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Saturday, September 3, 2011

The End of Molasses Classes

I have been asked to review a copy of Ron Clark's newest book "The End of Molasses Classes".  Imagine the joy I felt when I opened up this email, my very first real book review.  I am in the middle of reading it at the time of this posting and will be writing my review in a few weeks.  I wanted to share this excerpt from his book, so each of you will be inspired to join me in a read-a-long when my review goes live.  I need 103 of you to join me on this journey, a journey where we will share our insight on the principles Mr. Clark has found to be the best solutions for teaching some of our kids who continue to be "stuck".  If you would like to host more than one principle, please let me know, so I can count you more than once in the total.
Email me at pinksmyink@gmail.com to join the read-a-long, which will probably start in mid-October.  If you would like to purchase the book prior to our reading, so you are ready to start when I post the starting date, click below.

Here is the excerpt, enjoy!

Not Every Child Deserves a Cookie
By Ron Clark,
Author of The End of Molasses Classes: Getting Our Kids Unstuck -- 101 Extraordinary Solutions for Parents and Teachers
Last year one of our new fifth graders was really struggling. He entered RCA below grade level in every subject and he was failing several courses. When I met with his mom she defended her son by saying, "Well, he made all A's at his other school."         When I told her that was shocking, she explained that he had done so well because he had a really great teacher. Urgh!
There is a misconception in our country that teachers whose students make good grades are providing them with a good education. Parents, administrators, and the general communiry shouldn't assume good grades equal high academic mastery. In fact, in many cases those teachers could be giving good grades to avoid conflict with the parents and administration. It's easier to fly under the radar and give high grades than to give a student what he or she truly deserves and face the scrutiny of the administtation and the wrath of an angry parent.
I have attended numerous awards ceremonies where practically every child in the class received an honor roll certificate. Parents always cheer, take pictures, and look so proud. I just sit there and think, Ignorance is bliss. Are these kids really being challenged, or are they only achieving mediocre standards set forth by a mediocre teacher in an educational system that is struggling to challenge even our average students? Yet, all of the parents look so proud and content.
The worst part about it, however, is that I am afraid most parents would rather their child get a good education where they received straight A's and praise than an outstanding education where they struggled and received C's.
At the beginning of every year, I give my fifth graders an assignment. They have to read a book and present a project on one of its characters -- specifically, they have to figure out a way to cleverly show such details as what the individual kept in his heart (what he loved the most), saw with his eyes (his view of the world), "stood for" with his feet, and held to strongly in his backbone (his convictions). I encourage the students to "bring it" and to use creativity and innovation to bring the body of the character to life.
Most of the students will bring a trifold where they have drawn a body and labeled the locations. Some will use glitter, and some will be quite colorful. I am sure in most classrooms the projects would receive high grades, mostly A's and B's. I, however, hand out grades of 14, 20, 42, and other failing marks. The parents and students are always upset, and many want an explanation.
I ask them to trust me, and I explain that if I gave those projects A's and B's, then the students wouldn't see a reason to improve their efforts on their next assignment. Some staff members have even said, "Ron, but you know what that child is dealing with in her home, and you know she did that project all by herself." I quickly tell them that society isn't going to make excuses for their home situations, and we can't either. If we make excuses and allowances, it will send the child the message that it's okay to make excuses for his or her performance based on circumstances, too. We just can't do it. We must hold every child accountable for high standards and do all we can to push the child to that level.
I recall giving one fifth-grade student a failing grade on her first project. She cried and cried. She had never made less than an A on her report card, and her mother was devastated, too. I explained that the low grade would be a valuable life lesson, and I gave the young girl, and the rest of the class, tips and strategies for receiving a higher score in the future. I showed them an example of a project that would have scored 70, a project in the 80s, and a project that would have earned an A.
I was pleased to see that her next project came to life with New York City skyscrapers that were sculpted from clay, miniature billboards that contained academic content, and streetlights that actually worked. The project was much, much better, and it received a 70.
As a final project, the students were instructed to create a time line that would contain a minimum of fifty significant dates in the history of a specific area of the world. The same young lady brought in her final assignment wrapped in trash bags. Removing it, I saw a huge, four-foot pyramid, a replica of the Great Pyramid of Giza. The student had made it out of cardboard and apparently had used sandpaper to make it feel like a real pyramid. It was beautiful, but it didn't contain a time line, so I told her the grade would not be passing.
She grinned at me, walked over to the pyramid, touched the top point, and suddenly three sides slowly fell open, revealing the inside. She had carved her outline on the inside, using detailed pictures, graphs, and descriptions of 150 major events. She even had hand-carved Egyptian artifacts and placed them throughout the inside of the pyramid, just as you would find in the tomb of a great pharaoh. She had handmade mummies that she had learned how to make on the Internet. She looked at me and said, "Mr. Clark, I have worked on this for weeks. I wanted it to be good enough. I wanted it to be an A." It was miraculous and spectacular. I looked at her, full of pride, and said with a smile, "Darling, it's an A."
If her initial project hadn't been an F, she never would have walked in with that pyramid. That child is about to graduate RCA, and she is ready to compete with any high school student across the country. She knows what high expectations are, she understands the value of a strong work ethic, and she knows how to achieve excellence. If we continue to dumb down education and to give students A's and B's because they "tried," we are doing them a disservice and failing to prepare them to be successful in the real world. That young lady couldn't walk into an elite high school and compete with a glitter-filled trifold. However, she can walk into any high school with that pyramid and her overall knowledge of how to achieve that type of excellence and stand high above her peers.
I often bake cookies for my students. I tell them it is my great-greatgrandma's recipe and that she handed it to me in secret on her deathbed. (Okay, a stretch.) As I pass out the cookies, the kids who are working hard receive one with delight; the students who aren't working as hard do not. Parents will call and say, "Mr. Clark, I heard you gave every child in the class a cookie except my child. Why are you picking on my child?"
Why does every child have to get the cookie? The parents claim that I will hurt the child's self-esteem. Has it really gotten to the point that we are so concerned with our children's self-esteem that we aren't realistic with them about their performance and abilities? If we give "cookies" when they aren't deserved, then we are telling our young people that they don't need to work hard to receive rewards. We are sending a message that the cookie will always come. That is why we have so many young people in their twenties who have no idea what it means to work hard. And that is why they are still looking to their parents to provide support (and to give them the cookie).
I tell my students who don't receive a cookie that I will be baking cookies the following week. I tell them that I will watch them until that time and that if they are trying hard they'll earn their cookie. It is shocking to see how much effort kids, regardless of their age, will display to get a cookie. And when it is earned, it means something. The students will glow with pride, and they will explain how they are going to eat half the cookie then and save the other half for later. Also, it tastes better than any cookie they have ever eaten, and it sends the message that with hard work comes rewards. If parents and teachers are just rewarding our kids without cause, we aren't teaching the value of personal effort.
We all need to teach our young people that not everyone deserves a pat on the back just because we are attempting to make everyone feel good. Giving praise that isn't earned only sets up our students for more failure in the long run.
If you are a teacher who wants to increase expectations but is afraid of the backlash from giving failing grades on assignments         that will cause your parents and administration to freak out, there are some steps you can take to protect yourself When you         give an assignment, show your students beforehand what you expect. Show a detailed description of what would earn a failing grade, a passing grade, and an outstanding grade. Share that with your administration as well to make sure it meets their approval, and then make your parents understand the expectations. Letting everyone know what is expected beforehand will leave no opportuniry for complaints after the grades have been given.
If you are going to give rewards, such as cookies, let the parents know the classroom behaviors that will earn the reward and the behaviors that will not. When students are struggling, let the parents know specifically the areas that need to be addressed. If the child still does not meet the criteria, you have been clear about your expectations and therefore negative conflicts can be avoided.
The above is an excerpt from the book The End of Molasses Classes: Getting Our Kids Unstuck -- 101 Extraordinary Solutions for Parents and Teachers by Ron Clark. The above excerpt is a digitally scanned reproduction of text from print. Although this excerpt has been proofread, occasional errors may appear due to the scanning process. Please refer to the finished book for accuracy.
Copyright © 2011 Ron L. Clark, Inc 
Author Bio
Ron Clark, 
author of The End of Molasses Classes: Getting Our Kids Unstuck -- 101 Extraordinary Solutions for Parents and Teachers, is a New York Times bestselling author of The Essential 55, has been named "American Teacher of the Year" by Disney and was Oprah Winfrey's pick as her "Phenomenal Man." He founded The Ron Clark Academy in Atlanta, Georgia, which more than 10,000 educators from around the world have visited to learn about the extraordinary ways that teachers and parents of RCA have helped children achieve great success.

