A friend of mine recently left a life in an industry he never wanted to be in to become a teacher. It wasn't the university professorship he was hoping for when he put in the long yards to get his PhD, but it was a position teaching CS at a prestigious escalator school in a wealthy area.

During a recent conversation, he lamented the extent to which the parents of his students had put pressure on him to modify his course for their children. The pupils tested into the school, and the parents argued that since they were always able to get good grades in the past, the reason for their poor grades in his course was poor instruction. My friend remarked that he was not teaching at a particularly fast pace, and he expected even moderately bright students to be able to conquer the work load provided they invested a modicum of effort.

But instead, most students were failing to keep up. Not only did they struggle, but they seem to be completely unprepared to face obstacles that were not easily surmountable. You see this sometimes during the latter half of University in students for whom High School was not remotely challenging. After half a semester of vigorous complaints (shouting at parent teacher meetings) and implicit pressure from the schoolmasters, he's started to modify his curriculum significantly. On a recent test, he offered the exact problems to take home and complete, with the option of bringing in the answers to copy into the exam booklet. Students who would normally fail in a straight grading system were given high marks (in the A range), and still protested in an attempt to get more points.

This is, of course, a dangerous precedent to set in any educational setting. The point of instruction is to raise the students to some level of mastery over a curriculum, not to lower the difficulty of the curriculum to the level of the pre-educated students.

But worse than that, it reinforces an extremely unproductive behavioral response to challenge. These children will fail to develop crucial internal problem solving techniques, and fail to experience the highs of overcoming and mastering something which previously seemed alien. Students will instead learn that you can "succeed" (in the abstract sense, since the grade is not reflective of knowledge imparted or gained) through politicking alone, and will never develop the discipline and tenacity to advance the economy, let alone the frontiers of human knowledge.

The whole discussion reminded me that in order to grow in any facet of life you must at some point face difficulties head on, despite the unpleasantness incurred.

Dec 15 2011