BRYCE ON EDUCATION
– The need for common sense.
READER: “Tim, how do we change the trends and thinking among teens in school?” (W.A.R. of Tampa Bay, FL)
This story began with a dialog I have been having with a local Middle School teacher about the addictive nature of technology and blossomed into a discussion related to the problems disciplining students and changing teen behavior in school. His problems are certainly not unique, at least among Florida schools, e.g., students do not respect authority and possess low self-esteem, there is flagrant excessive use of technology, and there is a need for creating a culture of learning in schools. Come to think of it, this is not limited to Florida as I know other out of state school systems with the same problems. All of this distresses teachers who feel frustrated by current policies in public schools, and apathetic school boards.
To this end, I offer three rather obvious suggestions:
1. Instill and enforce discipline. School uniforms and behavior codes go a long way to solving this problem. A simple school uniform eliminates the need to make a fashion statement and puts everyone on the same level. In other words, take personal appearance out of the equation and let student academic records speak for themselves. This is no different than in the workplace which often has dress and conduct codes. Consequently, employee performance is based solely on output and quality. Having such codes in place are nice, but there is one catch; “it is one thing to enact legislation, quite another to enforce it” (Bryce’s Law). Unless the school administrators or teachers are willing to enforce such codes, they are worthless.
A few years ago, I wrote about Caroline Haynes, a principal at the Tendring Technology College in Clacton-on-Sea, Essex, UK, a secondary school. She adopted a zero tolerance policy on dress and conduct which led to the suspension of several unruly students. With these people gone, the other students had fewer distractions and could concentrate on their studies. Consequently, student grades flourished dramatically. It also affected social interaction as there was more courtesy between teachers and students, which elevated respect.
To take this further, about five years ago, I was involved with a business program at a local high school. As an experiment, we appointed a “Professional Attire Day,” meaning the students in the business program were asked to dress up. Instead of t-shirts, shorts and gym shoes, they were asked to wear suit and ties for the men, and dresses for the ladies. Afterwards, we implemented a questionnaire for the students to complete in order to evaluate their experience. In general, the day was well received by the students who perceived it as a positive experience. They felt both mentally and physically sharp in their appearance, and appreciated compliments from the teachers who praised them. They also felt “Confident” and “Positive” as a result of dressing up, thereby heightening their self esteem. They also welcomed the idea of a more professional dress code, meaning the students saw the value of dressing properly and yearned for a better dress code.
My teacher friend pointed out schools tend to cater to complaining parents and go soft on the rules. Instead of getting the students to fall in line accordingly, the school must bend to the whims of the deadbeats. This means the minority of misfits are allowed to impact the school culture in a negative way, just the antithesis of Ms. Haynes at the Tendring Technology College.
2. Change the focus in schools away from testing, to learning. As mentioned, a structured school encourages a learning environment. The problem though in Florida, and I suspect elsewhere, is that the focus is on testing only. As a result, students become conditioned to pass tests, but not to think for themselves. The ultimate goal of education is to “learn to learn”; that the individual is encouraged to research and explore the world around them well after their schooling is over, and not just become another robot.
Unfortunately, lecturing, debating, and public speaking have all taken a backseat to testing. Without such vehicles, students do not learn how to properly address and challenge ideas in their walk through life, which handicaps them greatly.
Within the schools, teachers have emerged possessing a “Bachelor’s of Education” degree or higher. This means they are proficient in education but not necessarily equipped to teach a specific course in Algebra, Geometry, Computers, Government, History, etc. As to the latter, I have seen schools who have “Education” teachers charged with running history classes. In it, they play a video of some passage in history and ask students to take a short test on it afterwards. Not surprising, there is no give and take between the teacher and the students. It would make more sense to have the class led by someone with a degree in history, who can lecture, explain why things occurred the way they did, and answer questions from the students. Unfortunately, this approach is fading into the past and we are left with nothing more than memorizing dates.
3. Lockup the cell phones. I have discussed the adverse effects of technology many times over the years. Yes, technology raises dopamine in the brain, the neurotransmitter associated with rewards, and works the same way as cocaine does. For more information on this, read “Glow Kids: How Screen Addiction Is Hijacking Our Kids-and How to Break the Trance Hardcover,” by Dr. Nicholas Kardaras (St. Martin’s Press).
Aside from possibly a handicapped person, there is no need for students to have telephones in the classroom. Some teachers insist on collecting phones prior to a class, others do not. There should be a standard policy instead.
There is a problem though, we now live in an age where “helicopter parents” want to talk to their offspring immediately after a class, particularly if it involves a critical test. If the student reports the test was too tough or was unsure of his/her performance, the parents call to complain to the teacher ASAP, thereby putting the onus of failure on the teacher and not the student.
What I have highlighted here is certainly not new. It is nothing more than common sense, which appears to be rather uncommon these days. Ultimately, it represents the fundamental differences between Public Schools and Charter Schools; whereas one caters to the whims of the students and parents, the other requires the students and parents to comply to school regulations.
All of this ultimately is based on our values (what we regard as right and wrong), perspectives and priorities. Something that has never changed over the years, regardless of the technology and political correctness of the day are three things:
* Teachers are responsible for teaching.
* Students are responsible for learning.
* School boards and school administrators are responsible for creating a culture conducive for both.
If everybody tends to their responsibilities, there should be no problem, right?
However, we must remember it is most definitely not the responsibility of teachers and school administrators to parent the students. They only want to impart the knowledge the students will need to shape their future and encourage them to excel. However, if the school system is lax in terms of providing the proper working environment, they are guilty of negligence and should be reprimanded or removed. Likewise, if the student is not there to learn and only be disruptive, they too should be reprimanded accordingly or removed.
It’s simple, right?
Keep the Faith!
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Tim Bryce is an author, freelance writer and the Managing Director of M&JB Investment Company (M&JB) of Palm Harbor, Florida and has over 40 years of experience in the management consulting field. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
For Tim’s columns, see: timbryce.com
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