Everything Education

Why are we lying to our students?

There have been quite a few instances recently where I have read thought provoking articles regarding the importance of seeking out alternative viewpoints. One especially poignant example was written by William Ferriter in which he describes this phenomenon when viewed through the lense of politics:

Critical thinking suffers when we are constantly surrounded by “more of the same.” It’s harder to question your notions about politicians or the policies that they promote when every post, article and person that you encounter is pushing those notions forward.

After considering William's points about this, I have been purposely reading articles that present alternative viewpoints. Across all genres, getting out of my own space has had benefits. These include expanding the breadth of how I view a topic or situation. Additionally, engaging with alternate viewpoints helps to crystalize my own thoughts on controversial topics. One especially divergent (non education) example that I've encountered recently related to the ubiquitous holiday tradition- Santa.

I have never believed in Santa, because my parents never told me he was real—partly out of religious conviction, but partly because, quite simply, they believe that lying is wrong. -Pascal Emmanuel-Gobry

While it is a stretch for me to confront this idea in my own life and family, Pascal does force me to consider the insidious way we constantly warp the truth to our young people. As he states this borders on outright lying, but in many cases I feel that we manipulate facts and what is important to fit our biased world view. I have mixed feeling about this specific instance, but feel that the whole concept of how we portray the world to children merits closer inspection.

No other place is “the big lie” more apparent than in the area of honors classes and grades in the K-12 system. In the book titled “Excellent Sheep: The miseducation of The American Elite”, author William Deresiewicz makes a strong case that we are perpetuating blatant falsehoods to students as they traverse school. His case centers on the fact that as successful adults these supposed superstars are unhappy and unmotivated- essentially lost. Deresiewicz contends that in the absence of parental requirement, these people don't know what is important to them or what they should be doing with their lives to find meaning.

Many might argue that the forces involved are just to great to change, but I disagree. This can be accomplished by embracing the abundance mindset which contrasts the scarcity mindset which I feel permeates society and the educational system. Too often students, and staff members too, are thrust into situations where they are in direct competition with each other. This meritocracy breeds the struggle in which winner and losers are very quickly decided. In this situation, there are great pressures to get ahead of one another.

So the question remains: “Why are we lying to our students?”

We are constantly telling them that grade are the most important thing they can strive towards. By asking, “what grade did you get?”, “what college are you going to?”, “what AP class are you taking?”. This is a crucial error! Instead we should be focusing on the experience, and making metacognition the primary outcome. We should be asking questions like “what are you interested in?”, “how are you helping others?”, “what do you feel like you are good at?”, “when are you truly happy?”. If we were able to shift this paradigm, our expectations would more realistically align with what we are consciously and unconsciously telling our young people to value as important.


The curse of our online lives Written by William Ferriter, retrieved 12/21/16
I tell my kids Santa is a lie and you should too Written by Pascal Emmanuel-Gobry, retrieved 12/22/16
This review below contains an affiliate link through which I may receive a commission for sales of this title at no cost to you.

Excellent Sheep: The Miseducation of the American Elite...

A thoughtful critique of the American honors system in K-12 education and its lasting impact on students as they traverse high education and enter the workforce. This book has the potential to challenge your thoughts on honors programs and the harmful effects of a grade centric educational philosophy.

About Jasper Sr.

Jasper Fox Sr. is in his fourteenth year of teaching science in New York State. An avid writer and connected educator, he maintains an active Twitter presence as @JasperFoxSR and writes regularly about improving educational practice to help all students succeed.