Phi Beta Cons

Focus on Students

Will Fitzhugh, editor of the Concord Review, which publishes academic articles by secondary students, makes the point that too much discussion about lower education focuses only on teachers and studiously avoids discussion of their little charges. He cites Diane Ravitch, who writes: “One problem with test-based accountability, as currently defined and used, is that it removes all responsibility from students and their families for the students’ academic performance. [No Child Left Behind] neglected to acknowledge that students share in the responsibility for their academic performance and that they are not merely passive recipients of their teachers’ influence.” Conservatives as well as liberals have been guilty of this over-emphasis on teachers and under-emphasis on what students must do for their own education.

Fitzhugh notes that Natalie Monroe, a high-school-English teacher in Pennsylvania, described her students on a blog as  “disengaged, lazy whiners,” and “noisy, crazy, sloppy, lazy LOAFERS.” The school system responded not by examining the paucity of academic effort on the part of their students, but by suspending the teacher. Yet one of her students admitted, “As far as motivated high school students, she’s completely correct. High school kids don’t want to do anything.” The student counteracted this bit of honesty with the usual refrain heard today, insisting that ”It’s a teacher’s job . . . to give students the motivation to learn.”

Fitzhugh has an article in an upcoming Academic Questions stressing the importance of making high-school students read complete non-fiction books and write research papers of a serious length. He maintains that such assignments would go a long way toward diminishing college professors’ frequent complaints that their students lack basic skills.

Some of Fitzhugh’s suggestions for high-school reading include David McCullough’s Mornings on Horseback for freshmen, David Hackett Fischer’s Washington’s Crossing for sophomores, James McPherson’s Battle Cry of Freedom for juniors, and David McCullough’s The Path Between the Seas for seniors. He warns, however, that when a high-school-English teacher in New York State wanted her students to read a nonfiction book chosen from the New York Times nonfiction bestseller list, a big group of her female students chose The Autobiography of Paris Hilton.