One of the hallmarks of progressive policy is a demonstrated lack of knowledge of human nature, a determination to ignore it, or believing the right policy can change it. Reality does not matter, because progressivism is a reality unto itself, and thus, is an alternate, intellectually and morally superior reality. Obviously, only the self-imagined elite can accomplish such wonders on behalf of normals, who insist on living in mundane, day-to-day reality.
A fundamental aspect of mundane reality is the utility and necessity of failure. Human beings, obstinate cusses that they are, can seldom learn by observing the mistakes of others. They must make their own mistakes, but more, they must experience the real and very personal consequences of their own mistakes in order to change their views and behavior. In other words, they must fail. Lacking the experience and consequences of failure, their lives, to paraphrase Shakespeare, are mired in shallows and miseries.
If one is progressive, failure is impossible, for the brilliance and moral invincibility bestowed on the true believer ensures they cannot fail; no progressive idea or policy can possibly be wrong. That’s why, in schools ruled by progressivism, so little attention is paid to human nature, and why children are taught, through experience and example as much as in words, there is no such thing as failure, as Joanne Jacobs reports:
In last week’s post on “grading floors,” Memphis teachers debated whether giving minimum grades for minimal achievement motivates failing students — or misleads them and their parents.
There’s no need to debate that. All they need do is ask me, or any other competent, non-progressive teacher, but let’s continue…
Emily Langhorne taught in affluent Fairfax County, Virginia before joining the Progressive Policy Institute, she writes on The 74. She became complicit in lowering expectations for students’ achievement and work habits.
District policies discourage teachers from setting ‘hard’ deadlines or ‘giving a student less than 50 percent on an assignment (regardless of the quality of work or level of completion),’ Langhorne writes. Teachers are encouraged to ‘allow retakes on all major assignments if a student earns less than an 80.
Oh dear. Where to begin? Without hard deadlines, do these people ever assign grades? Issue report cards? But let’s continue, and please gentle readers, be sure to take the link and read the entire, brief article.
In theory, students are graded for ‘ultimate mastery of skills or content knowledge,’ she writes. But they’re not. Thanks to ‘quality points,’ a student who earns an A in the first quarter and fails the next three quarters will pass with a D.
Shall I explain the thinking—such as it is—behind such policies, gentle readers? A substantial motivator is the self-esteem culture, the belief that if one thinks highly of oneself, they will, somehow, achieve academic wonders—a logical fallacy in a category by itself. The idea of giving students 50% for no work comes from the idea that if a student falls too far behind, they will lose interest in ever catching up, and fail. Much mischief comes from the “accountability” philosophy. Before anyone gets too excited about this originating with George W. Bush, remember it was Teddy Kennedy that duped him into that disaster, though there is evidence he was more than willing to be duped.
Part of accountability is total attendance in school—or at least data claiming it–and schools are graded by the states on this and other measures. As a result, kids can’t drop out of school, which means they can’t fail, even if they do fail, which explains a great many of the lesser, idiotic policies. What matters, above all else, is the collection and flaunting of data, particularly data prized by politicians and educrats. Teaching and learning are a distant second to fulfilling the wonders of the initiatives of educrats and politicians, which they claim will produce heretofore unheard of academic accomplishment. In reality, such policies, at best, interfere with effective teaching and actual learning. At worst, they make it impossible.
One of the worst problems is the rock-headed certainty that “technology” will transform education. To that end, students are not only allowed, but encouraged to bring, and use, all of their personal electronic devices: smart phones, ear buds, iPads, iWatches, you name it, they bring it. Many use them in class, but damned few use them for academic work. They are, in fact, one of the most potent, even addictive, distractors ever invented by man. Kids with earbuds, blasting their favorite tunes, are not kids actually paying attention to anything happening around them. They live in a world contained in a smart phone and connected to them via earbuds. Most kids are, in fact, expert primarily at texting, which mainly develops facile thumbs. I’m unaware of any lucrative career in which that ability is essential.
Take the issue of “mastery.” This is obviously an end result of competent teaching and engaged learning, but not remotely in the manner progressives think. One learns anything by repeated, correct practice. They master it by going beyond the basics and acquiring real skill. This can only be accomplished through hard work over time.
