Monday, March 15, 2010

A Lesson In Scapegoating

I did not know this etymology, and I agree with the conclusion:

If you think you've been hearing that term ("scapegoat") a lot lately, you're not mistaken. Weingarten used it two weeks ago in response to Obama's remarks about the Central Falls firings, and union officers in Florida used it to describe the legislature's merit pay bill, in Michigan in response to the state's failure to receive Race to the Top funding, and in Milwaukee to defend the union's choice of health care plan.

The word originated in the Bible (Leviticus 16) to describe the ritual of sending a goat out into the wilderness as a sacrifice to atone for a perceived wrong. The goat, of course, is blameless, but pays with its life for the errors of others.

That's what makes the use of the word in these contexts faulty. You can't say on the one hand that "The key to turning out great students is great teachers," while claiming to be blameless when students fail.


Ellen K said...

While I would be the first to admit that there are some teachers less qualified than others, our current mindset rewards mediocrity. Parents will blame almost anyone other than their own children for failure. And parents quite frequently will write the notes excusing everything from random absences to missing assignments. It has gotten worse in the last four years. In fact right now, with the same assignments, procedures and a curriculum that has been streamlined, I have more students failing Art than I have ever had before. In reviewing their grades, the failures lie in not doing assignments and/or not turning in assignments. The Prez and friends can try to blame teachers all they want, but if the students do not do the work ultimately those students are to blame.

Darren said...

No, Ellen, it's not the students' fault when homework isn't done or turned in. It's *your* fault for failing to motivate and inspire them to *want* to do and turn it in.

(Do I sound like an administrator yet? hehe)

Ellen K said...

*shudder* Yes, you do. Administrators seem to be entranced by spreadsheets and data. It would be nice if they ever experienced the results of their commands. I would LOVE for some of our upper level administrators to spend a week working in a classroom. For many of them it has been decades since they dealt with students.

BTW, since you love to expose math failure on a public scale, you may want to read an article I have on my blog regarding the healthcare bill and percentages.

Anonymous said...

Well, since you said homework, I now must rant...

As a parent, I will only make my kids do homework when it is not busywork. My kids get a LOT of busywork. In fact, I had a recent conversation with my sixth grader where I tried to convince her that homework (specifically about spelling) was supposed to be useful, that it was supposed to help her learn material. She couldn't grasp the concept. Not surprising since her spelling homework for the past five years HAS been busywork.

This is a real question for all the teachers out there. If a kid takes a spelling pretest on Monday and spells all the words correctly, what is the point of her doing the spelling work/homework until she retakes the identical test on Friday?

And no, I am not addressing the homework/busywork issue to the teachers who actually correct the homework. It is just that the vast majority of my kids' teachers have assigned homework, had the kids turn it in and then toss the work in the trash without looking at it. Why would I make my kids waste their (and my time) on such a thing?

Skip said...

I think I'll not turn in some useless paperwork (like reading logs for math class) and use that line on my administrator.

Darren said...

Anonymous--I'm against homework in elementary school except for assignments that the student didn't finish in class. I may even except reading, but other than that I haven't read a single valid study showing there's *any* benefit in doing homework before jr. high. And homework, when it does exist, should reinforce what was learned in class. Busy work = lack of professionalism.

Anonymous said...


Glad to see that we're on the same page for elementary school homework. I often wonder if the incessant busywork in elementary school leads to a lack of interest in doing the homework (in the students) and making sure the homework gets done (in the parents).

I worry a little that my kids will be so burned out on homework, that they won't do it in junior high/high school and I'll have lost the will to make them.

Of course, I am now using that rationalization to no longer make them do the homework right now.

Re busywork...I can understand and accept...not like, but understand the need for busywork in a hetergenous classroom (it's a classroom management tool). I understand (it's too hard to figure out what the kids know and send home appropriate work) why there is homework busy, but I'm not about to support it in my home.