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work ethic thread-long

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From: Fields, Linda (fieldsl_at_TeacherArtExchange)
Date: Tue Apr 20 2004 - 07:28:29 PDT


Mike wrote,"This whole worth ethic is a big problem and unfortunately we are only a very small piece of the puzzle. It come from a culture that show these kids how you can take shortcuts and get big rewards. It also comes from parents and others who tell their kids that art doesn't matter."
I believe the problem goes back even farther than that. Some of you might remember the 1970s behavior modification concept in which we rewarded appropriate behaviors with tangible rewards like M and Ms. Every 15 minutes or so, a child would get a treat for doing what he was supposed to be doing in the first place. Then, along came the idea that we should "teach" self-esteem, and try, at all costs, not to damage their little egos, so we went to the extreme of finding ways to build kids up even when they had done little to deserve it. Then we also had to contend with television and later videos, electronic games, etc. and we teachers were told to be entertaining, make learning fun, etc., etc. We were told to "motivate" our students. Well, I've been around a very long time, and here is what I think: Kids should be taught that appropriate behaviors are the right thing to do in order to live and participate in a civilized society. We cannot teach self-esteem-it comes from within and is created when one is presen
ted with a challenge or responsibility and rises to meet it. (My students argue with me if I tell them something is a good job and they believe it isn't, but they also say "I'm proud of myself!" when they know they've done a good job.)
Yes, learning can be fun, but often it's just plain hard work (math was for me!), and learning something that's hard to learn is another builder of self-esteem. The motivation thing is also intrinsic, and goes back, I think, to the internal good feelings that come with accomplishment. Today's kids have been reared on instant gratification, whether it be a new pair of sneakers or flashing lights of a video game. Their world is made up of thousands of little sound bites and they have not learned to focus for any length of time.One of my students' favorite complaints is, "This takes too much time." Everything has already been visualized for them-no need to imagine on their own, and reading has become something to dread. If it doesn't come easily and have an instant reward, to them, it isn't worth doing .
I wish I had solutions. People of my age are getting ready to retire and will need to rely on these young people for our futures. That's scary! Perhaps if parents started reading to children again, or playing with them in the backyard...perhaps if parents not only talked to their children, but listened...perhaps if parents made or bought plain wooden blocks instead of Barbie dollhouses...perhaps if parents said, "in our family we don't behave that way..."...perhaps if parents backed teachers when appropriate...perhaps if kids had to earn their rewards by doing more than existing...perhaps if parents demonstrated that they value learning and hard work....and on and on.
Until then, I guess the best we can do is the best we can do. We are important to these children and society in spite of the fact that we feel undervalued. Knowing that, I suppose, is our intrinsic motivation. We need to keep giving those speeches referred to(I call mine "Mama Fields' time) and we need to keep letting kids know that we have ethics ourselves and we care about theirs.
Forgive my verbosity-this is a passionate subject for me. I will retire soon and hope the rest of you will continue to fight the good fight. Linda in NC

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