Comment on a column by Andrea Kay Concerning Work Ethics – Gannett News/USA Today
Kay’s article is an indictment of the work ethic of the young modern workforce while here I apply the same critique she used on the workers to our school students and explore the idea that if sloth in the workplace is caused by the attitude and desire of the workers might not sloth in the educational system be lain at the feet of the students rather than our teachers.
“It’s Just Not Convenient” Kay writes that those weren’t the exact words a young worker used when explaining to his client why he hadn’t completed a project that had a drop-dead deadline of yesterday. In his defense, the worker said this: “It wasn’t as easy as I thought it would be. I ran into some glitches along the way. Plus, I’ve got a lot going on. I’ve got a life, you know. Kay notes that modern workers ask ”what is my job” and go about figuring the best, fastest way to complete that task. Then they consider themselves done.” Kay Shares that for many young employees their job is “an empty space between weekends.”
I see parallels between what Kay writes about the modern worker and what many of us see too frequently in our students today.
I believed in “School To Work” Curriculum from some years ago, I thought it made sense and I believe that there is a distinct and traceable connection between skills of our workers and their school experience. Note I am not concerned with their knowledge but their experience. I feel that starting in the middle 60’s we have often been too kind, too accepting, too ready to praise our children for mediocrity, and we have given them too many trophies, plaques and certificates for just participating, and by doing so, constantly reinforced the concept of “just being there.” is good enough. Now the emphasis is on knowledge, as shown by testing, once again the experience is not part of the equation.
In many cases we have raised our children in an atmosphere lacking in, or totally missing, any meaningful discipline. Children today are rarely given any meaningful consequences and numerous second chances, all topped off with a generous verbal helping of ” that’s okay I’m sure you tried your hardest,” or “great job,” even when we knew in our hearts that our children had not tried their hardest or even been marginally successful.
When they get to school they find reinforcement for this early family acceptance of, “just average,” training in the form of positive reinforcement models, flexible deadlines, taking courses over again, after failure, with no penalty, passing from grade to grade having accomplished nothing and so on. All of this being observed and supported approvingly by helicopter parents, out of touch college professors who don’t seem have a clue about modern classrooms and proud government officials/politician who seem to be quite comfortable to be part of and promoting a SNAFU or FUBAR work ethic, to use a couple of grandpa’s old Marine phrases.
In our schools we too often receive undisciplined children from the home environment and rather than being allowed to correct that, or even attempting to correct it, Our curricula instead immerses them in the current model of constantly accepting and rewarding mediocrity leavened with the seemingly endless proffering of second chances while always maintaining a positive “it’s okay,” attitude. Then later, when our students go to a competitive college or enter the competitive work force for which we have not prepared them , we wring our hands and wonder why our students are unmotivated, uncaring, and lack sufficient knowledge drive and skills to succeed. The cause of this problem is simple, like a cat responding to the sound of a can opener, our educational system has conditioned them to seek and accept, even feel proud of mediocrity.
It is as clear and as shiny as my bald head and just as ugly and uncomfortable to observe there is no real consequence for mediocrity in our modern society or our schools. I am not advocating a negative posture and lock step discipline being placed on students at all times but I can see a proper place for it in our educational system. Nor do I have a problem with appropriate and targeted positive reinforcement in our schools even for what in general are simply average skills if it is done for a specific purpose. I do feel that at the present time our teachers are now imprisoned in an ineffectual system, not of their own making, that hampers the advancement of our students. Even worse for the teachers, as the most visible part of that system they are often stuck with taking the blame for its institutional inadequacies.
Parents, college professors and politicians have forced teachers into this unreasonable and unreal world of constant positive reinforcement and weak ineffectual discipline to the detriment of our children, our workforce and our society and this has to change if progress is to be made against the current educational trends.
Attitude towards work is learned first from our parents through observation and home requirements and then from our schools through mental discipline, honesty and instilling an understanding of the need for job completion on time and completely done. If neither the home nor the school teaches these things the results for our students are quite predictable and unfortunately becoming quite visible, at least to the employers and the teachers in the classroom.
There is not a teacher in the world who has not heard the very same words in one form or another, from numerous students, as the worker Kay quotes at the beginning or her article, , ”It wasn’t as easy as I thought it would be. I ran into some glitches along the way. Plus, I’ve got a lot going on. I’ve got a life, you know.” The problem with our educational institutions is not the teachers, but a lack of personal, home, and institutional discipline that is the true foundation of almost all eventual success.