In the progressive mindset, if Johnny fails a single test, he must be given the opportunity to take that test again, perhaps multiple times, lest Johnny become discouraged and lose his self-esteem. This short-circuits reality. If Johnny knows he can’t fail, why try? If he knows he can do everything again, he really doesn’t need to study, or pay attention in class. There are no deadlines, and no personal accountability. Johnny doesn’t learn; he does not progress far beyond his current, low, level of knowledge and ability. He does not develop the neural connections he needs to become a fully functional human being. It is only through concerted effort, focused attention, and exposure to progressively difficult problems and demands that one truly grows, intellectually and culturally.
And that’s another issue: being in the instant. One of the hardest things for human beings to learn and perfect is paying attention. It’s a life long struggle for just about everyone, yet few doubt that those capable of truly paying attention are most successful. Anything that in any way hampers the efforts of teachers in demanding the attention of students is fundamentally depriving children of the opportunity for education.
Prohibiting kids that don’t want to be in school and don’t belong there from leaving causes horrific problems. Kids always drop out, except now they do it in school. Their bodies are present—more or less and upon occasion—but they do little or nothing—for which they get 50% or more—or they’re so disruptive, they keep kids that want to learn from learning, and make life hell for teachers and staff.
Remember too that grade inflation is rampant in American education. This is primarily due to progressive thinking. If schools can’t fail anyone, if no one can drop out, and if making sure everyone passes to produce the right data, administrators pressure principals, who pressure teachers, to ensure the data reflect the proper numbers. In some states this has become so egregious, state legislators have forbidden 50% scores for no work, or made it illegal for principals or others to change grades assigned by teachers. Of course, that doesn’t change anything. Administrators just become sneakier, or change acronyms, thinking if they call it something else, it’s not the same thing and the law doesn’t apply, and for the most part, they’re right. It’s not about ensuring individual kids learn; it’s about producing data. Teachers are still pressured; it’s just subtler.
And as I’ve often written, for the last five years or so, we’re seeing the results of the tested generation. These are kids who, since beginning school, have known nothing but constant drills for passing mandatory, high stakes tests, which produce the data coveted by educrats and politicians. They have lost—actually—years of class time that should have been spent in learning the content of math, English, social studies, science, and every other discipline. It was replaced with test drills, benchmark tests, and more preparatory tutoring and testing to ensure high test scores; that’s when the data really count. These kids know little, care about less, are pretty good at the very narrow skills necessary to past data-producing tests, but capable of little else. They’re not readers, and that seriously limits them—for life.
Progressive reality absolutely rejects conventional, normal culture. Traditionally, schools served important social functions, teaching manners, responsibility, punctuality, politeness, an appreciation for American democracy, civic pride, patriotism, attention to detail, punctuality, paying attention, deference to authority and elders, and rather than self-esteem, self-respect. Those days are, in much of the country, long gone.
When kids earn 50% for no work, when there are no actual deadlines, responsibility and punctuality are out the window. When kids can’t drop out no matter what they do–or neglect to do–they may have stratospheric self-esteem, but never learn self-respect. When they don’t need to adhere to any standards, they never learn to defer to authority, never learn to pay attention and never develop manners.
When kids know they can’t fail, they never truly learn. Human nature is ignored, and there are no personal consequences for failure, which becomes an abstraction rather than reality. The necessity of being responsible, of meeting deadlines, of being punctual, of paying attention to detail, or simply of paying attention, is never learned, never mastered.
Kids that have never passed a mandatory test, that have failed multiple classes every year, are passed from grade to grade, and by the time they are passed on to high school, the greatest teacher in the world can’t help them. They never made the neural connections, were never exposed to the materials, never developed academic habits and discipline, never developed responsibility, punctuality and all of the daily qualities anyone needs to thrive, and to support themselves or their families. The precious early years, when one’s capacity to learn, when the brain is built to allow future success, are lost.
It’s difficult to make some understand the magnitude of the catastrophe—now. When this generation is expected to take its place as productive citizens, makers instead of takers, people who will provide the tax revenue necessary to support the elderly of generations that mastered all those human qualities in responsible, professional schools, then we’ll understand: we must be able to fail, and nothing must interfere with the consequences, or we never truly learn.