Image courtesy of Sudhamshu Hebbar

Back in 1986, my brother brought home a Howard Jones CD with the song No One is to Blame on it. We must have listened to that song over a hundred times over the span of that summer. Of course, I didn’t really understand that song since I was still pretty young at the time, but looking at the lyrics now, it isn’t that tough to grasp what was going on. Jones was attempting to wax poetic about the feelings of loss one feels when feelings are left unfulfilled.

While the ultimate meaning of the song does not really fit what I am writing about, I felt it was apt to start with that since nowadays there is plenty of blame to go around, especially when it comes to teaching and education. Our province in Canada is in the midst of a public teachers strike with plenty of finger pointing happening on both sides of the picket line. In other provinces, parents, teachers, and the government are waging a war of words regarding curriculum reform. The province I am in is fighting with the national government over funding for English language programs. Finally, teachers are fighting one another over what is happening in the classroom. You know what they all say? Someone is to blame.

I think the fight that bothers me the most is the battle within the teaching ranks regarding the role of the teacher versus the role of the student. Lately there seems to be a good deal of ill will regarding who is to blame when a student ‘misbehaves’ or is bored or ‘disengaged’ (whatever that really means, I don’t think anyone really knows). Lately, the focus has been on the teacher and what that person is doing, or not doing, to help the student. I am all for having students take ownership of their learning and I also believe we have made great strides to turn over control of the learning process to each student, but this blame-naming needs to stop. As with any reform, I feel the pendulum has swung too far in one direction. Now, the student seems to ‘do no wrong’.

On social media, I have witnessed more than a few times teachers making disparaging remarks directed at fellow teachers who have complained that their students were acting out or complaining too much. The remarks directed at the teachers usually are snarky or demeaning, often focusing on the action of the teacher. Sure, some teachers are in need of a mindshift, but this is not the way to go about it. For the most part, I think teachers on social media are there to support one another, but even some of those often overlook the fact that some of the problem lies with the student. Really, it’s true, students sometimes make bad choices and it isn’t the problem of the teacher. Put that way, I think virtually all teachers would agree, so why is there still this fingering pointing going on? I think it is because of two reasons: group mentality on social media is a powerful motivator, also fear that the other teacher will not take responsibility when there is something that person can do to help the student. Either way, the focus should not be on blame, but on support, support for both the teacher and the student. Maybe the teacher can make changes, maybe it is the student, or maybe it is neither or even both of them.

The problem with blame is that the word implies fault. In fact, the etymology of the word comes from old French and means “to rebuke, reprimand, condemn, criticize,” and has the same root as ‘to blaspheme’. I would rather that people would be more supportive and helpful, even if the person has erred in what they have done. We all make mistakes, sometimes we are at fault, but it is what we do with those errors which is what is really important. Jones sang about frustration and regret, a natural outcome when things don’t turn out the way you would like. In the end, we need to live with our mistakes, but we don’t need to dwell on them and neither should others. Instead of blame, I choose encouragement and support.

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