Updated: Jan 9, 2020
Related News Story: Lightening the Load: Falmouth cuts homework for youngest students
Personal Disclaimer: This is one of the most difficult stories I've had to write, because it's about my mom, and that's tough. Donna Robinson earned her teaching degree in 1993. I was six years old when that happened. She brought me to many of her classes over her college career. I'm sure being a single mom wasn't easy, but if I might say so myself, she did an amazing job.
Mrs. Robinson was always known at my school as a tough teacher. Teaching Language Arts to 7th and 8th graders comes with more than a couple problems. Of course, the task of getting young students to write an essay every week was not simple, but her results in the classroom spoke for themselves.
You might think that most parents around the country are concerned with their kids getting the absolute best education possible, but I'd argue that that isn't actually true. Most parents around the country are concerned with their kids getting good grades, and there's a big difference.
In 2018, Mrs. Robinson started a new job at Meridian Elementary, a small school in a hyper-impoverished Illinois school district. Upon starting her fifth-grade position, she inherited a group of students that were testing as low as the first-grade reading level. The teachers in the lower grade levels had done her no favors. When she asked what they did in previous grades, the most popular answer from the students was "we just played games."
The lower grade teachers encountered a pretty normal problem with kids: they don't like working, they don't like focusing, they hate sitting still, and most of them lack any authority figures at home or in school to make them accountable for doing any of the above. Teachers at Meridian, and no doubt more teachers around the country, have resulted to just letting their students play games to simply make it through the day. Playing games might be a way to pass the time, but as test scores show, it might not be the best way to prepare your children for the future.
Let's take a look at some of Meridian's test scores, so we can really appreciate the gravity of the situation.
As you can see, what Mrs. Robinson inherited was no simple task. Even if the students had been performing at the State of Illinois' performance levels, they still would have only had 38% "Meeting" or "Exceeding" state testing goals. Unfortunately, the school overall is underperforming, even by the State of Illinois‘ standards. In Mrs. R’s grade specifically, only 28% were at the "Meet" mark, with 0% "Exceeding."
So if you're encountered with a group of children that habe never been held responsible in the classroom, what are you to do? Mrs. Robinson chose a new approach apparently never before used in a classroom at Meridian Elementary: Homework.
Of course if you're going to assign students with homework, and hold them accountable for their actions, you're going to get some push back. You might assume that this push back would come from the students, and that might be understandable. After all, they are children. They are undeveloped minds that are being taught how to exist as an adult someday in the real world. In a way, it's not even their fault. It's the school administrations fault. It's the other teachers fault. Most of all, it's their parents fault.
That's right, Mrs. Robinson's fiercest competition was not the 10 year olds she was teaching, it was their parents.
Over the course of a year and a half at Meridian Elementary, Mrs. Robinson received numerous threats from her students parents. It's hard to count the amount of calls she received from parents, where the moral of the story was always that "their precious child was being mistreated." Of course, they were upset that their child was doing poorly in her class, even though they "had straight A's last year." Seems as though children are much better at playing games and being held accountable for nothing than they are at being asked to exercise a little bit of responsibility.
The straw that broke the camel's back happened at a parent teacher conference this past October. To preface: Mrs. Robinson has numerous physical health issues affecting her back. With Degenerative Disc Disease, in conjunction with Rheumatoid and Osteoarthritis, Mrs. R. was using a cane to make it around the school. Those physical ailments were further complicated after going down to the ground in attempt to break up a fight between two students just a couple weeks earlier.
After an argument with an angry mother over her child's failing grades, one of the mothers saw fit to threaten to "take Mrs. Robinson's cane and beat her with it." This was no secret to the other parents, or the administration of the school. Several others even recalled the parent gloating about the threat at a sporting event held at the school right afterwards.
After 25 years of teaching young people, Mrs. Robinson decided "enough was enough." She left the school immediately following the threat, and did not return. She figured that the school administration would take it's usual stance of - doing absolutely nothing. Which had been their stance after previous threats. Even after her room had been vandalized, a situation in which the student was clearly seen entering and leaving her classroom after hours, the administration took no action against the student. Maybe they were just as scared of the student's parents, who knows?
It's hard to believe that we've made it to the point that threatening to take a teacher's cane and beat her with it is somehow acceptable behavior. And for what? Because she gave your kid homework. Because she asked your kid to be responsible for something. Because she asked you to be responsible for helping your child gain a worthwhile education.
Now that Mrs. R. has left Meridian, I'm sure her students will go back to making "straight A's." But does that really mean they are better off? Are we in a world where parents truly do not care that there's a difference between getting an A, and earning an A?
What's happening to Public Education?
If you follow this website regularly, you know that we are no fans of government-ran anything. This situation should be a perfect example of why. There is a movement sweeping the nation that's been going on for quite some time. That movement involves coddling young people. Give them what they want, so they will be happy, and shut up. Make no mistake, that movement started at home, and has continued into the schools. Maybe the problem is that today's kids are being raised by yesterday's kids. Maybe they are being raised by a generation that was clearly taught that to get what you want, you simply need to scream loud enough.
Today's kids are the ones whose parents were given "participation trophies." They grew up playing games where no one was keeping score. They received a toy every time they threw a fit at Walmart. Of course, that doesn't go for everyone, but it still holds true for the majority.
We are living with a public education system whose goal is to give everyone a diploma, even if that diploma simply means they cried just loud enough to receive it.