At a private psychiatric residential treatment center in the Texas hill country, a new child-care worker experienced a valuable lesson. It was lunchtime and he was responsible for walking his group of adolescent boys from the bunkhouse to the dining room. All of the boys began walking except one that sat on the ground and refused to go. So, the child-care worker pulled, pushed, and carried him most of the way. When he arrived at the door of the dining room, the head psychiatrist stood a few feet away laughing.
He asked the child-care worker to come over and said he had two words for him: "Forget them". He went on to explain that if we did everything for these kids, they would never learn to take any responsibility. If the boy missed lunch, he missed lunch. If he lost the afternoon privileges, he lost the privileges. He further asked "Are you going to carry him around for the rest of his life?" He told the worker to just tell him that you expected him to be at lunch and walk away; just forget him. Later that week, he tried it, and the boy followed with the group (although the last one to go) to the dining room.
In most countries in the world, if students disrupt in class or school, they embarrass themselves and their family. In the U.S., the principal and the teacher are embarrassed. This is because the principal and the teacher in the U.S. are held responsible for student behavior. In other countries, the student is held responsible. Why do we do this to ourselves?
Most students are led to believe that if they obey adults, things will go well for them. So, if things do not go well for them, the adults are at fault. They get angry with principals and teachers (and parents) because they do as they were told and their lives are far from wonderful. Why should principals and teachers, who give their lives for their students, receive criticism and blame for trying to teach and assist them? The rewards for being totally in control are not worth it.
The goal of student self-control and being responsible is an impossible dream if students have no control or responsibility to work with. Many educators believe that students who turn all their homework in, come to school regularly, and get to class on time are being responsible. In truth, they are only obeying. Unless a student takes an active part in developing the program, choosing assignments, or anything else, he/she has no responsibility for it. Giving students new or increased control or freedom requires that they accept new or increased responsibility. Likewise, asking students to accept new or increased responsibility demands giving them more freedom or control. It is crucial to give both some control and some responsibility. There is no other way.
Although this is a valuable thing to do for students, it is also valuable for principals and teachers. They do not deserve the weight of all the responsibility and the criticism and blame that accompanies it. They deserve to have good days, despite some students having bad ones. Students have their youth and all the energy needed to work hard in school. The educators should not have to do all of the work. It is time to shift more of the work and responsibility to the students. It is time to enjoy the students and assist in their efforts at being responsible, solving problems, and making good decisions.