Major Players

Will Fitzhugh
The Concord Review
3 September 2013
Who are the Most Important Players in U.S. education debates, and in our schools? Well, let’s see—there are EduPundits, legislators, governors, consultants, professional developers, publishers, the Department of Education, foundations, journalists, state commissioners of education, superintendents, principals, teachers, and who else? Oh, students!…do you think education has something to do with them? No one else does. And if students do have a part to play in their own education and they are not doing it, and this has perhaps some sort of impact on their academic achievement, what can be done about it? They can’t be fired, except by charter schools, and neither can their parents. So let’s not think about them, or their work.
In addition, most students have been allowed to believe, and the EdWorld agrees with them, that education is something teachers are responsible for delivering to them, whether they do any actual academic work or not. As to the academic work they actually are currently doing, Indiana University has found that 42% of high school students now do less than one hour of written homework in a week. 
Because student responsibility for academic work is not part of our ideas about education, students can feel free to, as the Kaiser Foundation reports they now do, spend at least 53 hours each week with electronic entertainment media. (That would be 53 times as many hours as lots of our high school students now spend on homework each week.)
Of course all the current Major Players have something to say and something to do about education, and about students academic achievement, but as long as, for whatever complex of reasons, we continue to ignore student participation in and responsibility for their own educational achievement, we are colluding in some very large, very tragic, and very sad, joke.
Try to imagine stories and commentaries on Major League Baseball which completely ignored the activities of the players, and you can see what a monstrous mistake it is for so many influential people in the education debates to pay no attention to whether: A) we are asking our students to do any serious academic work, and B) they are actually doing any.
Banishing students from our discussions about the Major Players in education may satisfy some set of needs for our EduPundits and others, but it is a sad and quite clearly doomed misdirection of all efforts to understand ways to improve student academic achievement in this country.

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The Concord Review [1987]
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National Writing Board [1998]
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