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Posts Tagged ‘personal responsibility’

Sick Day Origins

Teachers: “It’s 3 A.M. and I’ve thrown up five times.  Maybe I should call in sick?  But the juniors have that big project due today, and I want to be sure I hold them to it.  Besides, a lot of them worked really hard and they want me to see their final product.  And I have two parent conferences I need to be there for.  And if I stay home sick, I’ll just have to go in for a bit anyway, because I’ll have to switch out half the materials for 3rd and 4th period for stuff the sub will be able to use.  And I have three kids coming in for detention today–no way do they get off the hook!  Plus, I’m doing my favorite lesson of the quarter with the sophomores and I don’t want to miss that, or push it back, or have a sub messing that up.  …Oh!  And I wanted to talk to those guys in 1st period about the game yesterday!  *sigh*  I’ll just go in.  It’s too much hassle to take a day off.”

Students:*Achoo!*  Sweet!  I have the sniffles.  I’m gonna take a week off!”

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The video is a shorter version of this script:

The most common assumption today is that if someone doesn’t agree with changing the definition of marriage to include gay couples, it’s because they’re ignorant and hate gay people.  That’s wrong.  So assuming that someone who disagrees with you must be evil and stupid does not help make the world a better place.  It’s divisive and cruel.  It’s also an ad hominem attack and a straw man argument that should be beneath all of us.  I’m not going to make the case for traditional marriage here.  There’s something basic that needs to be done first.

I want to make five main points today:

First: Society doesn’t work well when we misrepresent people we disagree with.  We have to give each other the benefit of the doubt.

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A valuable life lesson

A valuable life lesson

An analogy I came up with last week to help enlighten my students, far too many of whom have tried to slide by, giving the minimal amount of effort they could and still pass the class, and who (shockingly!) failed my class for the last grading period:

There’s a classic episode of The Simpsons where Lisa is doing a science experiment at home.  She puts a food pellet in a hamster cage, but attaches it to a little wire that’s hooked up to a battery.  The hamster nibbles at the pellet, gets a bit of a shock, and quickly gets as far away from it as he can.

Lisa notes in her journal that the hamster has learned a lesson.

Then she puts a cupcake in the kitchen, and likewise puts an electrified wire in the back.  Bart comes by and grabs for the cupcake.  It zaps him but, unlike the hamster, Bart does not learn his lesson.  He keeps grabbing the cupcake, and keeps getting zapped.  He’s immediately addicted to a pointless cycle of self-destruction.

Here’s the application:

Bart is like too many students who, seeing how delicious that cupcake is, keep letting their hunger for it overcome their common sense.

The cupcake is the elusive goal of getting by in a class without having to work very hard.

The wire and battery represent the inevitable failure that follows this course of action.

After all, as Einstein said, the definition of insanity is doing the same thing and expecting a different result.  How many kids must be thinking, “THIS time my plan to goof off and somehow be just good enough will surely work like a charm!”

Now, when I see students slacking off, or otherwise doing things that will hurt their chances for success, I tell them, “Stop grabbing the electric cupcake.”  They’re already sick of it.

If only I could get them to strive for the huge chocolate cake of well-earned achievement!

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An article just posted in the new City Journal exposes the problem of lowered expectations in No Child Left Behind’s obsession with “proficiency.”  I worry that students now graduate high school thinking that that word denotes some amazing accomplishment, not realizing that it only indicates bare minimum competence.  The law of unintended consequences at work, but no big surprise.

But NCLB’s accountability system led to another distortion, this one harming top students. Because the law emphasized mere “proficiency,” rewarding schools for getting their students to achieve that fairly low standard, teachers and administrators had an incentive to boost the test scores of their lowest-performing students but no incentive to improve instruction for their brightest.

And the Wall Street Journal looks at lowered expectations via legally mandated “accommodations” for a slew of self-perceived “disabilities.”  Great article, but I wish they’d also mentioned ADHD.

Schools are required to extend “reasonable accommodations” for students with documented disabilities—including psychological ones—to comply with the federal Americans with Disabilities Act.

But there’s hand-wringing among university administrators and faculty about how to support college students with mental health issues while making sure young adults progress academically. One of the goals of college, after all, is to prepare students for the working world. And not every boss may be OK with a blown deadline for a critical client report, no matter the reason. Professors also want to make sure they’re being fair to all students.

