers and B) nothing works if you don’t have a rock solid relationship with your students, and they know you love them and believe they can do anything.

    1. Bill Ferriter Post author

      You’re right, Pal: The kids struggling on week three are almost always the same kids struggling on week 30 — but they’re not really the kids I’m talking about.

      I’m talking about the 20+ kids who turn in mediocre work week after week and then want to do an extra credit assignment to raise their grades — or the 30 kids who don’t have their task on the day that it was due because they know that they can turn it in anytime for full credit.

      The real problem is they don’t care about the content that we are studying. If they were motivated by the task, they’d turn everything in all the time. And I know full well what it would take to create experiences that kids ARE motivated by. Check out my blog — they’re everywhere.

      But I feel an incredible tension because those learning experiences take WAY more time than I have to give. I’d never get through my curricula if everything was crafted in a way that motivated kids. Ground and pound is the only way I can cover everything.

      And if I taught a subject where there weren’t high stakes tests tied to my evaluation, maybe coverage wouldn’t matter. But I don’t — so NOT getting through the curriculum isn’t a risk I’m willing to take.

      Any of this make sense?
      Bill

Comments are closed.