Arizona parents angry over child's "Catastrophe" award

Who is responsible for a child's failing grades?

WASHINGTON, May 31, 2012 – Tucson, Arizona resident Christina Valdez called the local news to share the fact that her daughter Cassandra Garcia’s teacher gave her the “Catastrophe Award” for  “Most Excuses for Not Having Homework” in front of the entire class, prompting her classmates to laugh. 

Valdez said in a report that she had no clue her daughter wasn’t turning in her assignments on time.

Some are up in arms and are upset at the teacher for employing what they call humiliation of a child to get a point across and allege the teacher ought to privately instruct the child and her parent of the lapse.  

There is a very high likelihood that there were warning signs that Ms. Valdez ignored. A child who has missed that many assignments must have had grades over the course of the entire school year to reflect that absent work.  And if so, Valdez doesn’t look like she did her part to inquire about those bad grades.  But even before getting to that point, had she been doing what every parent should do and check a child’s homework for completion each night, she would easily have been clued in well before the end of the year.

Rather it appears that she elected to ignore the warning signs, perhaps failed to take a proactive role to inquire on her child’s progress, and then comes well after the fact to complain about an award, which perhaps was harsh and probably unnecessary.

My recently turned 7-year old is in the first grade and has a no nonsense teacher who expects the best, has the strictest standards when it comes to attendance, promptness, completion of work, turning in of homework and classroom discipline. She has a military background and she demands excellence of her pupils.

Over the course of the year, my son has developed into a child who takes personal responsibility for completing his work without prodding or reminders, insists on us getting him to school punctually  (though we don’t always succeed) and does his best to turn in the best work possible. And he is seven.  This kid is 8 –years-old. That is plenty old enough to understand she has the obligation and duty to do her work each day.

Now some may say this teacher is too strict and her methods may cause humiliation. They may want her to be more warm and affectionate with the children. While perhaps that may be ideal for some children and parents, there is no doubt that kids who leave her class go into the next grade better students.

Her job is to prepare them for advancing along the school system and excelling. She isn’t there to be their friends. She is paid to teach, instruct and educate.

This incident is reflective of what’s wrong in many households in America where some are opting to focus on the teacher, not the child or parent.  There are most likely more parents who are not taking the time each evening to assist their children with homework and being active parents than teachers imploring what some call “humiliation” in their teaching methods. 

The US Department of Education has acknowledged that parental involvement is the key to bridging the achievement gap among students.

What this episode should do is illuminate a growing problem that is contributing to underachievement, poor test scores and other reasons why America is slipping behind other “first world” nations in global comparisons.  According to the latest Third International Mathematics and Science Study (TIMSS) involving a half-million students in 41 comparative countries, by grade 4, American students only score in the middle of 26 countries reported; By grade 8 they are in the bottom third, and by 12th grade they are near last. And among a trilogy of other recent international tests, 16 other industrialized nations finished ahead of US students.

International schools performing ahead of the US use strict teaching methods that involve discipline that some in America may peg as degrading.

For example, in the British school systems which is used in the Caribbean, Africa, India and other former colonies, it is common for teachers to announce grades and rank after exams. Students who misbehave are sometimes brought to the front of the class and forced to recite math problems.  What these occurrences do is signal to the class that there is neither room for mediocrity nor tolerance for disobedience. And as a result, many children excel.

A 2010 article pointed to a study that showed the majority of low income Brits preferred strict schooling and uniforms over “wild and wacky” education theories, Education Secretary Michael Gove said.

It may not be considered the best for a Montessori, hug-it-out- I’ll-have-my- kid’s-back-any-time-or-day –and-against-his-teacher-no- matter-what world that exist in many communities and minds of several parents.  But c’est la vie. There is more than one way to educate a child. 

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Jeneba Ghatt
Jeneba Jalloh Ghatt is a former journalist turned lawyer turned citizen journalist. Currently, she manages her boutique communications law firm, where she has represented small businesses and nationally-recognized civil and consumer rights organizations before the United States Supreme Court, federal courts and the FCC. She also covers the White House and US Congress for the online news site while authoring her own influential blog which is frequently accessed by top policy makers and think tanks, and the investment community. focuses on the intersection of politics and technology and reports on policies and rules in the communications and tech sector.
Before opening her law firm, The Ghatt Law Group, which was the first communications firm owned by women and minorities, Jeneba regulated Comcast and Starpower as the Assistant General Counsel for the District of Columbia's Office of Cable Television and Telecommunications, and at one point was the only communications regulatory attorney in the entire city. She is founding member and policy chair for a new trade association, the National Association of Multicultural Digital Entrepreneurs and provides advice and counsel to new businesses in the tech industry, particularly small businesses owned by women and minorities.

Born in Sierra Leone, West Africa, but raised in the United States by her Catholic mom and Muslim dad, she started her college career creating web content for one of the earliest websites in history while working part time for the University of Maryland's Office of Technology. Following her graduation from the Catholic University of America, Columbus School of Law, she founded and co-wrote one of the earliest blogs and since then has gone on to found and author six different widely read and influential blogs. She was one of only 22 writers and bloggers to attend the first White House summit for African American media.
She holds a Certificate in Communications Law Studies from Catholic; a Juris Doctor from there as well, and a Master of Law in advocacy degree from the Georgetown University Law Center where she first taught and lectured as a Staff Attorney and Graduate fellow at that law school's Institute for Public Representation. She later went on to teach Media Law at the University of Maryland at College Park and guest lecture at Yale Law School and Penn State University, College of Telecommunications. She is well skilled and versed with social media and manages several Twitter, Facebook, Linked In accounts and groups.
She sits on the board of several non profits and trade associations.

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