Update: Not unexpectedly, Lynden Dorval landed solidly on his feet. He has been offered, and accepted, a teaching job at Temp0 School, a private academically-oriented K-12 school in Edmonton. (H/T # 1 JNW.)
I wish him well of course and hope that public school administrators across this country have learned something from this issue. I hope, for example, that it is the beginning of putting an end to the “no” policies affecting our schools — no zeros, no discipline, and no-failure. Such policies may appear positive but they are only temporarily solutions, but because they do not prepare our youth for the real world of employment where mediocre or worse is simply not acceptable.
Original post starts here: First of all, let me send my personal best wishes to high school teacher Lynden Dorval for taking such a principled stand on the Edmonton “no-zero” policy. Like most, if not all, teachers and parents, I am extremely proud of him for standing up for us all. Here is an excellent link with an interview between him and SunMedia’s Caryn Lieberman. In his own words, as it were.
Frankly, the no-zero policy is directly related to social promotion and no-fail policies and is wrong-headed in so many ways. Life is hard work. Life is full of opposites. The opposite of lazy is to be energetic. The opposite of failure is success and the opposite of sadness is happiness. So, if public school students are shielded against criticism when they are not being energetic or successful, what do they learn?
However, that said, an “allowing zero” policy would be complex. Not every child should be treated alike. For example, one young person receiving a zero might learn that life is hard and they should not expect to have entitlements handed to them on a platter — that they have to work for their grades. The official name for that process is intrinsic motivation. We do things because we know they are right or because we want to do them. Either way, we are the pilot of our own ship.
However, another child might be devastated, defeated, with a zero for no work done. Think not? Think I am being a bleeding heart? Then, you have not stood in front of kids who come to school badly dressed, cold, hungry or tired because their parents were up all night partying or fighting. And, I am not picking on any socio-economic group here. Bad things happen to kids in all types of homes. Neglect, more often than not, in rich homes. The reality is that some kids have hard home lives and don’t always get their homework done. Some kids work after school. Last, but not least, some have learning disabilities and need extra help.
Still others — yes — are just slackers and have very wide chips on their shoulders. But, I would be interested to hear from a practising teacher as to whether or not they are the majority.
So, in my opinion, acknowledging individual differences is what makes our school systems different today from a hundred years ago. And, no, things were not better then. Dorval would have taken all these things into consideration, of that I have little doubt.
Anyway, there are thousands of teachers like Dorval — teachers who take the time to find out who the troubled kids and slackers are, — the ones who need the life lessons. Meaning, Dorval is far from alone on this issue. In fact, I have heard from classroom teachers on my anonymous Contact Form. Ultimately, when push comes to shove, I always recommend their backing off and simply doing what they can — such as simply giving 5% or 10% for class participation. The effect can sometimes be “nearly the same” as zeros.
Which brings me to the main point of this post. Teachers need to stand tall without taking a stand that will get them fired. Why? Because as Dorval found out, teachers do not and cannot single-handedly reform the system. Like nurses and their relationship to the Health Care System, teachers can do nothing major to change the Education System. They simply do what they are told to do, when to do it and how to do it. I think the expression is: How high sir? What they can do is find wiggle room to evade or minimize the effects of bad policies.
In other words, pressure for substantive change has to come from the general public with that pressure applied to the politicians. Policies, major policies at least, always come from the top!