Why are our students failing themselves?

Janet Chanay Enlargephoto

Janet Chanay

Applause for those who write about the positive qualities of our school system and recognize that the health of our community is tied to the health of our schools. While it is true that Re-1 is grossly underfunded and many students have better, more up-to-date technology in their pockets than they will find in our schools, it is also true that no matter the tools, learning happens in the brains of our kids.

Low graduation rates and scores on state-mandated tests offer clear signals to our community that something isn’t working; however, for the past 15 years, the trend to blame teachers and schools has replaced accountability of students. Politicians and the media keep asking, “Why are our schools failing our kids?” when the question should be, “Why are our students failing themselves?”

My children got a fine education in Re-1 schools. Rather than re-invent RE-1 yet again, let’s look at a few truths about educational success.

First. Students need to be in attendance for school to do them any good. Take a look at the high school’s attendance numbers. If kids aren’t in class, they can’t be learners.

Two. Kids aren’t learners if they are just warming the seat. One popular saying goes that 5-year-olds must come to kindergarten ready to learn — true also for midle and high school students. Warming the seat does not mean ready. Sleeping in class does not mean ready. High on drugs or alcohol does not mean ready. No pencil, pen, book, eraser — not ready.

Three. Homework counts and teaches. The bulk of students failing classes have done few or none of the assignments except for those completed in class. All students begin with an “A” in every class. Every empty cell in the grade book is a deduction from that “A.” Each assignment counts toward a passing grade or deducts from a total. Too often, students dig themselves into a hole from which they haven’t the motivation to get out.

Four. Some learning can be fun, but some of it is boring. Much is basic concepts that must be understood before the good stuff. I sure want my doctor to have the basics before he starts “practicing” on my body. The most gifted of us often have to resist the temptation to “cruise,” and the least gifted always have to work harder to succeed. Always, the hard worker wins the day.

Five. Kids must care about learning. State-mandated tests carry no rewards or penalties. They mean nothing except to teachers, schools, politicians, and those who take pride in doing their best. As long as the media hypes the idea that public schools are failing our kids, students are released from their responsibility to show up, come prepared, do the assignments, and work hard.

None of the above should be news to those involved. Nor is it a secret that Montezuma County is a depressed area economically. We exist on tourism and agriculture. Wages here are low, work opportunities less than stellar, and expectations for the future, pretty dismal. In spite of the hard work of many, in the 30-some years I’ve lived here, little has changed in either the job market or in our community’s expectations for itself.

Our kids will succeed if and when they see an opportunity for success that is fed by learning; thus from Main Street to the living room, our community must seek ways to incentivize and value learning. Our kids’ success is our success.

Janet Chanay, of Cortez, is a retired Re-1 teacher.

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