Stop teaching my kid

Irascible Professor prints a guest commentary by a high school English teacher who complains that her students’ parents keep pushing her to lower expectations and demands.

It’s not just the existence of homework that raises the ire of these parents; it’s anything that provides an academic challenge to their children.  It’s as if the self-esteem movement has found full realization in the generation that is now parenting.  All these parents want is that which is safe and comfortable for their children.  This includes a curriculum where there are no real expectations of the students.

. . . What disturbs me most is that the real issue, student learning, is completely ignored.  Is the student acquiring the skills needed in college?  (Yes, most of these parents intend for their children to go to college, even while they do all they can to reduce the academic preparation being provided.)  The problem that needs to be addressed is the student’s choice not to study.

Is it really that bad out there? My daughter and her classmates took very rigorous courses in high school to impress college admissions officials, if nothing else. They worked very hard. No Palo Alto parent would request transfer to a remedial English class. But the high-aspiring, pushy parents may have created that atmosphere, pulling along the esteem-happy parents who’d otherwise prefer a low-pressure environment.

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  1. Rita C. says:

    No, they won’t ask for remedial classes. MOST parents want their children to perform better, but now and then (this week), I get a parent who is furious that I haven’t passed their child because the child hasn’t done any work. Then I get to listen to threats about the school board, my job, etc.

  2. Don’t high schools have weighted grade points based on the difficulty of the courses taken? I would just warn the student and parents but let him/her transfer to the remedial class. I wouldn’t want these kids slowing everyone else down in my class. I have been told by parents that some colleges use the unweighted grade point for preliminary selection purposes. They suggested that it is perhaps better to get good grades in easier courses. (not necessarily remedial courses) Gamesmanship?!? When I was in school nobody prepared for the SAT and only a few worried about their class ranking. We did care about our grades, but we had little to no choice in which courses to take. It would appear that many of today’s parents care more about the game than the content of the courses.

    When I taught college math and computer science, I had a mix of not-very-motivated regular students and a number of highly-motivated older (evening class) students. The exam and homework grades had two peaks – the higher one for the older students. I could have flunked a lot of kids, but that wasn’t reasonable. You can, however, develop a “reputation” so that the students know what they are getting into beforehand.

  3. This reminds me of an incident that happened my junior year in high school. My friend John was called into the principal’s office because he had a portion of the paper that was the exact same as another student’s. Both the mothers were called in. The situation was explained and the principal asked which student had copied off the other. John said he had pulled the plagiarized passage off the Internet. The principal turned to the other student and asked him if he had copied off of my friend. Immediately, this boy’s mother burst out with, “Of course he didn’t cheat off of John! I wrote that paper for him!”

    So not only had this mother written the paper for her son, she had copied and pasted part of the paper from the Internet . . .

  4. This is why I quit teaching high school.

  5. And this is why I’m not going to start. Rita C., I salute you! Really.

  6. Resident Alien says:

    My high schoolers refer to going out of Palo Alto as leaving the Bubble. I suspect there are at most 150 communities nationwide to which PA might be compared in terms of academic attitude.

  7. “Is it really that bad out there?”
    The short answer is YES!!!!!!!

  8. Walter Wallis says:

    JJ – you and I still contemplate that eternal question – did Palo Alto do it for our kids, or did our kids do it for Palo Alto?

  9. Unless I am completely misinformed about the place, Palo Alto would be atypical in its attitudes. My guess is that it is at least two standard deviations out from the average, and maybe more.

  10. A friend praised her daughter in these terms: “Oh, she’s a very good student. She finishes all her homework at school.”

    She saw my doubtful look, and continued, “This gives her more time for other things.”

    I suspect this kid is not in the right academic track, but her mother doesn’t mind. For myself, I don’t care if you are a certified genius. If you don’t bring any homework home, you are not working up to your potential.

  11. Resident Alien says:


    You and your kids and your kids peers did it for Palo Alto.

  12. I’ve encountered numerous situations like Rita’s. Now, I get to listen to the parent complaints as to why their darling didn’t make the school softball team (I’m the coach). YEESH.

  13. I taught History & Latin at a private school for academically talented students. Given that the parents were paying for a strict, college-prep curriculum, most supported our homework and academic requirements. I did however, have at least a handful (out of total HS enrollment of about 40 students) of parents whose primary concerns involved grades or extracurricular activities. I had one parent with three children who wrote ALL of her kids’ papers, and plagerized them too – it took me two years to get the middle boy to confess that the work wasn’t his own.

    This problem is one of the reasons why I never even considered teaching in public schools.

  14. JuliaK, homework should be given to reinforce the class lesson, not to be “busy” work for the kids. So not doing homework is not necessaryily “…not working up to your potential.” It means that you have grasped the amterial.

  15. Laura (southernxyl) says:

    Brad, I think Julia’s point was that if you can grasp the material without doing homework, you need harder material.

    I floated through high school like that, and had to learn to study in college. Not fun.

  16. What Laura said. I should have specified, this kid is in high school. At that level, the student should be able to read ahead and review lessons at home. Foreign languages need work on vocabulary and grammar, social studies/history and English should require reading at home. Science classes require preparation at home as well. Many subjects should have longer term projects which require regular work.

    The high school does offer various academic tracks. I don’t have a child in high school, so I’m not up-to-date on the current thinking about what colleges look for in an applicant. It may be that the extracurricular activities leave little time for homework.

  17. I teach 8th grade math and Algebra. It truly is this bad out there. I have students who have difficulty remembering what a rectangle is, but who refuse to engage in extra practice (ie homework). There is not enough time in class to do all the practice that is necessary, yet only the students who already know how to do the work are the ones practicing. The others refuse to do so, then wonder why they don’t understand the discussion the next day in class. Parents are continually complaining that there is “too much homework”. Considering the fact that I get precious little of it back, I wonder where it all goes? We keep dummying down the curriculum to meet the self-esteem needs of the lowest students, then wonder why colleges and the work force are so critical of our products.

  18. My experience with college preparedness was that I breezed through high school. I didn’t push for the AP classes (taking only one), avoided any math that wasn’t required, and otherwise did the minimum amount of work needed to maintain a good GPA. In college, I wasn’t prepared for good study habits, time management, and all the other skills needed to be a good student. But I learned.

    Did my high school fail me? No, it tried to do its job. Did I fail my self? No, I managed to stop myself from failing. High school, like it or not, is only the first of many opportunities to weed out the lazy among us. But don’t think scaring the high schoolers will always work: college can be hard to fail, too.


  1. “Stop teaching my kid?” Stop whining!

    The Irascible Professor has a recent guest commentary by a teacher, which was picked up by Joanne Jacobs and Number 2 Pencil, so we figured we’d chime in. The turgid piece, “Stop Teaching My Kid” has to be the worst abuse of superlatives and absolutes …