Why Are Schools Afraid To Set High Expectations

Welcome to the 20 minute rant! Rules of the 20 minute rant are simple: 1.) Write for 20 minutes. Just 20 minutes. No more, no less. 2.) Write about something current to today that was in the mind. That’s it! Simple rules! 

Schools today are so afraid. They are afraid of parents, they are afraid of students, and they are especially afraid of lawyers. Can you picture the school principal cowering in his or her office, waiting for those mean parents or that pushy lawyer to leave so they can race to their car?

I’m bothered by school fear. It’s an institutional problem. It’s also, in my view, caused by our caustic society that cannot agree, cannot work together, and still wonders why we can’t catch up educationally with the rest of the world. Truth is, we Americans don’t want to accept that the world has overtaken us. They’re better and better everyday. So what gives? Why don’t we ramp up our own standards and ask more of our young people?

Schools are institutions and they don’t want to offend their shareholders (parents). Oh, and did you know that all kids, according to school rules nearly everywhere, aren’t allowed to feel bad at any time. Teachers and school officials have to keep them happy at all times, lest they cry and not be able to sleep later that night. The longer we wait, the more behind we fall. How much can we afford?

When I read research, it talks about how malleable kids are. If that’s true, then why not challenge them? Are we afraid it might inflame a hangnail? No wonder kids routinely say they’re bored at school, that schools don’t serve their needs. Adults know what it’s like when their job is boring. Adults leave boring jobs all the time. Kids can’t leave boring schools because our laws won’t allow it.

Thus, here we are on the precipice. It’s like we’re on this long hike, we saw this cool lookout over a valley, and we’re hanging on by a thread about to fall thousands of feet to our academic deaths. Kids want challenges! In twenty-one years of teaching, I have never found that kids cannot do something if we provide a solid structure and if it is truly challenging. Kids step up to the bars we set. If we set these bars high, performance will be through the roof. If the bar is set low, well kids can jump that while playing a game on their cell phone and face timing a friend on their iPad.

Think back to your own educational experiences. Recall the learning activities and units that you can remember. Why do you remember these? Because they were challenging, they were interesting, and they required you to think. Be a part of the movement and ask your child’s school to meet the high bar challenge. Tell your school leaders you’d rather see your kids fail at something hard than suffer boredom from day after day of low-level, brain mushing gunk.

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