It's no secret
in the United States
is in a crisis
situation. Liberals and conservatives battle
over what is needed to improve test scores and overall
scholastic achievement. In the past, factor
s such as social advancement, funding inequities, low teacher pay and morale
, bureaucratic inertia
and politics have been blamed for the state of our schools.
These factors have resulted in potential solutions including voucher programs, charter schools, increased funding for personnel and equipment, smaller class sizes and smaller administrative units. While test scores have indicated that these solutions have made some impact, the fact remains that our educational system as a whole does not prepare children adequately either for college or meaningful careers.
A major reason progress has been limited is due to the fact that we blame others for our problems. A quick glance at the contributing factors to low achievement shows one common denominator: the problems are blamed on teachers, on government, on administration, on philosophies, everything and everyone but ourselves.
I feel that one of the main factors that determines school success is the amount of involvement by parents, guardians, siblings and others in the education of a child. Although there will always be the self-motivated and the academically gifted, the vast majority of students need help after school sessions end. Unfortunately, many parents have abdicated their roles as helpers and guides, leaving their children to fend for themselves.
This problem cuts across racial and economic lines. As parents work to make ends meet, children suffer from a lack of supervision. Most kids will not study on their own, because studying is not fun – even with such programs as Hooked on Phonics. They would rather play with their friends and Nintendo sets than look at a set of numbers or read a book.
When the parents come home, many are too busy trying to reacquaint themselves with each other to pay the proper amount of attention to their children's schoolwork. Increased funding and better teachers do not compensate for such a lack of concern. Conservatives put much of the blame for the rampant lack of achievement in poorer communities on the parent. To a large degree, this is all too true and must be acknowledged by the leaders of those communities.
However, they need to understand that single parents from these communities are overwhelmed by the sheer struggle of trying to put food on the table and shelter over their heads. After a hard day at low pay, the mother or father struggles into the house, and plopping in front of the television, eating a quick dinner, and/or going to sleep takes precedence; helping a child to read or calculate seems like an odious chore, especially if the child fails to grasp the concept quickly.
The onus is then put on the teacher to come up with ways to keep children interested, but with no incentive to do homework, most pupils are doomed to underachieve. We tend to put more emphasis on making it in athletics than cheering when a child brings home excellent work or understands a word for the first time. This misapplication of priorities prevents the full utilization of poor students.
More resources are, however, available to those children, including top-notch tutors and learning programs. In addition, in many two-parent households, one is much more apt to stay home than in poorer neighborhoods. A child raised in such a household is much more liable to fulfill academic expectations, for the parent at home has time to participate in that child's education, both at home and at school.
Still, many parents do not take advantage of the resources available to them for their children, so while they deal with their marital problems, stock options, vacations and other pursuits, little Johnny or Mary is left to deal with their school subjects alone.
Therefore, although the scores for schools in such neighborhoods are much higher than in poor areas, the students are still underachieving when compared to other countries. How else can we account for the alarming lack of knowledge of schoolchildren in geography, mathematics and even reading?
Other human resources should be used in the education of a child. Older siblings who have been through the subjects their younger counterparts now struggle in can provide invaluable assistance – although it may mean not going out on a date for a night or two.
Relatives (cousins, uncles, aunts, grandparents, etc.) should be happy for a child's achievements instead of feeling jealous that their own child or sibling may be surpassed scholastically. Those who attend churches, synagogues and mosques should be able to offer themselves as tutors and helpers to those who cannot study due to a difficult home environment.
Instead of displaying an "I got mine, go get yours" attitude, the overall priority is to ensure that the children who are a part of our lives receive the encouragement and assistance necessary to "make it" in school. Unless the child's ability can only reach a "C" level, we should not have them settle for such grades, but for academic excellence.
Pumping funds indiscriminately into schools does not resolve problems, as the recent case of the Kansas City school district illustrates. The attempt to use Ebonics in Oakland would have been an utter failure, for it would not have prepared black children for achievement and success in this society.
Social advancement may boost self-esteem for a while, but it ultimately dooms the child to a lifetime of despair and futility. School vouchers would only benefit those with the means to reach prized schools (which would have to set attendance limits, frustrating those who could not make it in).
Likewise, marchers who advocate affirmative action and equality for all are being hypocritical if nothing is done to help their siblings or children navigate their educations. Either we must take responsibility for the generation coming up after us or we cannot sit and blame others if our educational morass continues – for the main culprits will not be the teachers, the government, the bureaucrats, the gangsters and drug dealers or the rap, movie and sports stars, but the sole individual.