I ran across this cartoon–or one similar to it–on Facebook and it got me to thinking.

It used to be that when children received poor grades in school, or didn’t do well on tests, it was the children who got in trouble. Now, according to the politicians and pundits on television and in newspapers, it is the schools that “are failing” and it’s all the fault of “bad teachers.” And it is the teacher’s unions who are at fault for protecting all the incompetent teachers that infest all the failing schools and who resist the reforms that would lead us to the promised land of educational perfection.


It must be nice to live in a world where it is always someone else’s fault other than the person who does a bad job. The child is the one who takes the tests, not the teachers. The child is the one who does his or her homework—or fails to do his or her homework—not the teachers.

This all seems so obvious I’m puzzled why no one has said a word or noticed the peculiar shift in blame. It is said that “schools are failing” because the students are not learning, as demonstrated by their failure to pass standardized tests—for which the students suffer no consequences for failing, and no bonus for doing well. The standardized tests by which the pundits and politicians measure school success have no effect on the students at all, and the students know it.

So tell me again. Whose fault is it that students aren’t learning? The teachers, or the students who don’t bother doing their homework, fail their tests, and intermittently come to class?

As I recall, if I got a bad grade in a class, my parents always blamed me. That seems obviously right, since I was the one who earned the grade, whatever it was. If I’m writing a book and I make mistakes, I really can’t blame my editor. If a worker on the assembly line is drunk and fails to properly tighten all the bolts, it will usually be that worker who gets fired, not the president of the company.

But if a student fails a test, why, of course it’s not the student’s fault for not studying: it’s that stupid teacher and her stupid union.

Makes perfect sense. If you’re the sort of person who doesn’t believe in taking responsibility for your own actions.

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About R.P. Nettelhorst

I'm married with three daughters. I live in southern California and I'm the interim pastor at Quartz Hill Community Church. I have written several books. I spent a couple of summers while I was in college working on a kibbutz in Israel. In 2004, I was a volunteer with the Ansari X-Prize at the winning launches of SpaceShipOne. Member of Society of Biblical Literature, American Academy of Religion, and The Authors Guild
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