This commentary was posted recently to a blog of Education Week:
Teachers have long maintained that they can’t do their job if students don’t do theirs. But their complaint has largely fallen on deaf ears until recently. Now, thanks to Richard Arum and Josipa Roksa, authors of Academically Adrift (University of Chicago Press, 2011), the issue is finally coming onto center stage where it belongs.
What the two academics underscore is the importance of “shifting attention from faculty teaching to student learning… .” This argument is long overdue. The best teachers can do only so much to inculcate knowledge and skills in their students. Unless they actually perform the hard work assigned, outcomes will be lackluster at best.
Will Fitzhugh, founder of The Concord Review, has been a tireless advocate of high academic standards since 1987. His publication proudly features essays from high school students that would shame most college students. In “Breakthrough” (The Concord Review, Mar. 5), Fitzhugh summarized the issue this way: “Student academic achievement has always been, and will always be, mainly dependent on diligent student academic work.”
The fallacy of focusing exclusively on teachers was the subject of my post on May 19, 2010 (“Student Responsibility for Learning“). It’s worthwhile repeating one particular point: When guest teachers from other countries find jobs in classrooms here, they are appalled by the failure of students and their parents to assume responsibility for their share of learning. The U.S. is the only country where the entire burden for learning is placed on the shoulders of classroom teachers.
Make no mistake about it: Learning is a partnership. The most impressive outcomes are the result of the relationship between school and home. I know that some students who come from chaotic backgrounds where education is not revered are able to overcome this handicap with the help of inspired teachers. But they are exceptions. Unfortunately, critics maintain that this view is an excuse. It’s no more an excuse than citing the effect of gravity on objects.