Lately, I hear more and more complaints about education and educators: Teachers are not teaching well. Students are failing. People graduate with less than the minimum skills needed to survive in the workforce. High school teaches nothing. College costs way too much. Professors are overpaid and lazy, and they indoctrinate students into their liberal ideals. When they create new classes, they focus on worthless topics like popular literature or on ideological pet projects. Education gets a failing grade.
Where does all of this anger come from? My generation, which first earned the label “helicopter parents,” seems to be scrutinizing school curricula and college catalogues for their children.
By all accounts, success in school is determined by two factors: good home support for education and good schools. Clearly the first one is there — helicopter parents are all about making sure their kids get a good education. So why is the problem getting worse?
In my humble opinion, the answer lies in the kind of interest that helicopter parents take in their children’s education. Expecting or demanding good grades because your child tries, or shows up, is not taking a genuine interest in education: It’s taking an interest in the degree.
Education, like life, is about failure as well as success. Today’s college students have survived — most of them only barely — an education based on self-esteem, not achievement. They have plenty of self-esteem. They have few skills to cope, to achieve, or to survive further.
The 40- and 50-somethings who are now parents of college students were once parents of elementary students — and in that capacity, along with administrators (not teachers) they created self-esteem education. This coalition demanded that everyone get a trophy, that no one could lose (and hence that no one could win); they insisted that every child was exceptional, that no one could be criticized — even in some cases, that teachers should stop using red pens. Many college students today are lost: They do not know how to fail, so they have no idea what to do when the trophy isn’t handed to them. Is it any wonder that violence on college campuses has increased?
Educators know that real achievement comes from hard work over time, and that real self-esteem is the result of achievement, not of indulgence. They know what works to teach students, and what doesn’t, because they have experience and expertise.
So why is no one asking teachers to head school boards, testify before congressional committees, work on education budgets? Teachers and professors are simply trying to do our jobs, but politicians across the nation are getting in our way.
Yes, I am an educator; I teach history at Georgia Southern University. I want to be treated like a professional. I don’t see a chorus of protests against dentists and doctors for using phrases like “this might sting a little” when they clearly mean “this will hurt so much that you will use words not fit for print, and then cry uncontrollably in a corner for hours.” I do, on the other hand, see a long line of people who have no training in education trying to tell professionals — teachers and professors — how to do their jobs and demanding specific results from programs teachers find counterproductive.
I will happily discuss teaching methods with other educational professionals. Why should I take direction from people with no experience, any more than a surgeon should take advice from me on how to perform an appendectomy?
Patience is a virtue, especially in education. There is no instant gratification in teaching or in learning. These are processes which take time to develop. No one can expect to pick up calculus or French or computer programming unless she or he spends a great deal of time and effort on these (and many other) subjects. Looking for rewards without listening is a fool’s game.
Teachers have been listening to parents complain for decades. It’s time for parents to listen to teachers, and to treat them like professionals. Pretend, just for a moment, that your child’s teacher is as qualified in his or her field as your lawyer is in the law. When you treat teaching as a profession, and educators as experienced professionals, you just might learn something yourself.
Kathleen M. Comerford is a professor of history at Georgia Southern University.
About the Author
Credit: Jason Getz / Jason.Getz@ajc.com