Sep 182012

This story that’s been everywhere (Edmonton teacher who gave 0s for unsubmitted work fired) is, first of all, a distressing commentary on the degradation of our society.  There is, apparently no bar too low that somebody in a position of authority can’t find a way to lower it further.  Great.  That’s how you reach the stars–by digging in the dirt.

As it relates to my favorite subject matter of innovation/productivity, the story is pure bad news.  Not today.  The mewing and puking softies that object to offending poor little Johnny or Sally’s delicate self-esteem can carry on pointing out that no harm is coming of it today.  The real offense to our society, our nation, ourselves will show up in a decade or two.  That’s when we will be even more systemically incapable of collectively fighting our way to something better or greater.

Canadians, as an advertisement or documentary I recently saw suggests, get on with things and figure out how to get through challenges and overcome adversity.  It’s a trait that has generated productivity gains and innovations and discovery for years and year and years.  But, of course, that presumes some measure of challenge and adversity has been present for children to learn how to overcome.

What has this situation shown?  It shows that, at least for this school board, children are not responsible for themselves.  There is no consequence to a self-indulging neglect of obligations.  The demands to get on with it and get through it apparently don’t count even to the extent of merely trying.  What would a child in this division need to do to feel the (very modest, let’s face it) pain of consequence for wantonly ignoring the demands of their work?  Apparently, showing up is enough.  No adversity here.  What’s to happen when these children get their first jobs and decide they don’t want to do the box stacking or french fry cooking they are obliged to do?  Shall they not get a zero (paycheck)?

How can we, here, spend our time prattling on about the dearth and problems of innovation and productivity, of lost ground in comparison to the Scandinavians, the Eastern Europeans, the Indians, and the Chinese when we are witness to a tiny brush fire–perhaps only a spark–that has the potential to annihilate even the possibility of catching up?  I’m making too much of this, of course, because the kids at hand are unlikely to be the ones that align to our (those present and reading this) understanding of the world or to be the ones that our economy depends on.  (Although they could be the ones dependent on our economy…)  The point is not about these kids, but about what they represent for the culture in the future.  The point is not even about the kids but about support for what this teacher was railing against.

Today it is one teacher in Edmonton.  Now others will not take a stand.  In a generation it will be the way things are done and fewer teachers yet will care.  After all, why bother collecting the assignments from the marginal kids; why bother asking them to even do the work?  When teachers don’t care, students don’t learn.  When student’s don’t learn, the quality of our most basic resource for escaping the hewing of wood and drawing of water diminishes.  The national capacity to grow and do better declines.  We become a dependency.

A zero is nothing, which makes it all for nothing…

 Posted by on 18 Sep 2012

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