Helicopter-ed kids in the classroom

At 50, after a successful career selling magazine advertising, Rod Baird became a high school English teacher at an affluent high school near New York City. Counterfeit Kids criticizes education fads — Baird thinks the “sage on the stage” makes a lot of sense — but the book’s real target is overprotective, esteem-boosting, college-obsessed parents.

Baird’s privileged students don’t like to read books, think or learn. Victims of the “cult of college,” they’ve been pushed by their parents to earn good grades and get into a “good” college. Nothing else matters.

In his first year, he taught non-honors English to 11th graders — B and C students — who’d figured out they’d already lost the college race.

“A palpable contempt had set in, they way they slouched in their seats, the way they openly cheated. . . . they no longer cared.”

Thanks to their parents, they had way too much self-esteem to blame themselves for their lack of success, Baird writes. Instead, they assumed the system was unfair.

Teachers are too student-centered, Baird writes.

We are trying so hard to teach that we are accepting their responsibilities. With all of our elaborate rubrics and review sheets and methodologies and layers upon layers of special education services and ever-changing pedagogies and assessments, we are smothering them, preventing them from learning the basics, from how to think for themselves, to self-discipline, to English grammar, stunting their growth . . .

Students who’ve been told they learn by doing believe they have no obligation to listen or read, Baird writes. Group work — “collaborative learning” — teaches them to follow the group leader, who does most of the work. “We love group work,” a student tells him. “Usually you don’t have to do anything until the teacher comes around with her clipboard and rubric. Then we pretend we are doing what she asked us.”

His students are good at following specific directions — if there’s a grade to earn. Asked to think for themselves, they flounder.

Baird shares his techniques for jolting students out of their complacency and getting them to think.

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Comments

  1. The book sounds very interesting, I’ll check it out.

  2. Richard Aubrey says:

    Well, there’s sports. When my son was a HS Jr on the football team, he missed a pass. I told him later that there should have been at least two interfernce calls. “looked like you were wading in molasses.”
    His response was, “I’m a receiver. I’m supposed to catch the ball.”
    Thought that was pretty neat.
    In non-athletic extra currics, your student colleagues don’t cut you the slack that teachers and parents do. Might be useful, if you can get the sad sacks into them.

  3. I don’t deny that some parents are part of the problem, thinking that their special little snowflakes deserve good grades for sloppy, incorrect and incoherent work. However, there are plenty of others who wish the teachers/schools would return to traditional practices and expectations (proper behavior and effort). My kids graduated from HS before the self-esteem craze really took hold, but I applied more red pencil to their work than did any of their ES-MS teachers, particularly in the area of grammar and composition (all subjects). As RA said, extracurricular teachers/coaches demand effort and mastery; academic teachers do not. Unfortunately.

  4. Richard Aubrey says:

    momof4
    The teammates or club members don’t give other kids slack. You want your piece the school paper get the work in or go away.

  5. I’ve ordered the book, and hope to have more to say when it comes.

    This caught my attention, though:

    “In his first year, he taught non-honors English to 11th graders — B and C students — who’d figured out they’d already lost out in the college race.
    Thanks to their parents, they had way too much self-esteem to blame themselves for their lack of success, Baird writes. Instead, they assumed the system was unfair.”

    Guess what? They’re right. If they’re in non-honors English in 11th grade, they’re never going to catch up in the college admissions sweepstakes. They are smart enough to know that the system is unfair.

    Catherine Johnson at Kitchen Table Math has mentioned Paul Attewell’s work on the “winner-takes all” system of affluent high schools.

    “To polish their school profiles, many “star” high schools have evolved systems of grooming only the top tier of their students for the most selective colleges, which handicaps all other students in the hot contest for college, author Paul Attewell contends.” http://www.edweek.org/ew/articles/2001/11/07/10elite.h21.html?r=1373062636

    Rather than blame the parents, how about doing away with group work (within the school’s control), and allowing students to opt into the honors track (within the school’s control)?

    • “Guess what? They’re right. If they’re in non-honors English in 11th grade, they’re never going to catch up in the college admissions sweepstakes. They are smart enough to know that the system is unfair.”

      Except that going to a reasonable state school (e.g. UC Davis [USNWR #38] or Michigan State [USNWR #72]) doesn’t mean that your life is over. You can go to a non-Ivy, WORK HARD, DO WELL and still have a very reasonable life. You might even go to a good grad school after going to a state school for undergrad.

      As and Bs the rest of the way plus decent SAT/ACT scores and you can still do quite well.

      If the motto is HYP or nothing, then, well, yeah, they have already lost. But maybe they need to reconsider the rest of their life rather than just giving up.

      • I don’t know where Rod Baird teaches (or taught). It is, however, an insult to the parents in that district to cast it as an obsession with HYP.

        Placement in honors or not-honors influences class rank. Class rank matters in college admissions. See the latest scandal involving George Washington University. GPA and class rank matter for merit scholarships, which many middle-class kids depend upon in order to attend college.

        Bored kids will disengage. There is a tendency to ration academic challenge to the very top group (however defined), and set the bar distinctly lower for the next group.

        I am a fan of academic challenge. I am a fan of truth in grading. I am a fan of not shielding students from academic stress.

        On the other hand, I am not a fan of group work. I am not a fan of restricting access to challenging work. I am not a fan of creating a small group of superstars.

  6. While I am not supporting the “winner take all HS mentality”, I do not agree with open access to honors/AP classes AS PRACTICED. AS PRACTICED, “honors” may be the only choice other than remedial (however labelled), so that many kids may not have sufficient preparation/motivation for real honors work and anyone may enter AP classes. If AP is to mean what it originally meant (college-level work for those who have mastered HS content in the course), then honors prereqs make sense, particularly in math and the sciences. I have no problem with allowing some kids to “try out” honors/AP classes, as long as they are not displacing kids with stronger backgrounds, with the understanding that (1) the class will not be slowed for them, (2) the required work will not be changed for them, (3) they may fail or be requested to withdraw and (4) they should not place unreasonable demands on the teacher for individual help. Unfortunately, current practice seems to vary between highly-restricted access (even in schools where most kids can do the work and should be at that level) and placing so many unprepared/unmotivated kids into honors/AP classes that the classes really are not at that level, so the prepared kids are being cheated. That I do not support. Amen to the removal of group work. While I was in college, my first history course was composed of about 20 master’s candidates in history, one French teacher (it was French history) and myself – so I do know that some kids will rise to the challenge. However, it’s much easier to do so in history or English than it is in physics.

  7. I’ve started the book. His comments make more sense in context, although I feel he overstates the extent of the anomie he detects in teenagers. It may be peculiar to the students in the suburbs immediately around New York City. The parent behavior is inexcusable.

    His writing is most effective when speaking of the differences he observes in current high school students. Not all high school students are disengaged, rude and materialistic, though. Perhaps I haven’t reached the positive chapters yet!

    On the positive side, his administration and his fellow teachers appear to be good, caring people.

    • The book is amazing commentary of society’s message to kids. Education has become all about the quantitative even in kindergarten. We are not teaching our kids to think. I would love to see kids held to the expectations they’re held to on the sports fields…we teachers want it but our hands are tied.