I submitted a letter to the editor of my local newspaper recently: “At the end of the most recent school year, my brother’s elementary school recently abolished all the possible awards and accolades—sports- or academic standing-related—a student could earn in favor of a more “equal” system that does not celebrate one student’s achievements over another’s. More and more schools are moving in this direction: They neglect to give percentage grades and nix report cards in an effort to prevent students from suffering from so-called “self esteem issues” and adopt parent-student-teacher interviews in lieu of hard-and-fast marks. It’s an artificial and overly banal methodology that encourages laziness, mediocrity, and over-dependence by students on teachers and parents, a claustrophobic support system that simply does not exist in the world after public education. Proponents argue that chasing students down to ensure that work gets done rather than doling out zeroes for missing assignments teaches self-esteem and boosts confidence, but it ultimately tells students only one thing: That independence and self-discipline are unnecessary, because there will always be someone there to hold their hands and guide them through every stage of life. This shift away from numerical quantification and incentives that raise some students above others may seem temporarily beneficial, but if we continue treating our students this way, we will end up coddling them until they suffocate.”
My dad, after reading my submission, noted that it was “pretty harsh.” He agreed with my opinions, but wasn’t sure the paper would run the piece since it so directly opposed all the stuff schools are shoving at their students these days. But in a world where kids are being taught about “interpretive math” and asked how to show what 2 + 2 is in five different ways, how could I *not* write something about it? How could anyone sit by and watch elementary schools mold their attendees into unmotivated blobs, unable to do simple things like write paragraphs and remember multiplication tables?
My parents—and the rest of my family—are immigrants, and they’ve always worked hard, worked tirelessly, and refused to make excuses. They grew up poor and hustled in every sense of the word to change their lives, and because of that they’ve tried to instill these values in me and my brother, too. They can’t believe what schools are teaching kids now—getting rid of effort scores on report cards, awards, and even report cards themselves. It’s ridiculous. I’m all for inquiry-based learning, but at a high level: high school, perhaps, in preparation for post-secondary thinking. But elementary school? I’m not so sure. Can a second-grader really take the primary leadership position of their own learning without losing focus? I’d be surprised if they could.
This is just my opinion—succinct, because of word count requirements for the newspaper, and firm: Schools should be teaching elementary school students the basics of thinking—which, yes, involves memorizing stuff and practicing things over and over and over again until it’s second nature. Then, and only then, can we really start introducing and embracing the whole concept of “inquiry-based learning”.