Failure and Loss: Being Left Behind in the Public School System

Did you know that a student can only ever repeat a grade one time? Did you know that children cannot be tested for learning disabilities until they have failing grades already? Did you know those failing grades only matter to the poor child who gets them (and their parents and teachers), because we can only hold them back one time anyway? This is what we call not leaving children behind? Forcing them to sacrifice all self-confidence about schooling before we are willing to help them? Forcing teachers to stop intervening for a time so that a committee of other teachers can assign interventions when the child’s grades get low enough – often the same interventions the teacher was using in the first place? We wonder why people don’t want to be teachers? No money for salaries or copy paper, no respect from the government who tells them what to do with students who no politician has ever laid eyes on, paperwork from here to eternity, and the kids are STILL left behind. Or promoted to the next grade regardless of their readiness for it. Not the ones who do well in school anyway, of course, just the ones who need help! But don’t think I’m blaming the school or the teachers. Their hands are tied. We are trying to circumvent the system with our daughter who is still struggling with reading and test-taking after repeating first grade. She finally feels good about herself and school and now I have to let her fail in order to get her tested. Hell no. Sorry. I’ll pay for testing elsewhere; I’ll forgo my own plans so I’m free to help her; I’ll do what needs to be done. She does need to read well, but she doesn’t need an F on a report card before I’ll pay attention. And shame on the system for telling anyone that failure is required before help can even be sought. I am glad for all of you who have no idea what I’m talking about because your kids have no problems at school. I have one of those kids too. It’s nice. But there are a lot of those other kids (and parents) out there too. The public school system is a labyrinth of rules and regulations that attempt to force every child to fit a certain profile and excel in exactly the same way. So we don’t fall behind other countries. Meanwhile, kids still care more about grades than the actual learning process, and we continue to lament the falling standards, re-centered test averages, competitive disadvantages, and general “dumbing down” of America. Doctors generally prefer not to try to resuscitate the dead – they would rather treat people in the early stages of illness. Why are educational problems so different?


4 thoughts on “Failure and Loss: Being Left Behind in the Public School System

  1. This is an interesting perspective. Unfortunately, there seems to be some confusion in schools over the construction of a student’s self-esteem. Self-esteem and pride in one’s self come through success and failure…that never-ending cycle. Children feel good about themselves when they can accomplish something. What do you think?

    • lydiatisdale says:

      I absolutely agree that the ability to accomplish something is a necessary component of self-esteem. It is perfectly normal to fail at things, especially new things. I also think that, at times, self-esteem gets over-emphasized. But in the post, I’m talking about the confidence to try to do something you’ve failed at before, not a general sense of self-satisfaction. Forcing a child to fail, not occasionally, but systematically, before offering them help strikes me as something that can deeply damage his or her ability to try again. I’m speaking from personal experience as a parent here, too. I don’t see this system as a cycle of success and failure. I see it as a death spiral of defeat for kids who don’t fit the mold. I’m not talking about everyone, of course; I have a child who absolutely thrives in this system. Of course, he doesn’t need any extra help….

  2. I understand your frustration, but I am a little surprised that there were no interventions provided before the child failed. As a former instructor with friends at many levels of the education system, I can honestly say that the majority try their best to engage and enhance a student’s success. (As an aside, there are also typically official procedures in place.) This usually begins with the initial contact with the student’s parents or guardians, as well as assistance with additional materials. Please don’t misunderstand me: the nature of one-size-fits-all education is hardly beneficial, but the fact that schools subscribe to it supports my outlook on learning (ok—as well as the theme of my blog, which is about raising life-long learners. I sincerely believe that school is only a supplement to your learning. Yes, I agree, this is not a very clever plug for my site.) What actually seems to be an issue in a large number of public schools is the lack of assistance for children who are doing well–really well. Thank you for taking the time to reply to my post. 🙂

  3. lydiatisdale says:

    And thank you for taking the time to add your perspective to my post! 🙂 I never meant to state that the individual teachers weren’t helpful or failed to intervene. Life-long learning is exactly what I want as well. Right now, we’re stuck on reading, but by the grace of God, we’ll get through it!

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