Sunday, March 1, 2009

"Don't read it! Just see the movie!"

Being a high-school teacher has, I fear, has made me more quick to anger when watching horrible parents. I never used to get too angry when in the presence of bad parents (like those who let their kids run around unatttended in the supermarket), but being a high-school teacher forces me to see poorly parented kids as potential poorly parented young adults.

Here is the most recent situation to get my blood boiling: a family friend has their elementary aged child in a school-sponsoered book club. The book they were assigned a few weeks ago has gone unread and, today, the family is going to see the movie (in leiu of reading the book).

Normally, a situation like this would be mildly annoying to me. But upon hearing about this, my "teacher mode" turned immediately on, and I have not been able to stop stewing over such a blatant act of parental irresponsibility. Here we have a great example of a parent tacitly informing their kids that skirting rules is completely permissible, and that the parents glowingly endorse such rule-skirting. In addition, this child (who actually does like to read) has now been introduced to the dilemma that all children eventually face: why read the book when I can just see the movie?

I recall when my parents found out that I had not read a required book for a high school class. What did they do? They called the teacher! They let the teacher know that I had not read the book, and advised the teacher to "catch me in the act" by pulling me aside and quizzing me on it. I did not find out that my parents put the teacher up to it until years later, and to tell the truth, I am glad they did. It encouraged me to read (if only by force) which eventually lead to a joy for reading.

Would I do what my parents did in this child's situation? Yes. Being a teacher has made me appreciate that, sometimes, one must be creative in teaching kids how and why to follow rules. Yes, this means that the child may not like you for a time, and yes, this certainly means that the child will be discomforted when the teacher "calls them out," but they will learn the lesson they should learn and be the better for it in the long run.

When I think of this story, I cannot help but think about kids I teach who expect A's simply because they show up to most of my classes (and the parents who back them up). I cannot help but think of the stduents who miss inexcusable amounts of time from school with their parents permission, and those whose parents don't make them do homework or study, but pretend that they value education.

With any luck, this student will never have a teacher in high school that has the audacity to set expecations and hold students accountable for them. Unfortunately, unless the student goes to a private high school, it seems unlikely that they ever will.


  1. Calling out students may only be part of the solution. The public education system seems to have made education such a formality that only the grades and the appearances matter, and the students don't feel any sort of responsibility for their part of the process. I do think we should enforce our rules consistently, but I also think we should only make rules that count for something. We seem to be afflicted with a plague of regulationism, and not just in the education system.

    Interestingly enough, my wife saw "Don't read it! Just see the movie!" out of context, and said, "Who would say that? The books are usually better." When I explained it was about assigned reading, then it all made sense.

  2. David,

    I agree with you completely! I have resisted the urge to get too terribly "whiny" on this blog about the absolutely demoralizing (as a teacher) phenomenon of lowering standards so much that we allow things like this to go on as a matter of course. (Hopefully, I have struck the right balance, highlighting the problem without getting too whiny or redundant.)

    Part of the reason we have gotten so lax, though, is that parents aren't doing much of anything to teach kids any accountability. As a schoolteacher, I can attest that it is next to impossible for me to offer any incentive to kids whose parents don't hold them accountable. (Getting good grades, or penalty of bad grades, are no incentive if the parents don't value education. Suspension or office referrals don't do anything either.)

    This is why I am really plssed at this parent. She is inadvertently teaching her child to be irresponsible (and that his parents endorse and encourage such behavior). When he gets into high school, how will I be able to get him to read if his parents don't care either way?!

    I agree with your (obviously smart) wife. Books do tend to be better, if only because they can get more in depth and 'behind' the characters and situations.

    But books also require more work than movies. Books are the types of things that seem laborious at first, but become "hidden gems" to those acquainted with them. The problem is that for kids unacquainted with reading, movies are infinitely preferable, and if a child is not reading from an early age, it is doubtful that they will want to start later on.