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Are Today's Students Too Lazy for Schools to Improve?

Writing in the Deseret News, Theresa Talbot, a Utah teacher in her 25th year, says that the real problem with education today is that students are, well, lazy and recalcitrant. Among the examples she cites:

It is the students in my math classes who, when I showed them how to work a multiple step problem, called out, "I'm not doing that; it's too much work." It is the students who "complete" and turn in every assignment and still score less than 30 percent on the test covering that material because they are not the ones who actually did the work they turned in.

Talbot goes on to argue that the hot school-improvement initiatives of the moment—improving teacher evaluation, upgrading technology, implementing the common standards—are essentially barking up the wrong trees and will ultimately have little impact:

The problems of public education are a societal problem—a society that no longer values individual work ethic and a society that wants to place the responsibility for education on what is taught, how it is taught and by whom it is taught, instead of on the students who are responsible for learning.

Well, she's probably not going to win any awards for instilling a positive back-to-school attitude—but seriously, what do you think? Are today's students too lazy or spoiled? Are they—and, by extension, family and societal influences—primarily responsible for schools' failings? Is there another side to the story? For example, do schools and educators bear part of the blame for failing to reach and support disengaged students?

And a more philosophical question for good measure: Is Talbot's viewpoint even workable for practicing teacher? I mean, if that's your perspective, do you stand a chance in the classroom?

In this connection, I'm reminded of something Edward Fergus, a school-equity expert at New York University-Steinhardt, once told me in an interview for a story. If students lack readiness for doing academic work, he said, "it's our job to to make sure we get them there." Does that apply here?

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