For more information please visit http://EndofMolassesClasses.com and follow the author on Facebook and Twitter


  1. I've been listening to this book on CD over the last week, and it is WONDERFUL. There are so many truths in it about teaching and parenting and how to best support our students. It has been a great way for me to begin the new school year.

  2. I was asked to review this book as well and I love it! I'm not quite done yet, so I haven't posted my review, but I'd love to join in on your discussions.


  3. Jodi, you are in! I am glad you are enjoying it, I am too!

  4. I have been reading this for a book review too! I'll be done by mid October, but I'd love to share win some of the discussions :)

  5. Liz, I have placed you on the list!

  6. I just finished reading that book and I loved it! It was the perfect book to read right before school starts again.


  7. Oh my gosh! Just discovered your blog when I saw this post. Read the excerpt and immediately downloaded the book to my kindle app. I only stopped reading to comment. My heart is racing as this book is giving me a lot of aha moments. I would like to visit RCA! By the way I would love to join in on discussions.

    I Heart Teaching Elementary

  8. Marlene,
    Isn't it amazing!!! I am so glad that you are already reading and yes I will include you! Just email me with your email address, so I can get back to you when it starts.

  9. I'd love to join you in October. I'm busy reading The Book Whisperer and Power Reading Workshop so I haven't started reading this one yet. I do own The Essential 55 and The Excellent 11. I've also been to RCA with my school! Love, love, love!!



    Stapler’s Strategies for Sizzlin' Second Graders!

    The Yellow Rocking Chair

  10. I think I need this book after seeing all the positive comments!

    Quench Your First

  11. I just bought this book yesterday (while on a short vacation) and started reading it today on the car ride home - count me in. It's really inspiring and motivating so far - perfect to get me in the mood for the start of school on Tuesday.
    Runde's Room

  12. Please don't forget to email me directly, those of you who want to join in the read a long. I need your email addresses.

  13. I'd love to join your read-a-long. I hadn't heard of this book but it sounds very inspiring. I'll purchase it and get to reading!

  14. I would LOVE to help!! Sounds like a great read!!

    Curls and a Smile

  15. I would love to be a part of this book study!



  16. I would love to participate in the read-a-long. I just sent you an email.

    Jana @Thinking Out Loud


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