Wednesday, June 1, 2011

FTF "No Required Homework" Policy

WHY THERE IS NO REQUIRED FTF HOMEWORK: If a student entering the 9th grade does not possess the basic skills that are necessary to pass the SUSA PST, then the harsh plain truth is either 1) that student is incapable of learning due to true physical defects that manifest in insurmountable learning disabilities or 2) that student is the victim of a home and school environment that has not been conducive to academic learning according to that student’s needs.

In the case of 1), all one-on-one teaching strategies must be accomplished in utter failure before any student can be dismissed as incapable of learning. The author of this statement has witnessed firsthand through the experience of being a Read Right tutor that many (perhaps most) near functionally illiterate high school students can in a matter of months learn to read at their enrolled grade level. The ability to read literately requires the ability to think critically, and achieving basic reading skills does not immediately translate to any mastery of critical thinking skills at all. However, going from near functional illiteracy to a competent enrolled grade level reading ability is a life-changing accomplishment that is achievable by more students than some would think. SUSA is willing to make the commitment to find out, and so welcomes all prospective students to its school.

In the case of 2), mastery of the basic skills that are necessary to pass the SUSA PST must be accomplished in a tightly-controlled learning environment that will not fail to fully support a student’s best efforts. FTF students are students who are familiar with academic failure and its attendant ridicules. They are extremely vulnerable to the consequences of further academic failures, and desperately need to achieve confidence and healthy self-worth as a necessary first step toward entering the regular SUSA curriculum—hence, First Things First.

And so the question of whether FTF students should have required homework is answered simply by stating: Required homework is not necessary. What is necessary is that FTF students learn, that they learn to “learn,” and that they learn to enjoy learning— and that they do so with growing confidence and self-worth that does not ever get nipped in the bud. In a real sense, FTF students cannot yet risk the downside of required homework—at least, not until their confidence is known by teachers to be intact and strong enough to weather the self-criticism that comes as a consequence of teacher-graded efforts.

Of course, a student’s interest in learning will never be discouraged or slowed down by the FTF program. Always, students—both as a whole and individually—will know what positive encouragement feels like. FTF students will be encouraged to continue their learning at home, but they will not be required to do so—and there is a big difference between those two realities.

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