You know, since my last post on this subject, I have been giving a great deal of thought to the topic of zeros. And I have come to a bit of an epiphany. The controversy is not about zeros. It’s about hats.
Yes, hats. And the national anthem. And raising your hand. And taking turns. It’s all really the same issue. And it is why teachers are having such a hard time accepting the “No Zero” policy.
You see, my wife asked me today why schools, like hers, have a “no hats in class” policy. I could provide no answer. I know other schools, mine included, have similar policies. Then I got to thinking. We also make the kids stand for the playing of “Oh Canada!”. We make them dress appropriately. We make them raise their hands to ask a question and ask permission to go to the washroom. Why?
Well, the answer to that really lies at the heart of the “no zero” debate. School must be more than just a place where students learn content. It needs to be a place where students learn respect. Respect for country, for adults, for each other, for minorities. Respect for the struggles of those who have come before and the mistakes of those yet to come. Respect for the environment, the meek, the brave, the beautiful. Respect for those who make peace and those who make war. Respect for ideas and songs and poetry and math and science and language and art and differences and sameness. It is also needs to be a place where we encourage them to challenge all of the above. Respectfully.
But most of all, school must be a place where we try to get them to respect themselves.
See, for many teachers, giving a zero for an unsubmitted assignment is not an assessment moment. It is a teaching moment. It is not handed out with malice or with ill intent. Rather, it is an attempt to teach a lesson to a student about respect. A basic stand on right and wrong. I will teach you, I will work with you, I will help you, I will stay at lunch and after school. But I need you to do some work for me, kid. Anything. I need you to show me a little respect. And then, I’ll move mountains for you.
Public education is more than just assessing of marks. There are those of us who believe that public school serves a higher purpose, and feel that it is important that kids learn in school that they can fail. Because if you fail in my class today, I’ll pick you up, dust you off and find a way to help you pass tomorrow. No judgement, no anger, just come on back and try again.
Your mountain is waiting, kid, and I’ll help you climb it. But you gotta take that first step with me. Oh, and by the way…
Take off your hat.