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The Right to Fail

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You have the right to remain ignorant, but why would you want to? A high school teacher caught up in The Daily Grind struggles with how to motivate students who don’t seem to care about education:

The other response, coming from a teacher who is agonizing over ways to convince his seniors that the ability to write a paragraph is necessary, said to inform them of their right to fail. I mean, if the police are required [to inform us] of our right to remain silent so that we don't say anything stupid--thus getting us into trouble, we should also be required to inform our students of their right to remain ignorant--thus relegating them to a life of poverty.

How do you motivate the unmotivated?

5 Comments

High school may be one thing, but it is exactly this -- informing kids of their so-called "right" to fail -- that drives so much underachievement. It's part and parcel of the learn-if-you-want-mentality (LIYW) where teachers stand across a wide chasm of under-achievement and demand that students build a bridge to them. They, the adults, full of skill and social capital, demand that the kids come to them. To them.

It's generally acknowledged, from a legal perspective at least, that under-age children lack the capacity for informed consent in many areas of life -- why is education different? Why do we, as teachers, assume your average 9-year-old is capable of making informed consent as to whether or not they will be successful? No. We ought to subsititue our own judgment for what we know is best, and repudiate this right to fail.

We need to adopt no zero policies. Mine starts in three weeks. All work will be completed. No excuses, no exceptions. You will do everything. There is no right to a zero. That number no longer exists. Act accordingly.

Amen to TMAO. I have memorialized somewhere at home the "professional opinion" of a psych intern whom summarized my son's first evaluation (in kindergarten) as nothing wrong, he just doesn't want to learn.

I think we are suffering from some perverse misunderstanding of "tough love" or boundary setting.

Anyone have an example of a no-zero policy that actually worked? I've tried enforcing "all work will be completed, no excuses, no exceptions" but often it falls on deaf ears and students fail my class because they haven't handed things in. What do you do in that situation--you can talk until you're blue in the face about not allowing the zero to exist, but what about when you're still not getting things?

As a teacher in an alternative high school, I see many students referred to us because they are completing nothing. We can't handle all the students who should be here. This year our mainstream high school is trying something new: Friday school. We have always had Saturday school once a month, but it wasn't working well. This year, if you have any missing assignments, you are taken to an assigned room at the end of the day on Friday and are given two hours and lots of 1-1 help to complete those assignments. Is it working? We'll know at the end of the quarter, Oct. 26, but so far the numbers for Saturday school are way down and Friday school attendance is starting to decline. The work, however, is getting done!

To adopt no zero policies and give students chance after chance for mastering assignments makes students feel that they do have the right to always obtain a high grade. Students think that life is going to be like in school, and when they have a job they find out that there is little spaces for mistakes and do it again. I think that we as teachers are not only teaching students how to master a certain subject but also how to master what they are going to need the rest of their lives. Students need to learn responsibility, and to study is their responsibility. My responsibility as a teacher is to ensure that they have the necessary tools for learning and this does not include willingness to learn. That is their responsibility, not mine.
When I give a second chance to my students I make sure they know that the grade will be the average of both chances and that all attempts count. I also apply the same principle when my daughter’s teacher does not give full credit for something that she did wrong the first time. She knows now that she needs to be more careful and responsible with her work.

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  • Rossana Jonson: To adopt no zero policies and give students chance after read more
  • Lisa: As a teacher in an alternative high school, I see read more
  • Tom: Anyone have an example of a no-zero policy that actually read more
  • Margo/Mom: Amen to TMAO. I have memorialized somewhere at home the read more
  • TMAO: High school may be one thing, but it is exactly read more

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