Saturday, November 29, 2008

The Enabler

Alcoholics and their support groups use this term, I think it applies to education in an equally insidious fashion. Some people incorrectly lump them in with helicopter parents, but they're too different. The helicopter parents are more annoying but the enablers are more destructive.

Had a parent-teacher conference the other day with guidance, parent, kid, Mme. Science and me. The topic was "What's going on? Baby boy is failing." My take on it was simple, "Not paying attention in class, unfocused, whispering and talking. Always misses the crucial details that make math easy if you know them and impossible if you don't."

He had a ready excuse - he only wants to be a helicopter pilot. "No college" means "no effort needed now." He doesn't see when he'll need any of this. Pythagorean theorem? Who cares? Right triangle trig? Useless to this flyboy. Critical thinking? Who needs that? All he needs is some flight courses after high school. A couple of hours of training and wham, he's got a glamorous job for life. Navigation? He doesn't care. Aeronautics? Useless. He only needs to fiddle with the stick. That won't take any training at all. He's got video games so he knows what it takes to fly.

Momma is on board with the whole pilot thing. She's got all of his dreams for him. She likes the idea. She's told him that it's his choice and she'll pay for all of it and pat him on the head. She didn't seem to see that she had given him this way out of working. Neither of them can see that there is a tremendous amount of work and studying that goes into a pilot's license - that spending the money is the least of it. I can't see him putting in the time and effort to make it in that field. He'll be competing against way too many ex-mil who have real skills and experience and who have gone to college on the GIBill and have a resume that isn't crap.

So he's failing.

Am I giving up lunch to tutor? Ummmmmmmm, no.
Am I keeping him after school? Ummmmmmmm, no.
Am I available after school? Yes and if no one shows, I'm outta here. ( I stay roughly an hour, longer if someone comes in.)

Here's the deal, kiddo.

First, if you screw around during class, I'm not going out of my way to somehow force you to come after school or get extra help during other times. The onus is on you to seek out the help.

Second, if I'm going to spend 1.5 hours of class time teaching you something, only to have you ignore it, then I won't be so happy about taking even more time to reteach you personally. I'll do it because I consider that hour or so to be an expandable "office hours" where I'm available for anyone, but you'll be lower in priority than those who were trying. I'd do the same during prep period, too, if you had a question during that study hall, but I know you won't.

Third, your grade stands. Earn your way out of the hole. You took a test and got a 20%. You took a retest on the same material with basically the same questions (only different numbers) and got a 25%. The rest of the class was in the As and Bs with a couple Cs. You knew the difficulties and the material and you didn't bother to do anything.

You asked no real questions, tried nothing, copied the classwork from the next kid, copied the homework from someone else and thought you'd put one over on me. Here's your rope, kid.


  1. The best thing we ever did for our son was to pay for pilot lessons at a local flight scool. Math had always come easy for him and he was a C student because he just didn't feel the need to study or put forth much effort. After the first week of aviation school, he came home and said he never knew there was so much math in aviation. He was studying and applying many of the topics he learned in geometry and precal. Without a strong foundation in mathemtatics, I don't think he would have ever been able to finish the course. The pilot's course was the hardest I have ever seen him study.

    He is now in college and he is no longer pursuing a career in aviation, but he is pursuing a minor in mathematics. Funny how your plans change as you mature. I think your student would benefit from a summer course in aviation. I bet his attitude toward his math classses would change.

    BTW, I really enjoy your blog. Keep it up!

  2. Flew a jet myself - I know how much math is involved. Helicopters are even more complicated. I remember music majors and english majors and non-majors (captains and colonels) who were fine pilots - but they were dedicated to practice and hard work and could think their way through everything until it was instinctive.

    It's not really even the math but more the frame of mind and analytical process that's important. Your son had the right mind-set and the right abilities. This kid doesn't and won't get off the ground. I sure wouldn't fly with him.

  3. Almost 4 years on....any idea where the kid is now?

  4. I'll have to check - He did come back a couple years ago and told me he was finding the math aspects really tough. I don't know if he finally made it.