You’ve given me some serious food for thought here. We are all products of our environment and experience. For the last decade or so, I’ve been working in private schools for the wealthy. For my high school students, it’s not merely that compulsory classes are unwelcome, they are unecessary. They are all well-enough-educated by Junior year to technically begin college classes and privileged enough that their futures are secured — whatever hardship might befall them in the future seems unrelated to what they learn in school, especially the later years of high school. Short of failure, which almost always simply demands a quick on-line or summer course, all of my students can get into a college, just not always the elite credentialling institution their parents demand. Moreover, the motivating forces of grades (themselves simply an entry ticket to college) act against any of the less tangible yet more meaningful value of the material I teach them. The schools I teach in would be unrecognizably different if our students weren’t compelled to come, if we were required to provide an education whose ultimate authority lay in their hands.

I can’t help but feel the dilemma is even more acute in schools where the material is absolutely necessary to escape an environment. How do you ‘force’ an unwelcome education on a group of young people who absolutely need it yet are incapable of recognizing that truth? How do you grapple with the power of a grade when the grade itself — regardless of that student’s ability or circumstance — is the barrier to exit? How do you motivate when the chief source of motivation in a compulsory system is the grade?

just another frustrated teacher

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