I’ve been carping on things like these for years.  Our public schools have been neutered to the point of system-wide impotence largely thanks to policies like the ones analyzed above.  I’m overjoyed that people are talking about them, though.

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A little conversation with my fellow conservatives, here.  Readers on the political left are welcome to eavesdrop, but this idea is for those of us who like to talk more about limited government and personal responsibility.

When we say these things, we also really like to quote the saying, “Give a man a fish and he eats for a day; teach a man to fish and he eats for a lifetime.”  This is wise, and useful.  But only if we actually go out and teach men to fish.

Yes, I know, conservatives actually give more to charity than liberals do–maybe our friends on the left think that their social safety nets are effective and sufficient–but is this really enough for us?

If we believe that the best charity isn’t in the form of monetary handouts, but people in the trenches doing one-on-one training with those whose skills aren’t as secure as ours, doesn’t that obligate us to actually give time to our communities doing just that?  Not just a little time, either, but enough to make a real difference?

I’m not saying that we don’t do that at all now, but I am suggesting that maybe we should do more.  Imagine a concerted, volunteer, conservative community mentoring effort for the needy that was so effective, the most liberal observers would have to admit, “Wow, those Tea Party types are really on to something here–they surely do care about their communities, and they’re clearly doing good to a degree that our generations of public programs simply aren’t.”  I don’t care about “converting” those on the left, but wouldn’t it be nice to silence the media’s snide stereotyping of us as heartless misers, as well as reducing the social ills that plague our communities?  I’m sure we all care about at least one of those goals.

So what say you?  Who’s up for actually teaching men how to fish?

 

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For years, I’ve taught mostly high school honors classes and remedial college classes.  By a wide margin, the high school students are more literate, more creative, and more productive in every way.  What do they do that’s different? 

They have already learned the key to success: self-motivation.  Most high school students are used to being spoon fed and led carefully by the hand; what makes someone an honors student, by and large, is taking over the reins of their own life.  Not coincidentally, the reason why so many otherwise bright and talented young adults only slide by in high school and fail in college altogether is that they haven’t internalized that idea.

In high school, for instance, the focus is on classwork, while homework and independent study exist to supplement and reinforce the classwork.  In college, however, the focus is on the homework and independent study, and the classwork exists largely to supplement and reinforce what’s done outside of the classroom, by the student, on his or her own.  That’s a transition that many young people have a hard time adjusting to. 

Like any habit, the earlier it’s inculcated, and the more diligently it’s practiced, the more likely it is that someone’s going to be successful at it.

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I started my observations about these two movements a month ago with a point of conciliatory commonality–their shared opposition to undue influence by rich special interests in politics, whether left or right.  However, after two months of Occupy Wall Street, the most stunning thing about these two movements is how their core is starkly contrasted.

Tea Party protests usually had a “vote the bums out” message–their signs and speakers focused on what those in the crowd should do.  Occupiers, however, seem focused on what others should do for them–their signs and speakers are about the demands they have for what “the rich” should be providing them with (student loan debt relief appears to be a big one).

This is a broad generalization, of course, but a useful one.  While there are certainly Tea Party protesters who want government to do things for them, even those things are more limited and more for the benefit of others than what Occupiers demand for themselves.  Decreasing spending so that future generations of taxpayers won’t be saddled with unpayable debts (as many a Tea Party sign begged, such as at 1:52 in this video from a Las Vegas protest) is a far cry from insisting that “government has a responsibility to guarantee access to affordable health care, a college education, and a secure retirement,” as a poll of OWS protesters showed, according to a survey cited on the OWS Wikipedia page.  Rescinding fairly recent policies that exacerbate economic problems strikes me as more restrained and pragmatic than demanding the spontaneous erection of a new infrastructure for a panoply of progressive fantasies.

Consider Glenn Beck’s Restoring Honor rally last year.  (more…)

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I am a public school teacher, but I choose not to hate or envy those whose hard work and innovation have brought them greater wealth than I have.  They have taken nothing from me.  My life is the result of my choices.  Each of us is responsible for dealing with and improving our own circumstances.

My house is only worth 1/3 of what I’m paying for it, but I will not scapegoat a small group of people whose work is related to New York’s financial district.  I will not associate the illegal malfeasance of a very few with the wealthy population in general–such prejudiced thinking has always led to atrocities.  Many of our country’s economic problems were caused by the reckless buying and poor preparation among us in the middle class, anyway.  It’s time we grew up and admitted it.

