Thoughts on Summer Reading Part 12: Teach Without Compassion?

As a teacher, I feel, no, it is my responsibility to know and understand my students, where they come from, how they learn best, and how I can best support them.  To do this, I need to show empathy and compassion.  I need to treat each student as an individual.  While my grading and assessment expectations and protocol don’t ever change, I do adjust my teaching or interactions accordingly.  I know which students come from challenging families.  I know which students are shy and reserved.  I know which students like school and those who don’t.  To be a great teacher, I need to understand my students on a very sincere and personal level.  This way, I can relate to them, build a rapport with them, and help them better engage with the material so that genuine learning takes place.

In The Smartest Kids in the World, the author is suggesting just the opposite.  She states that the one of the main reasons other countries have better educational systems than America is because the teachers take empathy out of the equation.  They don’t get to know their students on a personal level.  They don’t know which student comes from a broken home and which doesn’t.  The teachers in these other countries, she states, teach the curriculum and not the students.  This is why their students fare better on standardized tests.  Because the teachers don’t care about which student had a relative die recently or which student didn’t have breakfast that morning, they can better cover the material.  This lack of compassion, she proposes, is what makes these other countries better, educationally speaking.  The students learn more when they are all treated the same.

That’s preposterous!   Again, this hypothesis is based on the fact that how well a country educates its students is soley decided by a high-stakes, standardized test.  That’s ludicrous.  We are no longer preparing students for the same jobs in a factory-model setting.  We need to treat students differently so that they are able to grow into their potential.  If Steve Jobs had been treated like his peers in elementary school and not been provided the opportunity to tinker and play with computers while his classmates were doing basic math, would I be typing on an iPad right now?  No.  Students are different and teachers need to see that and address it in and out of the classroom.  We need to know our students and show compassion and empathy towards each of them. We need to challenge those students that need to be challenged and support those who need to be supported.

Amanda Ripley has no real idea what she’s talking about.  She’s basing her knowledge on minimal research she did in a few countries regarding a few students participating in a paid exchange program.  Plus, she’s advocating for the one thing that is causing many countries to fail globally, high-stakes testing.  Countries with standardized testing in place, may do well on those tests, but can they solve problems creatively, think critically, and collaborate effectively?  Most likely, the answer is no to all of those because the schools in those countries focus soley on preparing students to do well on the test.  Yes, America’s educational system is broken and in need of serious repair.  However, we can’t base what we do on a test nor should we model our schools after schools in countries that teach to a test.  We need to teach students and not content or a test.  We need to always think about what is best for our students because their future, and ours as a country and civilization, depends upon it.


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