March 17, 2006

Truth or Consequences? Neither.

This has been brewing in my head over the last week.

I've been thinking about personal responsibility. Three stories this week have brought it to the fore.

It's long, so the body is in the extended....

First up was this article on student motivation. No shit, folks. The reason our kids keep failing, despite increased standards is that they have no motivation to pass. You can yell at a kid all you want, you give them all the information, but Garfield was wrong. You can not learn by osmosis.  Period.  The kids have to have some motivation.  They think, oh, Mom and Dad will get me out of this.  They'll tell the teacher I'm doing my HW and get me a good grade.  Their parents on the other hand, having completely forgotten their own school experiences think that even a modicum of effort deserves an A.  And they'll go argue for their lazy ass kids.  This of course does the kid no good in the long run.  A.  They're not learning anything in school, so they're unprepared for college and later a career, and B.  They start expecting Mom and Dad to fix everything, and eventually learn that nothing has consequences.

Next,  in the same vein, the recent trend of "unschooling".  That is, homeschooling without a standardized curriculum.  "Unschooled" kids have free rein to follow their own interests, whether that's latin or basketweaving, during the day.  With no requirements for math, english, etc.  Some states require measureable progress in standard subjects for homeschoolers, some don't, but either way, these kids are missing out on a wide variety of information and life lessons, which are probably more important. School, and here I mean a structured curriculum (home or away), teaches more than information.  School is about learning to get up and get dressed and get out the door on time, about learning to budget time for homework and fun, learning to interact with different people, learning to work through difficult things.  "Unschooling" teaches none of these things.  I wonder how these "unschooled" kids will fare when they hit college, where no one cares about your needs or your interests.  You still have to take what they tell you to take, too. And what about the real world.  Will they be able to hold down a 9 to 5?  Or will they be serial quitters?

Finally, the DIY abortion mess below.  When did the availability of a medical procedure become more important than the lives of the women seeking it?  Sure, back-alley abortion has ALWAYS been available when legal abortion was not, but was it promulgated as safe?  Never.  Is this safe?  No way, but the author says it is.

What do these three things have in common?  The lack of consequences for one's actions.  It's a growing trend.  The baby boomer generation started it with free love, hallucinogenic drugs, and D-I-V-O-R-C-E.  In the sixties and seventies it was all about what you could do to rebel from the "normal" life your parents had.  How to escape the mundane.  And its consequences.  Unhappy or bored? Try LSD.  Lonely?  Pick somebody up in a bar.  Pregnant?  Get an abortion.  Don't like your spouse? Get a divorce.

Today, we mirror that activity.  Parents think their children shouldn't have to put up with what they went through, and they try to make it easy on them, not by helping them learn, or by supporting them through the rough patches, but by taking away the consequences.  If a kid gets an F, it must be the teacher's fault.  One parent even told my husband that it was his fault the kid never turned in work because she didn't know when it was due.... until my husband pointed at the board in the front of the room, with the due dates, not 5 feet from where the girl's seat was.  And then he still tried to protest that no one told her the dates were there.... right in front of her face.  Her father didn't even want her to have to look at the main board in the room!

And the kids, in turn, don't learn how to think for themselves.  They expect the world to be handed to them on a silver platter.  If they don't understand something, they won't do it, rather than ask how.  If it's not explained in a way that they understand, they assume they don't have to do it.  It's not just that they don't ask.  They don't know TO ask.  Because they think they don't have to, and they never have.

Unschooling does the same thing.  Mom and Dad take away the consequences again.  You don't have to get up early, you don't have to follow rules, you don't have to study boring things that you don't like.  There's no interaction with kids you don't like, no foul school lunches or jam-packed bus rides.  If you decide something sucks, you can drop it and move on, becoming the ultimate dilettante.

DIY abortion, in fact, does this too.  Not only is a woman able to push away the consequences of her own acts, she is also actively encouraged to disregard her own health for the promise of a "safe" illegal abortion

We keep trying to push away the consequences of our own actions.  But you can't always walk away.  The number one cause of death?  Life.  It all catches up in the end, one way or another.

And who says consequences are all bad?  Sure, the results of our mistakes are unpleasant, but the lessons we learn are priceless.  And what about the things that happen that are good?  Should we push those away too?  Certainly not.  Yet, if we avoid the bad things, we'll also lose the good things that come as a result of the bad.

There are two kinds of people in this world.  The ones who are willing to face life, make mistakes, and assume responsibility for their actions, and those who spend eternity running from life, avoiding their consequences and chasing their tails into oblivion.  When was it that it became ok to be the latter and not the former?  When did we start telling our children that strength comes from knowing when to cut and run?  Why is it suddenly ok to let everyone else pick up the pieces of your mess?

Yeah, it hurts, and yeah, life's a bitch.  A mean one.  But you've got to get through it on your own.

Posted by caltechgirl at March 17, 2006 12:27 PM | TrackBack

My experience as a parent is that it easier and harder than you think. (It's harder because you don't get a lot of breaks - it's easier because common sense usually is a good guide).

Anyway - taking responsibility is one of the keys to success in life.


"Unschooling" is clearly a perfect way to train your kids for all those great jobs that don't require a high school education.

I would strongly encourage my daughters to carry her child if she ever got pregnant - but should she make the decision, I would hope she wouldn't be forced to seek an abortion outside of a trained professional.

