The mom had good intent, but I had to pause shortly after we started talking about her son’s performance. She was upset that his handwriting fell short of her expectations. Then came out a math paper that further displeased and built her case that he was not doing his part in school. I realized that I was clearly present only as witness, to somehow be the “school authority” that Mom might use to convince her son that he needed to do better.
I always encourage parents who are engaged in their children’s learning and we are definitely in a time period when kids aren’t always held to, or for that matter given, expectations. Still, as I thought about Mom’s complaints and watched the boy work over the next few days, it was evident that he was being held accountable for a few things he had not been provided the tools to accomplish successfully.
Her son was verbose, imaginative, and creative. For handwriting, it turned out he had a dysgraphia issue that would require additional support from how he held his pencils to the time we needed to insist he take to write clearly. For longer assignments, he might even need to type. In math, his fact fluency was spot-on and he could calculate like a champ, but breaking down a written question to understand what calculation was required stymied him. Mom saw these things as lacking effort, rather than areas requiring further teaching.
And so it is with many systems of authority in our world. We have over-simplified expectations for complex issues. We want solutions to come from elsewhere instead of realizing our role in finding them. Should we blame the doctor if a patient doesn’t follow through with the therapy prescribed? Should we blame mechanics or cars themselves if we don’t provide the appropriate maintenance to our vehicles? Should we blame the teacher for the underperforming students who have come without preschool experience, hungry bellies, or unstable homes? Would we blame the students themselves, if they have not had the benefit of teaching, time to practice, and support where they need it?
Sometimes we don’t realize the difference in giving someone accountability versus teaching them responsibility? If we teach responsibility first, it is on us to ensure they have the skills, tools, and requirements to succeed in or control the outcome. When we have done our part as parents and teachers, to identify and provide the necessary teaching, skills, and tools for the specific challenges we as of our kids, only then do we dare holding kids accountable for the learning outcomes. All blame aside, it just makes sense, if we truly want a child or an institution to succeed, we would provide the resources necessary for the tasks at hand, then we could confidently hold one another accountable.