How much longer can this go on? After sixteen years in education, things seem to be getting worse. What? Consider this.

I have found fifteen,  that’s right only 15, grades of 80 or more points. Only 3 of 90 or more. The rest of the grades are below 75%. Out of 83 students. Am I putting you out there? Yeah, I am. Who, you ask. Who am I putting out there? And why?

I have the utmost regard for you few students who place matters of the mind on the same level as you place matters of the body, spirit, and emotion. In five gut-wrenching days of grading, I have seen only six passing grades out of eighty-something tests. I have come close to throwing the greater majority of these papers in the recycle bin multiple times, but stopped myself each time. I need these for more reasons than I should have to keep them. Mostly I have to hold onto them for district or state mandated legalities. I have to be able to show where you all come from? Data. The buzz word of the modern educational landscape. I was at an impasse, I admit. I am at a point that is hard to accept.

So, yesterday, while grading, I had to stop after I hadn’t seen one test in twenty with anything higher than 30 out of 50 (60%) possible points for spelling – yes, just on the spelling portion. It was very disconcerting. And tonight, I resumed grading only to find another run of 30’s or lower just on the spelling portion. I was down in the dumps, a bout of grades-induced depression ensued as I wondered “Where could I have fallen short?” I stopped to regroup.

Surfing the netwaves for a while reading article after article about students who don’t study, administrations that lead dispassionately, students and parents who expect something for nothing, parents and their children who expect respect and don’t give it – I realized I had not fallen short this day. I hadn’t been falling short for a long time. One article I came across tonight written many years ago (1997) by Mr. Henry Bauer, a professor at an esteemed university of higher learning, is called The New Generations: Students Who Don’t Study. Reading his article, I thought over many things: my student culture today, the school climate they operate within, the communities they dwell in, the state of education policy enabling the present and seemingly irrevocable new downfall of western civilization. All are riven with drawbacks that it seems might be impossible to overcome: Many of the same drawbacks, Mr. Bauer discussed and fleshed out with good research in his article. He detailed in his research-based study ideas, attitudes, behaviors, situations and environments that echo those I come across on a daily basis – from students with no interest in education to parents with no interest in their children’s education, leadership that doesn’t administrate. He spoke of parents who would believe anything their children told them no matter what the reality was.

Please believe me when I say I know from personal experience that there are families in the very school community I teach in that take a special interest in their children’s education. I read emails that show a love for knowledge fostered in families I serve. I recognize you and honor you every day. But it is the mass of our population that is the real concern here.

Our concern is the overwhelming numbers of children who come from all facets of society and create every horrifying extreme imaginable that make teaching close to impossible to accomplish and make the profession almost paralyzing to operate within. I digress. In the article, Mr.Bauer detailed his reality back in 1997 at the college level. A reality we educators see now in the middle grades.

In short, and just to cut to the chase, his research called for a change in standards as related to what we expect of students. Accept responsibility. Accept what is yours to be responsible for. Accept it. All of it.

Who should be asked, no, required, to effect a change? We have to ask, at this level of development – when we think of the middle grades child – is it solely the student’s responsibility to accept what is going on? Is it not the lovingly interested guardians of the successful child who create an environment of nurturing growth enabling the child to walk with an air of integrity? Is it not the genuine and honorably intentioned educator who applauds the successes of children in their charge, who inspires children to continue to plug away assignment after assignment, against adversity after adversity presented by classmates?

And so, isn’t it too, then logically so, the disinterested and dishonorable adult who is responsible for the disinterested and apathetic student? Is the child at fault? Couldn’t the child carry some of the onus? I think, yes, some of it. And once the child realizes, “There is no one standing up for me. No one is supporting me.” Couldn’t the child at that moment stand and do what it had ever before not done?

Analogize with me for a bit . . . If a treasure is obscured from one’s vision one’s whole life, the very idea that treasure could change everything, the specific benefits a treasure could afford . . . Imagine that the term treasure and all that it implies had always been hidden from a person. Imagine then, that suddenly, in a flash, in one surprising moment, its physical presence was uncovered. and EUREKA! All realizations come flooding in. A kind of Eureka Phenomenon that occurs for so many well educated revolutionaries. Suddenly revealed, a treasure such that no one had ever seen!!! Should an individual immediately comprehend the treasure, immediately take advantage of what that treasure has to offer? Well, no.

A treasure is to someone who never saw or knew what one was nothing but a trifle, an insignificant thing of little value – a mound of trinkets. An obstacle course for the ignorant garbage miner to hobble through unaware of what surrounds him or her.

So, I propose that the treasure has to be defined for that newcomer. Only then can that ignorance be replaced with all the wonders of possibility. A child, who had grown or become over time ignorant to a treasure of positive influences, the promise of education, could not be expected to take ownership of a treasure and use it? Shouldn’t that child take ownership? Certainly s/he should. If s/he knew what had suddenly been exposed to him or her. But the real answer is a very loud, “NO!”

Children with no support and no role models are wrought with fear and lack confidence. They don’t know a thing about the magic of knowledge, what wizardry it could make possible. A life of struggle can be crippling. A lot of what Mr. Bauer speaks of where college level students are concerned doesn’t apply to our middle school kids who are fear ridden and full of ego – driven on self-centered lives revolving around their friends, phones, and gossip drama. Children have become self-segregationists. They have been, and this is the really sad part, allowed to become that way through the increasing impersonal child rearing practices in modern families, modern educational institutions and modern society in general. And to think, they hardly know what ego is yet, anyway. Most children couldn’t define ego, but they live in it. Are driven by it. They are taught that. They have to be eased into caring for their own development or we will have, I guarantee it, generation after generation of college level cultures like the one Mr. Bauer speaks of.

I believe it can be overcome. This is the key. Responsible, compassionate, empathetic people must interpose themselves between these at risk young adults and the environment our society makes it too easy for them to escape into. Students, teachers, and community members have to lift up those who have such severe and treacherous forces acting against them.

So, obviously there is more to consider than just what we expect of students. What are all of the expectations? What of parents/legal guardians? What of society? What of school leaders? What of teachers? What will become of it all?

What will you do to change the situation? A student this last week when I was returning the tests mentioned above said, “It’s like the end of the world.” She was honestly saying she sees it happening. I could see it in her eyes. I assured her it was only the beginning of a new dawn for us all. What will you do with this new dawn?

Mr.Bauer’s article can be read here – The New Generations: Students Who Don’t Study.

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