Lastly, after reminding my kids I don't expect them to live at home after graduating high school, I like to tell them "You usually find a lot of hard work between being capable and being accomplished."

Have a good and carefully responsible weekend.

Posted by: Super G at March 17, 2006 02:24 PM

You are absolutly correct. Home schooling is a good ption for may parents who themselves are capable of accepting the responsibility for educating their children. But without a planned educational objective home schooling is about as worthless as many public education programs who appear to have only the objective of teaching self esteem and forget about the three Rs.

Part of education is learning self discipline. Do you know why the military requires a college degree for commissioned officers? It has little to do with the degree itself but is is an indication that the individual had the self discipline to complete something that was started. The same with a high school diploma.

There was a time when a high school diploma meant that the employee had more self discipline than a non grad plus there was a much better chance the grad was literate. Not anymore-when ones hires one just has to trust instinct because dipplomas-even college degrees- don't tell you very much.

Posted by: GUYK at March 18, 2006 03:32 AM

I agree that today's society has a serious lack of responsibility. I have two children that accepts responsibility and does well in school. I have a third child that tries everything he can to avoid or deny responsibility.

There are many circumstances in which outsiders look at a misbehaving child/student and all is blamed on the parents. Obviously, they (the parents) must be to blame for the child's behavior because if they were doing their job, the child/student wouldn't behave that way.

It's a load of crock! The child's own personality has a lot to do with how they behave. I am not saying the parents are exempt. What I am saying is that parents (like my husband and I) do what they can to teach their children what they need to become productive people in society. But in the end, it is still up to the child/student.
Quit taking responsibility away from the child. A parent can only teach, it's up the the child to learn.

And home-schooling is not a bad thing. I do not home-school, but have many friends that do. If I had the time, I would home-school my children. Today's educational system is 'out-come' based education. Everyone goes in and comes out with the same information. Exceptional or gifted students does the same work as the 'normal' students. This in itself is a great injustice. I have two children that are both gifted. They may take advanced classes, but it's not something that younger students won't take eventually. Gifted students just take it earlier.
Out-come based. Everyone learns the same thing. Phooey!

One of my friends who home-schooled her children, her oldest child won a scholarship to a prestigious university, and graduated with honors from that university. Home-schooling DOES have standardized plans. It's just the order in which you teach them, as well as what 'electives' you wish to teach. They also have field trips and such. Just like to typical public school. Home-schooled children have interaction with other home-schoolers.
True, they may not get as much interaction as a student in public school, but they also do not get the bullying etc. Home-schoolers, in my opinion, get a better education, so long as the parent teaches it.

The bottom line is this;
No matter if you home-school or public school- it's still up to the parents to motivate and teach their child life's lessons. And it's up to the child/student to do their 'work/job.'
If those two things are not happening simultaneously, you have a lopsided circle.

You have to break the cycle, get out of the catch-22. Knowledge brings power. When people have the knowledge, they have the power to change things.

Posted by: Rave at March 18, 2006 08:38 AM

I would say that there is no magic bullet that will automatically make your kids turn out right.

Their lives can go tragically wrong in a just the short bit of time regardless of what their parents do.

Parents can help them have their best shot.

Knowledge does bring power.

Posted by: Super G at March 18, 2006 07:16 PM

I completely agree that college students today by and large are not motivated, and in the least don't work to their full potential. And clearly their trend toward the mediocre started much earlier than their admission to USC. I complain about some of my dumber professors; and they deserve the criticism. But my disdain for them doesn't negate the fact that I still need to deal with them, and still need to complete the absurd papers and exams they assign to me.

I am continually amazed by the narrow field of knowledge so many of my peers possess. I'll be in classes, and the professor will say something I think is just a basic piece of information about the world. Hitler-Stalin Pact, or Nixon wasn't actually impeached, or this-is-what-we-call-a-pronoun and so on. And the other students will be dumbfounded. They will gasp. Looks of astonishment on their faces. I'd have thought 20-year-olds, who have completed high school, and evidently had decent standardized test scores would have already known this stuff.

There's a website maintained by USC's Student Senate at which students can rate their professors. I was looking through it yesterday while trying to decide which professors' classes I should sign up for in the Fall. One of my potential professors has had some harsh student reviews. Last year, he posted a reply to his critics:

Review posted on 2/23/2005 at 4:25:06 PM by Dan Lynch (the professor) Course(s) Taken: 305, 333, 384, 444, 525, 534, 563 A few students complain here that it is impossible to get an A in IR 333 (China), or that "if you care about your GPA, don't take this course." Such complaints are completely unfounded. Out of the 55 people who took IR 333 in Fall 2004, 18 ended up with a final course grade of either A or A- (11 A's, 7 A-'s). That's fully 1/3rd of the class. Moreover, the reading load did not average 100 pages per class session, as one person alleges; it averaged 75 pages, which is exactly the College requirement for a 300-level class. True, sometimes the reading was challenging. But I had thought USC students now enter with higher SAT scores than students at UCLA and Berkeley, and would therefore expect some challenge. I guess that's true for 1/3 of the class, at least. I hope it's true for the rest; otherwise, you're not living up to your potential.

Dan Lynch


Posted by: Cardinal Martini at March 19, 2006 02:42 PM

Link to that professor's comment and his critics, if you're interested:

Posted by: Cardinal Martini at March 19, 2006 02:43 PM