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It has become accepted wisdom that public schools in the US are failing their students.

I confess to believing some of that conventional wisdom: I think we’re losing generation after generation of inner-city and rural kids with sub-par schools and technology. I also think that inner-city schools have become both a dumping ground for teachers who shouldn’t be teaching, and a road to exhaustion and defeat for teachers who arrive fired up and get ground under the wheels of budget shortfalls, bureaucracy, and bullsh*t.

But I digress.

The Washington Post Answer Sheet blog shared a post by Will Fitzhugh, editor of the Concord Review – the world’s only English-language quarterly review for history academic papers by high school students (smart kids + smart teachers = intellectual advancement for all!) – that puts the blame for poor student performance at the feet of … students. The title of the post: “Teachers Not Enough? Who Knew?”

And he’s 110% right there.

I’m now going to sound like the geezer I’m becoming, but just roll with me for a minute here. When I was in school, my job was to go to school, do my work, and learn. That was my job. The one that would set the stage for all the jobs coming after, the one without successful completion thereof I would be stamped with the storied “L on my forehead” and consigned to the career-and-success scrap heap. It was up to me to learn as much as I could, and use that knowledge to forge my way in the world.

Am I nuts, or does it seem as though students in K-12 now believe it’s the responsibility of the school to pry open their brains and pour in knowledge without much in the way of student effort? And that expectation is being driven by parents, and the community at large?

I watched the documentary Waiting for Superman recently, and found it compelling. However, something nagged at me as I watched it, and after, that only became clear when I read Fitzhugh’s Concord Review post: the film left the viewer with the impression that schools, parents, and the community were responsible for the entire education cycle. What was left out was the obligation for students to work to learn.

I’m not saying that a kid in a failing inner-city school who fails to learn is solely at fault for his/her lack of academic progress. As a society, we must make sure that each of our kids has the chance to learn as much, and go as far, as s/he possibly can in life. Charter schools can be a terrific answer for places where public schools are letting down the kids who try to learn there … but they’re not the only, or even the first, answer.

That first answer is: kids, school is your job. Act accordingly. Pay attention, do your work, do not expect to have learning pass through your ears and into your brain without any effort on your part. Life requires that you be present, pay attention, and act to further your own progress. You will not be borne through life on Cleopatra’s barge, much as your helicopter parents might have led you to believe that was your destiny.

Work. It’s what makes things happen. So go do some.

That’s my story, and I’m stickin’ to it …


Dear kids: school is your job. Act accordingly.
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