I’ve had difficulty paying bills on time and providing for my family, but I do not feel entitled to demand that wealthier people are obligated to bail me out.  This is a free country, and we believe in private property.

I have had student loans in the five figures.  I paid them off by budgeting and sacrificing.  Nobody forced me to take out those loans, and nobody else was responsible for paying them back.

I pay no income taxes, yet I benefit from public services.  I will not have the gall to impose upon the wealthy a convenient vision of what they “must” provide for others.  There is no such thing as an objective “fair share.”

I am the 99%, but I support the 1%.

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Perhaps my favorite episode of The Simpsons is the season eight juggernaut of dark humor, “Homer’s Enemy.”  Here, the unreasonably lucky Homer, who somehow happens to succeed in life despite being a lazy moron, meets the new guy at work, Frank Grimes, a realistic person who scrapes by in life by working hard and being responsible.  Needless to say, Homer soon gets on Frank’s nerves. 

The whole point of the episode is to juxtapose the cartoony Homer with a normal, average person.  By the end, Homer and the world that allows him to exist drive Grimes crazy.  A great B-story here reinforces the point about society’s lowered standards, with Bart walking by an auction and getting the deed to an old factory for a dollar, so that his “years of hard work finally pay off.” 

The best part is in the middle, where Homer tries to make friends with Frank by having him over for dinner.  Despite all of his mature dignity thus far, this is where Frank starts breaking down and ranting.  His speech is below; any time I’ve watched this episode with others, I pause it here and say, “This is how the world makes me feel.  Every.  Single.  Day.” 

I’ve had to work hard every day of my life, and what do I have to show for it?  This briefcase and this haircut.  And what do you have to show for your lifetime of sloth and ignorance?  Everything!  A dream house, two cars, a beautiful wife, a son who owns a factory, fancy clothes, and lobsters for dinner!  And do you deserve any of it?  No! 

I’m saying, you’re what’s wrong with America, Simpson.  You coast through life, you do as little as possible, and you leech off decent, hard working people like me.  If you lived in any other country in the world, you’d have starved to death long ago.  You’re a fraud, a total fraud.  [to the rest of the family] Nice meeting you. 

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During the year I spent working as a school counselor, I wanted to put a sign on the door of my office that said, “Parents: you are not doing your children a favor by excusing them from the natural consequences of their choices.”  That sign would have cut my work load–and stress–in half.  I’ve been thinking about that sign a lot as this school year winds down.

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I know of a student who’s been enrolled in a high school class since January, but who has never showed up to class.  Perhaps he had moved, but had not officially withdrawn, leaving the school to do so after he’d been gone long enough.  This happens all the time. 

Last week, the office asked his teachers to confirm his absences, a step in the withdrawal procedure.  But, then, a couple of days later, there was a homework request in those teachers’ mailboxes for him.  Apparently, he was out of school due to a medical condition, and the teachers were all being asked to provide “homework” to cover January 24-March 16.  Was this a joke?  Sadly, no. 

It’s beyond impossible to give a bunch of worksheets and textbook questions to a student a teacher has never even met to cover two months–just one week shy of being an entire quarter.  If that were even an option, any attendance would be pointless, and every kid could just do their stuff at home and mail it in.  The request was a pretty disturbing insult to the integrity of all classes. 

What kind of parents would expect a school to able to almost literally phone in enough work to cover a quarter of a school year?  If they did think that way, how could they respect an institution that they think is so easy?  And how could a school go along with the farce of such perceptions?  

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Once again, for about the umpteenth time this year, I find myself having to deal with students I’ve caught cheating in my class.  It makes me angry, it makes me discouraged, and it makes me feel…cheap.

Yes, cheap.  Like I’ve been used.  Like it wasn’t just my test but me, personally, who was cheated on. 

It’s not that silly of an analogy.  I try to trust students, want to enjoy our time in class, working on something I deeply feel to be important, only to find that I’ve been lied to.  Like anyone who’s been cheated on in a relationship–even a work relationship–I have to wonder how many times it’s happened before, when I haven’t caught them.  How many days have I spent giving them the best of myself that I could, totally blind to the fact that they were consciously deceiving me, making a mockery of everything I thought our working relationship stood for? 

