Honey, I coddled the kids

Peter Jackson pjackson@thetelegram.com
Published on July 2, 2014
Peter Jackson

Now that school’s out for the summer, it’s as good a time as any to revisit a couple of hot topics in education.


First, a couple of parents and interest groups have lamented lately the lack of resources for children with behavioural problems.

This is a stressful thing for any parent to go through. But it’s not as if there are no supports.

In fact, counsellors, teachers and administrators meet regularly to help navigate through the special needs minefield.

Students with severe physical or mental issues often have assistants assigned to look after their minute-by-minute needs.

This is good, of course. We can’t return to the days before mainstreaming, when troubled children were packed off to reform schools or institutions.

But when you’re talking about throwing a mob of pre-pubescents into one building and trying to keep everyone happy, you have to consider the bigger picture.

“Children have the right to an education in the same environment as their peers and it is the school’s responsibility to ensure the proper supports and modifications are in place to allow this,” one parent told The Telegram recently.

No, it’s not.

It’s the board’s and the government’s responsibility.

It’s up to elected officials to ensure this “right” is maintained with proper resources and personnel.

Simply downloading more expectations onto teachers achieves nothing but watering down the quality of education for everyone.

Which leads me to a more menacing threat to the quality of education: the no-zero policy.

What’s so odd about this dreadful practice is that it is not supported by the vast majority of teachers or parents. The only people it seems to cater to are a handful of bureaucrats and pseudoscientific theorists who believe holding children responsible for their actions might leave permanent emotional scars.

Two years ago, a teacher in Alberta was fired for giving zero grades to students who did not complete their work.

It led to a nationwide outcry against efforts by many school boards in the country to adopt a no-zero policy in schools.

And yet, the English school board in this province still has a no-zero policy on the books, cleverly couched in provisos that make it look like it’s not.

Teachers are required to accept assignments at any time after the deadline — even the last day of school — with no penalty. They must go out of their way to accommodate students.

After consulting with the parents, and exhausting every alternative, the teacher can give a zero, but the stringent protocol ensures it rarely happens.

All to make sure the little treasures aren’t traumatized by getting a goose egg for work they didn’t do. What kind of world do we expect kids to enter when they don’t even get marks deducted for late work, let alone a zero grade?

Liberal MHA Dale Kirby has been keeping this absurd state of affairs in the public eye.

“Evaluation is the cornerstone of quality student assessment,” he said in April. “It measures student success and demonstrates where improvements are needed. And yet despite government’s assurances that a No Zero Evaluation Policy encourages students to do their best work, the reality is it creates apathy and leaves students ill-prepared to meet expectations, perform assigned tasks, and make firm deadlines.”

Don’t believe it? Ask teachers. They know what it’s doing to kids’ motivation, and it isn’t pretty.

Better yet, for a thorough summary of the flawed reasoning behind no-zero policies, read Michael Zwaagstra’s “Zero Support for No-Zero Policies” at michaelzwaagstra.com.


Peter Jackson is The Telegram’s commentary editor. Email pjackson@thetelegram.com.

Twitter: @pjackson_NL