Square Fairness Pegs and Round Reality Holes

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  Perhaps he had moved, but had not officially withdrawn, leaving the school to do so after he’d been gone long enough.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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If Students Treated Exercise Like Education: A Parable

Student: Hey, uh, like, sorry I was gone for the last few sessions of workouts.  Can I get all my make up work and stuff?

Personal Trainer: Make up work?  What do you mean?  We do exercises here.  I give you intense, important training for reaching your goals.  You can’t just “make that up.”  Either you’re here to do the work or you’re not.  If you’re not, then you’re not going to get the health that you want.  Do you think that there’s some kind of easy alternative I can give you and it will be just as good as if you’d been here and done your exercises right when you should have?  If that were true, what would be the point of anybody ever going to the gym?  We could all just do the “make up work.”

S: Um, whatever.  Can’t I just get a worksheet or clean your room for some points or something?

PT: What?  How would that make you healthy?  That’s hardly a substitute for all the demonstrations and guided practice you missed.

S: Ah, man, I dunno what you’re talkin about, but you’re supposed to give me some make up work.  It wasn’t my fault I was gone.  I got sick and had a family emergency.  Don’t you believe me?

PT: It doesn’t matter why you were gone.  If you’re not here to do the work, you can’t get the benefits.  I don’t just hand out health here; you have to earn it.  Even when you are here, you’re not working out very hard; mostly you just complain about how heavy the weights are and tell me that workouts should be easier and “funner.”   And when you’re not at the gym, you’re just sitting around eating junk food—you’re undoing any progress we’ve made here.  If you aren’t here, every day, doing all the exercises as well as you can, you won’t get in shape. 

S: What?  You’re not going to get me in shape?  Dude, why are you failing me?  I’m here!  I’m working!  I shouldn’t be punished for the workouts I missed!  Just let me be in shape!

PT: Punish you for missing workouts?  Let you be in shape?  Do you seriously not understand how nature works?  I can’t just automatically give you the knowledge, skills, and benefits that everybody is supposed to work hard a long time for.  Right now you’re overweight, weak, and sickly.  I can’t just wave a wand and change that. 

S: Hey, that’s not nice!  You can’t say that!

PT: Kid, it’s not an insult, it’s just the truth.  I’m sorry if everybody else is dodging that just to make you feel good, but in the end, that’ll just lead to you getting some nasty surprises in life, like when you try to climb a flight of stairs and find out the hard way that you won’t be able to.  It’s just reality and I’m trying to help you.  You’ll never get in better shape unless you realize that you’re out of shape now.  If you really want to be healthy, you’ll have to work hard.  In fact, you’ll have to work harder and longer than your peers at the gym because you’re so far behind. 

S:  What?  That’s not fair!  Why do you hate me?  Look, just give me my make up work!

PT: Alright.  If you want to catch up, you’ll have to start doing all the normal workouts—every day—and stay later so you can spend extra time doing all the exercises you’ve missed out on.  Then, maybe, you’ll be able to get healthy by the time the year is over. 

S: Ah, man, I don’t care that much.  I’ll just do an online workout or summer gym. 


Other education-related satire:

Presenting the Modern Gym!

The Great Grade Bailout

Email About A Truant Student

The following is an email I just sent to a parent of a student.  The young man in question was caught leaving school with some friends by another teacher on his prep period.  Sadly, this kind of communication is not especially rare in my work experience: I send emails like this one at least a few times per semester, and could send several times as many more, if more parents even bothered to request “make up work.” 

(This parent must have “appealed” [read: demanded, begged, threatened to sue] the school, so his blatant string of skipped classes have all been “excused.”  This was the second time this week a [nominal] student of mine had such an array of ditched days excused, though the parents of the other boy didn’t have the effrontery to ask for “make up work” for two months of voluntary truancy.)

Mrs. _______, A request for make up work for your son _____ has come to my attention. Since starting to come back to class recently, _____ has shown little engagement in class work, much less motivation to discuss making up what he missed during his absences (on one vocabulary assignment that he did do–writing example sentences to illustrate the meanings of words–the majority of his sentences simply said, “________ is a big word”).

With 14 absences at this point in the semester [in my class alone], and the majority of those within the last few weeks, he has a staggering load of “make up” work to do. Add to that the fact that practically none of that work is just a simple worksheet that can be handed out; most work involves examples, class discussions, and extensive reading. Such work can be made up, but it is difficult and requires a commitment of time in here outside of school hours. Further, he has missed a few quizzes on material that he was not here to review; making those up with any kind of quality will obviously be very difficult.

That being said, he’s welcome to try, and I’m certainly here to help him do so. What he would absolutely need to do is come in with at least ten or fifteen minutes set aside, before or after school, to get started on some of this “make up” work, but that’s just a start. Hopefully he can get some of this work turned in for some credit when we return from Christmas Break.

_____ got a 50.9% first quarter, and currently stands at a 20.4%. A productive thing to do at this point is to start planning for how he will make up the credits he will probably lose this semester, especially since the long block schedule, with its two extra classes per semester, may not be available next year.

_____ has potential and doesn’t seem to have any academic problem in his way, so certainly next semester could be very successful. I wish you both good luck and look forward to seeing him in class regularly, where I’m sure he can do very well.

Clearly, I’m trying to introduce a dose of reality to this situation, without being quite confrontational enough to warrant any ire directed at me.  I don’t need any more grief this close to Christmas.

I think I’ll keep this email as a form letter for future use.  Please tell me that other states aren’t like this.