Read the Dictionary
I just finised reading Dennis Fermoyle's post titled, "What I Believe: June, 2008." Belief number five regarding who is to blame when students fail, reminded me of a word I will never forget: culpable. A great professor at Northwest University, Dr. Hobson, uttered the word while reading to us from Cornelius Plantinga Jr.'s Not the Way It's Supposed to Be: A Breviary of Sin. Not an easy read!
What I remember most, though, was the discussion about the difference between responsibility, which denotes both "answerability" and "accountablity," and culpability, which denotes "blameworthiness." Most discussions regarding educational blame use the connotative meaning of responsibility to cast teachers as blameworthy. However, we must learn to use the nuance of language to adjust our perspective.
First, let us allow for the truth that some teachers lack the insight to self-reflect and thus recognize their culpablity in student failure. Certainly low quality teachers exist, but there is no evidence to sugges that the whole of teachers are of low quality.
A great teacher should always accept responsibility when students fail to achieve. In this sense, I mean that he should be able to answer the question of why that student failed. Sometimes, a responsible teacher will evaluate his efforts and realize that, indeed, he is culpable for the failure.
As my school year comes to a close soon, I will evaluate my year as a unit of work. I believe I am answerable to my students, their parents, and my administrators for the content choices and pedagogical approaches. I can already tell you that I am, in part, culpable for some student failure. In at least one case, I failed to create a connection with a student who clearly could have used my attention.
When it comes to casting blame for student failure, teachers need to accept responsibility, but we don't always have to accept culpability.