Actually, all these instances of dishonesty in the classroom make me feel worse than cheated on.  If some students are so set on simply getting to that reward at the end of the relationship–the grade, that fun payoff that they feel entitled to indulge in, without all the messy work, discipline, and sacrifice that goes into naturally earning the fruits of relationships–you know what that makes me in the cheater’s eyes?  A prostitute.  “Don’t bore me with all that sappy stuff about commitment and responsibility; just gimme the answers I want.”  Isn’t that nice? 

I don’t know how such dishonest, fraudulent working relationships work in real life, but in my classroom metaphor, I can tell you that once the truth has been exposed to me, I certainly lose all respect for the cheaters who think they can use me and what I work for like some kind of object who exists to serve them. 

It gets difficult sometimes to work with people who clearly have no respect for school.  I’ll take this opportunity to echo what a local newspaper editor wrote two days ago about more children needing to drop out of school.

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Here’s how we could make Atlas Shrugged really happen: if the workers of America get to unionize so they can push around the leaders, why don’t the leaders unionize and (pardon the pun) show the employees who’s boss?

Every executive, manager, business owner, innovator, and inventor in the country could join this national union, and when they are treated unfairly by their employees, who pitch a hissy fit any time their entitlements are questioned, the Executive Union could go on strike and–presto!–Atlas Shrugged.

The Executive Union could even negotiate their own set of entitlements–things that their hourly laborers will have to honor on pain of being penalized. For example, workers might have to exercise and diet outside of work to remain in peak working condition.

How could such requirements be equal to what unions make employers do now? Although most laborers work for an hourly wage, clocking in and punching out, so that their job is just a concern eight hours a day, innovators, managers, and owners are “on the clock” 24/7. For many, their job is their life.

Thus, if employee unions get to picket during their work shifts, shouldn’t employer unions get to make requirements–and picket their employees–during their private lives? Bosses could interrupt games, parties, and bar-b-ques to give their employees a taste of their own medicine.

<irony> Of course, it wouldn’t be fair to coerce someone into making personal sacrifices for the convenience of someone else, would it? </irony>

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This morning, I posted the following rant on my school’s email system.  This is probably the first of multiple such things I’ll write soon, but I won’t inflict the rest on my poor coworkers–I’ll just bury them here.  The feedback on this rant (really, the first such spiel I’ve let loose with at work in a long time) has been mostly positive, and our terrific administrative team has been very patient with me, trying to do their best and make everybody happy (I’m always sorry if my stunts make life hard for them):

I want to ask everybody to please do what they can to keep students in all of their classes during the day.  When we tell students that they can do something other than be in someone else’s class, we’re telling them that that class isn’t important, and that the work in it can be done any other time because, apparently, it’s easy. 

I know that the scheduling for a lot of activities is out of our hands, but for anything that we can control, can we please limit as much as possible the time that any students might spend out of class?  It’s bad enough that many parents and students think they can take endless days off for vacations with no consequences, but it’s far worse when we send the same message. 

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Ever thrifty, but especially so during these recent recession years, my wife and I have paid attention to a variety of TV shows, classes, and web sites offering advice for reducing utility and grocery bills.  You’ve seen them–they promise to give you secret tips to cut yours bills in half, or some such thing.

However, we quickly became fairly jaded on any such concept after finding, time and again, that the amazing savings, the rock bottom level of spending that these clever tips and skills could offer, this budget boon due to paring away frivolity to a bare bones lifestyle and/or one devoted to cutting corners…still resulted in expenses that exceeded what we were already spending. 

Honestly, some of the items we ran across made claims such as, “With our revolutionary approach to budgeting and bills, we can cut your grocery costs all the way down to a mere, skeletal $1000 a month!”  I don’t think I’m revealing anything terribly personal by confessing that the Huston family spends significantly less than that on our monthly groceries as it is.  The big, scary question here, of course, is, if there’s a market for telling people how to get their grocery bills down to $1000 a month, how much are they spending now

But what this implies about our society’s idea of thrift, and what constitutes cutting back in our eyes, is far scarier still.  I’m reminded of the old Simpsons episode where Homer abuses his company’s medical insurance so he can get some hair restoring tonic.  When his boss, Mr. Burns, finds out about how Homer had bilked him, Burns cries out in frustration, “Blast his hide to Hades!  And I was going to buy that ivory back scratcher!” 

Alas, the recession: fewer ivory back scratchers for America.

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