Monday, February 2, 2009

Ya Can't Pick Boogers With Gloves On

There are public schools in Philadelphia that have a daily absentee rate of 20%. That means 1/5 of the youngsters are absent on any given day. Nevertheless, their teachers are held to account when these same kids score poorly on high stakes tests.

It is plainly ridiculous, even Kafkaesque, to hold educators accountable for failing to teach children who are absent from school. Nevertheless, this is precisely what is happening.

Then there are the thousands of children who are physically present, but emotionally and intellectually absent. Instead of focusing on learning, they are wondering where their next meal is coming from or if they will be homeless tonight. Others fear Mom is going to be "entertaining" another guy, get high again, or end up beaten half to death by her abusive boyfriend. Still others worry that they are going to be assaulted or killed by a gang, or are too depressed or angry to even care about school. And a few are making far to much money selling drugs to be bothered.

Then too, some schools are so poorly managed that learning and teaching are impossible. Some "educational leaders" fail to back teachers in matters relating to order and discipline, for instance, and the school is a scary mad house. No one, no matter how skilled or determined, can learn or teach in the midst of chaos. Nevertheless, this is what is being demanded.

It's not as if these impediments to learning are invisible. They could not be more obvious. Yet no allowances are made when the politicos enforce teacher "accountability." Instead teachers are held to account for learning failures that they have no means to control.

There is no surer way to demoralize and embitter a caring teacher. There is no more effective way to drive the best and the brightest out of teaching.

Faced with such nonsense, kids usually tune out and turn off. But teachers generally put up with it. Perhaps they feel powerless and are demoralized to the point of inaction. Maybe they have bought the total "accountability" nonsense and blame themselves. It's hard to tell. But what isn't hard to tell is that holding teacher's feet to the fire while ignoring anything and everything that stifles learning is damned foolishness.

No one should be held accountable for things they can't control. As my life-hardened Granny put it, "Ya can't pick boogers with gloves on."

To examine these and similar issues further, see articles at