March 19, 2014

Failing our kids

Boom is nearing the end of her sophomore year in college.  She had, what I would consider to be, normal (but infuriating) adjustment struggles her freshman year.  She took a more rigorous path in high school, and she has done the same in college, and while there were some tense times last year as she made bad decisions, she is doing better now, a product of, I hope, learning from the choices she made and suffering the consequences.

More and more, I am hearing about Boom's peer group, and how they are failing at college.  I would expect a certain percentage of kids wash out for a variety of reasons.  There have been a percentage of party kids, a few sad tales of drug busts and jail time, a few teen pregnancies.  But some of the brightest, most driven high school kids are the ones that are dropping (or getting kicked) out of college.  One kid in particular, who was an absolute brain of a child, winning science and math contests, valedictorian material, I recently learned, has flunked out of two universities in as many years and is now living with his parents and working at a movie theater.  WTH?  
Other kids lasted one semester away from home and then moved back, with some going to local or community colleges, with no real aspirations.  Kids who were raised in upper/middle class homes, by educated parents, in an exemplary school district, are now proudly posting pictures of their Wal-Mart name tags, excited for their new 'career'.  I am not knocking any kid willing to go out and get a job, but these are kids that know there isn't much future career growth in retail cashier jobs, and they had/have every opportunity to do more with their lives.
Who is failing?  The kids?  The parents?  The schools?  I have a couple of theories, and probably, it is a combination of factors.  But, I think there is a big chunk of blame to be placed on a community (being the parents and schools) that doesn't let kids fail and learn the lessons that come with suffering the consequences.
Most anyone who stops by here frequently is of the same mind as I when it comes to 'participation' trophies and no-cut sports.  We don't let kids rejoice in their own accomplishments, or suffer through their disappointments when we treat every kid, every action, every outcome, the same, whether they are triumphant or miserable failures.  They never develop a drive to succeed.  They never develop resolve to improve or adapt.
The local high school has a program they call 'ZAP', it stands for 'Zeroes Aren't Permitted'.  If a kid forgets an assignment, he has until the beginning of the next class period to turn it in.  If he doesn't have it then, he is basically detained at the school (using study hall and/or detention) until he completes the assignment for a reduced amount of credit - but never a zero.  On top of this, the school uses frequent email, an online grade book, and an environment of constant reminders, to ensure that kids do their work.  They administer benchmark testing, and then require kids who do poorly to go to tutoring before the actual state tests.

This makes it all look very good on paper.  High test scores.  High GPAs.  High college matriculation.  But when these kids get to college and the helicopter parent is at home, the professors don't harangue them to do their work, and the tests are one and done - is it any wonder so many are failing?

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