The Problem With “Helicoptering” Kids

I teach a bunch of slow students. I know, that is so rude to say but I mean what I say. They are retarded – NOT intellectually disabled, but stunted in the way they process the world around them. My students lack initiative, bound by the limiting presence of well-meaning adults.

Let me explain something to you. I come from a pretty strict household. My parents provided clear guidelines on what was and was not acceptable. At the same time, they taught me how to be autonomous and responsible by giving me tasks, some guidelines, and some space to figure things out. At school, my teachers had no problem letting us struggle our way through texts and questions and explaining how on earth we came to the conclusion we were giving–embarrassment be damned. We fought for our learning in a way that frustrated us…but it also strengthened us to the meaning of trying, failing, and succeeding. Very early on we built up tolerance for the continual loop of trying until you get it. We understood that life was not supposed to be easy, but that made victory sweeter–not impossible.

Today’s children are not so fortunate.

In an effort to shelter them from life’s inevitable pitfalls, we coddle them to the point of complete helplessness. Parents are only concerned about a letter grade, failing to understand that letter grades are only an indication–a snap shot, if you will– telling me if kids can follow directions. And they cannot. Because they are used to adults around them spoon feeding them every little thing.

My urban students get the worst of this. Already assumed to be failures at birth because of their zip codes (and in an effort to minimize the constant battering we teachers get when everyone doesn’t have an A), students are given the smallest doses of challenge possible. They grow up in school expecting the teacher to make it easy and then make it right (and most of their parents agree). Anything that involves more than one step or process or rule is too hard. So when they get to teachers like me (who believe in synthesis and analysis beyond memorization and application), they cry foul. They give up. It’s not fair. I do too much. And their parents agree. God forbid I don’t supply them with paper and pencils. I am not being helpful. It is my fault they cannot take notes or do work. Because their learning is MY responsibility–not theirs. I have students practically failing my class because they simply do not read instructions. Reading instructions is doing too much. Because in their minds, everywhere they go in life will be easy and comfortable.

It makes me sad to see their little brains atrophy at such a young age. It frustrates me to know that I am struggling to cultivate some of the potentially greatest minds on the planet. All anyone cares about is “Am I passing?” No one is concerned about “Do I understand and can I do this by myself?”

America has GOT to stop helicoptering its youth. We treat kids like cars on an assembly line, stopping only to pick out the most obviously defective and allowing small cost effective defects to go through. If we do not stop this way of dealing with our students, we will end up with generations of kids incapable of doing the simplest task.

But I guess that’s why we spend so much money on artificial intelligence–someone somewhere knows what I am saying here and is preparing for a future where people are completely obsolete.

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