Webster defines “enable” as to give ability, power, or means to make able”. At first you look at this definition and it seems to have few negative connotations. But, when you take away the individuals responsibility to enable themselves and replace it with someone else taking on this responsibility then this definition becomes negative and dangerous.
I’ve taught for over three decades. In this time I’ve worked with responsible and remarkably intelligent young men and women whose hard work and perseverance allowed them to attain their dreams. Something disturbing is happening to my students who happen to be your children. A few days ago I gave a class of students their semester final. As I was handing out the exam many of my students asked when there would be a make-up exam. I have to admit I was surprised by their question. I asked if they studied for their test and they told me this was unnecessary because they knew they would be allowed to re-take the test. I found out later that in many of their classes they were allowed to re-test as many times as necessary to pass the test and thus give the illusion of being proficient.
I believe, and many other veteran teachers agree we are enabling our students so they don’t have to be responsible for their own success. This situation has happened because education has become too data driven instead of student driven. With schools competing to see who the better institution is, increasing the percentage of proficient students who earn a degree is more important than training our students to succeed in their post-secondary lives.
National programs like “Common Core Standards” are diluting what we teach our students because of a belief that certain complicated parts of our curriculum are too sophisticated for our students to understand. Whole sections of curricula have been eliminated in hopes that the less we teach our students the more capable they will be to succeed. New tests have been developed to mirror this simplification hoping they can show success instead of preparing our students for their futures. It is common knowledge we are falling behind the rest of the global society in science and mathematics even though our test scores are increasing. The best analogy for this troubling situation is having the wolf evaluate the chicken house.
I’ve observed another evolving problem with enabling our students. They now feel a sense of entitlement. Going back to Webster, it defines entitle as: “a claim or right.” Many of my students have developed an idea that it is their right to be given specific grades and is not their responsibility to work for the knowledge that will help attain their dreams. They’ve been told to forget the concept there is a reason courses are called disciplines. It is simply the responsibility of the teacher or school to make the student proficient. I, and many like me, believe that if the student does not extend the effort they should not be given a proficient status.
Whole departments in our schools have been developed to make sure all students become proficient no matter what effort they put into their classes. Scholastically they are enabled by these new administrations but they are also socially enabled. Our children are very smart. If they don’t feel prepared for a specific evaluation or project they know they can use a social excuse for not participating. I am not saying that many of our children don’t need this help but the programs are beginning to overwhelm my students understanding that for every action there is a consequence. In other words, if they don’t expend the effort they will not be given the reward.
There is a lot of political pressure to demonstrate all our students are getting a proficient education. Across our nation it seems as though we are succeeding at this task but when you compare our students’ abilities to the rest of the world we are falling farther behind because the rest of the world’s proficiency is based on the student’s achievements and not the enablement by the institution and thus the feeling of entitlement by its students.
Jim Fabiano is a teacher and writer living in York, Maine