Doomed by lenient education systems

We’re doomed. Yep. Totally, completely, utterly doomed. “We” being our generation. Generation Y, the Entitled Generation, Generation Whatever, whichever name you want to give us, we are gosh-darn mother-truckin’ doomed. Why? The American education system.

And what’s wrong with American education these days? The self-esteem movement. The majority of students who do poorly in school do so not because they can’t learn, but because they don’t want to learn. Can’t vs. Don’t Want To…there just might be a difference. And nowadays, it simply doesn’t matter anymore. Oh, Johnny failed his math test? That’s okay, he can retake it as many times as he wants.

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Did Sally do poorly in Spanish this trimester? Well, let’s just blame the teachers; clearly they must be the problem. Enter West Potomac High School, Alexandria, Virginia. Here, the rules have been changed, so if a student deserves a failing grade on his report card, he doesn’t get an F for “failing.” He gets an I for “incomplete,” will be allowed to make up the work in the following years, and will then be graded again, just like any other student. Failure is not an option.

Unlike Apollo 13, however, this isn’t necessarily a good thing. First of all, this student did, in fact, complete the work. He just did it in an unacceptable fashion. So why are we allowing him to go back and redo it with absolutely no consequences? This student clearly doesn’t care about his grades, or else he wouldn’t have gotten an F. I am a firm believer that, disabilities aside, students who receive Fs for a grading period—not just for one bad test or one poor project—simply do not care. Yes, something does need to be done about failing students, but giving them an Incomplete and allowing them to retake classes without repercussions is not the answer.

Robert H. Schuller once said, “What would you do if you knew you could not fail?” I say, “Why bother trying if you know you won’t fail?” Students who just don’t feel like doing the work required for passing a class now don’t have to. They know that if they fail, they can always try again later. In addition, students now getting Ds have no motivation to work their way to a higher grade. This new idea may cause these borderline kids to give up entirely, knowing that if they let their grade slip just a bit more, they can try again next year and do better.

One of the school board’s rationales for agreeing to this idea was that it isn’t right to penalize students who learn at different rates. While it’s true that not everyone learns in the same way, this is why some students are held back a year. If a student cannot or will not grasp new material, he should not be passed on to the next grade and be allowed to redo what he failed to understand. A student who fails a course is clearly struggling, and it’s highly unlikely for a student to get one F and all As and Bs in the rest of his classes. So why don’t schools hold back these failing students? Oh, right.

Because, you know, holding someone back a year so he can properly understand what he’s learning and therefore become a more effective learner and hopefully be successful at school might irreparably damage his self-esteem. And we all know that feeling good about yourself is far more important than properly learning. This new policy is not how the real world works. When our generation comes of age and chooses careers, we must be responsible for ourselves. If we don’t submit papers by a certain deadline, if we choose to do something irresponsible, if we don’t set the bar high enough and do things in an unacceptable fashion, do we expect our colleagues and bosses say to us, “Oh, I understand.

You ‘learn things differently’ and you are special and don’t need to follow the rules”? Of course not! So why are we expecting this of our schools? Education is the foundation of society. Without it, it is impossible to function as a civilized group of people. Once standards no longer matter and failure becomes impossible, we lose the ability to make ourselves better. Our failures are rewarded, but our successes will mean nothing. And yet, somehow, we continue to hail self-esteem as the solution instead of the cause of our problem.

Self-esteem, the devil posing as the Almighty God of Education. is not something that can be given away. I can raise your self-esteem by telling you that you are fantastic, wonderful, amazing, but when you get out into the real world, you will find out that other people might be more fantastic and wonderful and amazing than you are. You may not have failed in the beginning, but you have certainly failed now. Self-esteem is gained not from being praised for doing something we are expected to do anyway, but from going above and beyond the expectations already set for us and the ones we have set for ourselves. Schools with this policy need to realize that an I for Incomplete is no better than an F, and will eventually harm students much more than it helps them.

Schools need to know that students will do worse in the real world if they are coddled now, and everyone needs to face the unpleasant reality that failure is, as it should be, an option. Until then? We’re doomed.