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Blaming the Student
By David W. Kirkpatrick (June 7, 2007)
Senior Education Fellow
U.S. Freedom Foundation www.freedomfoundation.us

         In 1971 William Ryan's book, Blaming the Victim, was published.   His thesis was that there is a tendency to blame the unfortunate, such as those on welfare or homeless, for their condition.  This is not to say that victims have no responsibility for their situation.  But blaming them is useful for those such as teachers and social workers who are paid to assist those entrusted to their care.
         This attitude of blaming the victim is a common occurrence in the public schools.  Other than constant cries for more money, perhaps nothing is heard so often as arguments by educators that students who do not learn are to blame. It is alleged they simply don't try, their home conditions are the cause of failure or they can't learn regardless of what teachers or schools might do.
         This is reminiscent of the perhaps apocryphal story of the high school language teacher who was complaining to a colleague that a particular student "simply can't learn French."
         To which the colleague replied "Isn't it fortunate he wasn't born in France."
         Clearly, infants born in France, with very few exceptions, learn French.  And, as with youngsters in other nations, whatever the language, they do so without formal instruction.
         Anyone remotely resembling a normal person is able to learn French, or math, or whatever.  On the other hand, there is a too long list of teachers who are unable to teach.
         That teachers are generally the problem, not students, is indicated by the thousands of schools - public, private, secular, religious - where disadvantaged students consistently learn. This includes schools with well below average funding. Among many other sources, this is clearly demonstrated in the chapter, Black Education, in Thomas Sowell's book Black Rednecks and White Liberals.
         For example:
         Bennett-Kew Elementary School in Inglewood, CA is 97% minority. In three years with a new principal and the introduction of phonics,  reading levels rose from the 3rd to the 50th percentile.  The principal was threatened with a loss of funds for his unconventional approach but prevailed because of strong parental support.
         In Houston, Texas, students in Wesley Elementary School, 92% black and 7% Hispanic, were reading several years below grade level. After a new principal changed the curriculum, reading and math scores moved above the national average.  Again there were objections but the changes were backed by then Supt. Rod Paige, later U.S. Secretary of Education.
         In the Portland, Arkansas Elementary school half the 4-6 grade pupils were performing two or more years below grade level. After a new principal introduced a proven approach to learning, Direct Instruction, 100% of students read at grade level or higher.  Most students are also above the national average in math.
         Note the common features: a new principal, a new successful approach of methods that work, and opposition from others in the school systems.
         Elsewhere, the Heritage Foundation issued a report, "No Excuses" about 21 schools where students scored at or above the 65th percentile on national tests, even though 75% or more qualified for subsidized or free lunches.
         The Knowledge is Power Program (KIPP) charter schools, developed by two classroom teachers in Houston had twelve trailers as the first campus.  There are now dozens of them across the nation, generally working with students not known for their prior success.  While KIPP schools have some common features, such as a longer day and year, teachers have considerable freedom to teach as they wish as long as they succeed.
         Not least of all, there are 400 or more independent Black schools in the nation that generally do better than comparable public schools.
         Among the things these varied schools have in common are high standards and expectations and hard work.
         Sadly, these comparisons illustrate characteristics too often found in the public schools: a lack of success, a disinterest in what is working elsewhere, a tendency to dismiss any suggestions that there might be better ways to educate nontraditional students, and even a willingness to sabotage colleagues who are enjoying more success.
         As a package these actions and attitudes amount to what President George W. Bush, in one of his more telling phrases, has termed "the soft bigotry of low expectations."
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         "Now that I'm off the board and able to think more calmly, it is even clearer to me that the system can't be rehabilitated, only replaced." p. 59 Howard Good, "Losing It, The Confessions of an Ex-School Board President," pp l54 & 58-9, Education Week, March 17, 2004.  Good is a professor of journalism at the State University of New York at New Paltz.  He is the author of Educated Guess: A School Board Member Reflects, ScarecrowEducation, 2003

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Copyright 2007 David W. Kirkpatrick
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Douglassville, Pennsylvania 19518-9240
Phone: (610) 689-0633

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