Reverse Report Cards Reverse Responsibility

When all else fails, blame someone else.

This is the lesson I derived from a plan presented to the Manchester, Connecticut, school board that proposes issuing report cards to parents. If this proposal were adopted, the board would evaluate whether parents get their kids to school on time, whether parents attend parent-teacher conferences, and whether students complete their homework every night.

Republican board member Steve Edwards would even throw in evaluating whether or not kids dress appropriately for the whether and or seem to have had a good breakfast.

Edwards feels parents just aren't preparing their kids for school, and he wants the board to take on the role of Nanny McPhee.

"This becomes a way of identifying who needs extra help and using resources to reach out to these parents," he said in a recent news report. "It's not meant to be punitive in any way."

Right. If this proposal is put in place, it will teach kids to shift responsibility for their shortcomings rather than invest themselves in the hard work of being responsible for themselves.

I see the effect of this kind of blame-shifting in my college classes full of kids who didn't make the grade on their placement exams for full admission into the university. Because they cannot write a coherent essay, they must pass my remedial English class with a C+ or better to be matriculated. Essentially, I teach third-grade English to 19-year-olds.

Whenever a student fails to complete an assignment or to show up for class, out come the excuses: mother is sick, grandfather is dead, father has cancer, my car broke down, I had a doctor's appointment, their was a car accident, I had a court date....

By offering up excuses in place of performance, students attempt to pressure me into being Mom, an understanding and caring person who will turn a blind eye and make it all nicey nice. Instead, they get a zero for the day. Some of them get a few zeroes because they don't learn the first time. Some disappear after a while. Most catch on, though. They persevere because they realize the standard is set and it isn't going to come down to within their reach; they have to stretch. It's healthy and fair because they same holds true for everybody.

The ones who catch on also appreciate that they leave the world at the door when they come into my class. Whatever might be wrong at home is not relevant when we're together. They step into a world of their own making if they choose it. If they don't and they want to kvetch about the bad old days, then that's their choice, too. They own their success; they own their failure. The same applies to me as a teacher (who has had her share of disastrous days).

Schools can't control people; they can't control anything other than their own behavior. If educators model taking responsibility for their own work, the kids will do likewise. If they blame others for their shortcomings, their students will do likewise.

To create a level of bureaucracy in the school system to issue such report cards would at least create a pool of data that could be used to justify requests for funds for programs for before- and after-school programs, breakfast, and so on. At what price, though? What's the long-range affect of head games like these? Do we add another level of bureaucracy to measure that?

P.S. My classes and I discussed this story on November 12. The overwhelming majority of kids responded that their parents shouldn't be put under such scrutiny. They had a greater sympathy for their parents' efforts to provide for them than Mr. Edwards could imagine possible. One of the most telling responses: "What if your parents are working split shifts to provide for you and they just can't be home to help with homework or make breakfast?"

Better to love what's beautiful than tear it down.


  1. Anonymous7:33 PM

    You are preparing them for real life. Someone has too! It's sad that kids are reaching the age of 19 and still haven't learned these lessons.

  2. It's so true. You are a very good teacher. I think, I would made you my favourite if you were my teacher.

    Happy Diwali.

    Light up the world.

  3. This is true in all - well almost all - situations... We think by putting systems and structures and processes in place we can rid of any problems. But what i see is, humans are more creative than that. Once you put systems in place, you will soon need another system to remedy the response to this first system...

    It's a very responding to the symptoms sort of approach...

  4. Imagine this...the kids og into school everyday and the firt thing they have to do is fill out a 10-question evaluation form of their evening and morning with their parents. Those forms are then evaulated by an administrator who give the grade...

    How ridiculous a proposal...just another way we need to worry about spending our tax dollars instead of wondering if the way they are currently being spent is the most erroective the local shools and their personnel doing their jobs effectively.


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