Your Contract Is Invalid

I object to the use of the word “contract” in the context of kids and schools. Specifically, there are two instances in which “contract” is being misused at the expense of the child: Behavioral contracts, and homework contracts.

When used like this, “contract” is reduced to “a document that must be signed,” and typically imposes conditions and penalties SOLELY on the child. The child has no recourse, nor the option to decline participation.

Behavior contracts are little more than dictations of a child’s ideal behavior and the penalties to be imposed if that ideal is not met. Sometimes there might be token mention of expectations of a teacher’s conduct, but never any mention of penalties that could be enforced against a teacher for failure to uphold their end. (And why should there be? We all know in practice it would be incredibly difficult, likely impossible to hold the teacher accountable for any lapses in good behavior.) The contract is typically drafted in the spirit that the child is suspect from the start. Worse yet, failure to sign the document (both the child and the parents) results in penalties against the child’s grade. What if the parents disagree with some of the conditions? Is there an option to make amendments?

Instead of calling this a “contract” (because it ISN’T a contract, by definition), these documents should be renamed something more fitting of the actual contents. “Notice of Conduct Expectations” is a little long-winded, but much more appropriate than a misleading “contract.”

Homework contracts are even more ludicrous and flagrant in its misuse of “contract.” I don’t even see any conditions or penalties listed (or at least, I didn’t when they were foisted on me in school). The only element that made these “contracts” was that they required a signature. Otherwise, it was simply a collective of worksheets. Having browsed through the TeacherWeb postings on West Heritage’s directory, it appears these absurd “contracts” are still being flung about.

“Contract” is not an appropriate name for this document type. “Quota,” on the other hand, is perfect. “Quota” specifies that such and such work needs to be performed in a certain time frame.

Teachers, do yourselves and everyone (especially your students) a favor and read up on the definition of contract. By naming any document that requires a signature a “contract,” you are distorting its meaning and sending a message that contracts are for adults to use to control children without the latter having any option for meaningful input in the matter.

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