Court overindulges students

Some children are not smart. Perhaps they just don’t catch on to what the teacher is saying as quickly as others do. Maybe they have a legitimate learning disorder or are a little too lazy to keep up. Whatever the reason, children ridicule each other for these shortcomings. Shielding a child from this ridicule will not make the child a more well-rounded, adjusted or productive member of society, painful as that might be for some parents to hear.

Yet one parent’s effort to do just that has made it to the U.S. Supreme Court. Last week, the court heard arguments over whether teachers should be allowed to let students grade each other’s papers in class. Kristja Falvo, the mother who brought the lawsuit, said her reading-disabled child was ridiculed for being a “dummy” after classmates heard the low score he got on a test.

Her case was argued by Wilfred K. Wright, a lawyer with The Rutherford Institute, a civil liberties watchdog group. Wright asked the Court to uphold a Tenth Circuit Court ruling that stated the Owasso, Okla., school district violated the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act by allowing teachers to require students to correct each others’ papers and read the scores aloud. The government’s lawyer, Deputy Solicitor General Edwin Kneedler, argued Congress passed the 1974 statute only to protect students’ final institutional records.

Justice Anthony Kennedy pointed out during the oral arguments the act would, if interpreted as stringently as Wright wanted, prevent teachers from putting gold stars on top of tests on which students had done well. Wright rebutted that teachers could do so as long as they handed back the papers face down.

That the argument became so far removed from reason illustrates how ludicrous the complaint is. Yes, people don’t like being made fun of, and yes, being ridiculed as a “dummy” can temporarily wound a child’s self-esteem. But those are part of growing up and parents should be able to work through the problem with their children so the negative effects aren’t permanent. Children making fun of each other cannot and should not be legislated away. They need to learn the right way to deal with it.

Moreover, students will ask about each other’s grades when not in the classroom. Upholding the Tenth Circuit court’s ruling will not end that. And it certainly is not preferable to impart on children the merits of lying as a means of covering up mistakes, which would, in that case, provide the only alternative to being ridiculed for a low test score.

The circuit court’s irresponsible ruling does little more than teach children to hide their mistakes and should be overturned immediately.