Pencils and Education Reform

The following “Letter to the Editor” was published by the Indy Star in December, 2010:

The results of a 2010 Associated Press-Stanford University survey show that 68% of adults blame parents more than schools for the ills of our education system.  This and other recent writings may indicate a shift in the education reform debate toward a desire to hold parents more accountable for the success of their students in school.

But how?  As a middle school teacher, I would like to suggest a starting point:  Let’s stop providing pencils to students who don’t care enough to bring their own pencils to class.  Let me explain.

For years I have loaned pencils to students who are too lazy or apathetic to bring this most basic supply to my General Music class.  But the more I have done for them, the less they have done for themselves:  first pencils, then paper; then I tell them every word to write down in notes they will never study.  Meanwhile, other students who could be moving ahead are instead getting bored and aren’t learning anything.

Well, no more.  For any student who wants to learn, I provide the best lesson I possibly can.  Those students who come unprepared will not be required to do anything more than sit quietly, refrain from disrupting class, take tests, and fail.

This is where our communities come in.  If teachers everywhere follow this approach, inevitably some parents will complain to their schools’ principals when their students are failing.  Principals need to know that their communities support them.  If we want our sons and daughters to be taught challenging, worthwhile lessons, we need to get involved.  We should tell our principals to hold the line and insist that students take responsibility for their education.  Otherwise, for the sake of lazy or apathetic students, teachers will continue enabling irresponsible behavior and dumbing down lessons in a vain effort to ensure that all students pass, whether they want to pass or not.

Rob Shaver



It has been two school years since I enacted the policy described above.  In that time, the number of students who show up to my class unprepared has dropped significantly.

I have also tightened up my policy on work that is turned in late, with a resulting increase in the number of assignments being turned in on time.

While I still have too many apathetic students, it seems reasonable to conclude that low expectations benefit no one.



4 responses to this post.

  1. I like to have small consequences for unpreparedness that let students keep learning but that also teach students that they need to be ready for class. (If you don’t bring a pencil, for example, I’ll definitely give you one so that your learning doesn’t get interrupted–having all students complete their assignments and learn is always my #1 goal–but you’ll also have to serve a 10 minute lunch detention in which you sharpen my “lender” pencils for the rest of the class.)


  2. Posted by Marcus Shaver on May 4, 2012 at 10:05 am

    There are students at the college who are proud to admit that they are “Smart” enough to use this tactic


  3. As a parent, I’m a strong believer in setting the bar high. The higher you set the bar, the harder most kids will work to meet your expectations. If you have no expectations of them, then they will have none for themselves. Nice job.


  4. I couldn’t agree more. Good insight. By the way, I hope you don’t mind that I corrected the iPad-inflicted typo for you 🙂


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