"In these challenging times, can too much of a good thing still be bad?"
It has been a difficult year and a half for students and educators alike. And it looks like the difficulties will persist.
This pandemic has prompted an abrupt shift to flexible learning, and everybody has been grappling with a number of issues: Poor connectivity, lack of access to tools, mental health, loss of financial resources, to name a few.
It is also difficult for students and teachers to achieve a genuine connection – and I don’t mean the kind that can be measured in mbps. How can a teacher, for instance, gauge whether students are truly listening, are truly engaged, and not just present (i.e., logged in)? How does one measure whether the subject matter is delivered the best way possible, and how is the student’s performance best evaluated?
Then again, in this environment, is there really a single, best way?
They say flexible learning is the way to go, but the truth is some people are in a better position to be flexible than others.
And, lest we forget, we are confronted with these woes and harsh realities at the same time we are confronted with the still very real threat of COVID-19 on our health and finances.
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In response, there is a call for teachers to be extra compassionate and extra lenient with our requirements. We are asked to extend deadlines, make attendance optional, refrain from giving failing marks —generally, go the extra mile.
The reasons are obvious. The current environment is difficult and we cannot presume to know where each student is coming from, or what his or her struggles are. We opt to err on the side of good faith. The world as one person knows it is not the reality for the next fellow, and vice versa.
Thus, if a student is not able to attend class because the connection is poor or the family cannot afford to have more than one computer in a house full of learners, who are we to presume that the student is lying? If a student is not able to write a paper and submit it on time because he or she is dealing with depression or anxiety or a host of emotions because of the situation, who are we to say that the student is concocting justifications for plain laziness?
Certainly, there are risks to this approach. There is no 100-percent assurance that the students who say they are struggling are really having problems, or that the reasons they give for their less-than-sterling performance are even true.
When is compassion too much compassion?
A friend who teaches high school feels strongly against the no-fail policy of the Department of Education. He acknowledges that many students are in fact facing legitimate learning difficulties brought on by the pandemic. But he also laments how some students—some of them enabled by their parents—are milking the policy to the hilt, exerting little to no effort yet still expecting to pass. Among the excuses: They have no data connectivity (when they are visible on social media and on online games), some family member borrowed the tablet issued to them, they cannot wake up early enough, and a host of other reasons.
It is safe to assume that these stories are not limited to a single school.
In these cases, compassion would be a disservice to the students in the long-run. At face value, it is complying with the exhortation that no one must be left behind. But at some point, in the real world, they will be left behind, not only because they were given passing grades they did not earn, but because they were taught that they could get away with slacking off, lying, and taking advantage of an emergency situation, and rewarded for something they did not deserve. What kind of adults would these kids grow up into—mediocre, at best? Averse to the pursuit of excellence? Indiscriminate compassion also fosters a climate of unfairness, because those who did do the work despite their difficult personal circumstances are getting the same results as those who did not even try.
This pandemic is trying us in many unprecedented ways. There is no single, easy solution to this dilemma. We can only hope we would make judicious decisions, big and small alike, according to the values we hold dear, and that the result would be a balance of good intentions and careful consideration.