Monday, September 04, 2006

Honesty is the best policy

Public high schools and colleges are almost all back in session now. Everyone is back to learning...or are they?

I read this New York Times article and was reminded of all of the teenagers I know who have entered college. Not a single one has entered college without having to take at least one (and often times two or three) "developmental" course their first semester in college.

Who takes developmental courses, in Texas at least, is determined by a score on a placement test. Depending on how high (or how low) a person scores, they will be placed in reading, writing, and math classes. Developmental classes cost money and are required before a student is able to take regular classes in those subjects, but do not count as college credit toward their degree.

My frustration is that elementary and high schools aren't being honest with their students, thus getting them to a level of education that they think they are prepared for, but they really aren't. The kids that I have worked with are often given extremes. Either they are given messages that they can't do or be something (i.e. "You can't read." or "You'll be pregnant by the time you're 16.") or they are given false hopes (i.e. "Sure! Apply to Texas Tech." ...when they are barely scraping by with C's...or "Here's is your 100% on your research paper!" ...that is riddled with grammar errors and wouldn't pass a good 3rd grade teacher's criteria.).

We owe it to our kids to be honest with them! However, with honesty comes some work on our part. No one wants to be told they aren't good at something without love and concern to help them with it. Love takes work. Whoever is willing to speak the truth must also back it up by taking the time to help them improve. With our time-crunched schedules, I don't know how many people are really willing to do that.

Several years ago Mike* (now 20) had just struggled through high school and graduated through an alternative program. His belief was the school kept passing him because they wanted to get rid of him. His theory may not have been too far-fetched.

I was appalled when he came home one day in 11th grade, extremely proud, showing me his research paper with 100% written on the front. His English teacher had given him 100% without any comments or corrections whatsoever. The misplaced periods, mis-spelled words, lack of capitalization at the beginning of a sentence, fragmented sentences, etc. did not deserve a C, let alone a 100%! Although I did talk to the school about the dis-service they were doing to their students, I never was able to find out if that teacher was reprimanded or even spoken to. I was frustrated not just at what was happening to that particular student, but what was happening to all of the students who were led to believe they were doing 100% work.

When Mike entered Community College after nearly dropping out of high school, but finishing through an alternative school, he needed three developmental classes. The college counselor we talked to would not allow him to take any more than those 9 hours. Therefore, his entire first semester did not count for anything except catching him up to where he needed to be.

I have always been honest with him about his academics...often to the point of hurting his feelings (as he has informed me). My goal was not to convince him he was inadequate, but to let him know that others weren't being honest with him and if he wanted to succeed, he needed to work hard because he hadn't been properly prepared.

Though he really enjoyed his first year of college, he did not go back. He does, however, always stay in touch. He calls when he is looking for an honest answer about something. He has also learned that he can be a resource to others. His phone calls often are about trying to help someone else get tutoring for their son or legal help for their brother or dental services for their child. I believe that despite his hurt feelings at times, he wants the truth. He wants to help others with the truth. I think what he realizes is that there is love behind the truth.

I wish our school systems would figure this out. There is a lot of work to do in our schools these days. Giving children inflated ideas about their current abilities will only hurt worse later. We need to be honest and we need to help them work toward the level of achievement of which they are perfectly capable.

*name has been changed
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