So What is Different?

Finger pointing
at public schools
is in the news again.

In 1996, I wrote this tirade.

Education Reform
I am agitated again! Enough is enough! I just heard another mass media expert say, in effect, that if the American education system does not improve and start to challenge the native intellect of students, their learning will continue to fall behind the level reached by students in other industrialized nations. The education system and teacher bashing by politicians and others with highly visible forums is popular.

An education system cannot vote and has no economic power. Educators at all levels can vote, but even in a block, if that were imaginable, their numbers are relatively insignificant, and any real clout is just imagination. Considering their average income, they certainly do not have individual or even collective economic power. And, some of the experts say that educators are paid too much for the jobs they do. Something or someone that cannot impress economically or politically is easy to criticize.

I almost expect to read someday that a court or jury finds a school district financially liable for failure to detect scoliosis in a child. After all, there must be something inherently wrong with a school system that cannot support proper medical testing of our children. As if you had not heard already, other experts have a concern that the free and reduced breakfast and lunch programs are making our kids fat. Perhaps a bevy of do-good advocates and attorneys will make a class action lawsuit to get compensation for overweight adults who were subjected to free and reduced school lunches.

Yes, I was a teacher.1Retired in 1993, but substituted as teacher and administrator until 2013. I have a master’s degree and over twenty-one years in the classroom.2when this was written I was, like the great majority of my peers, well trained and, if only I say so, good at what I did. Few of us considered the system flawless, but we started every September with renewed high expectations of every class and every student. We monitored and adjusted to individual differences and hoped that each new school year would be better than the last. We studied a variety of journals and attended classes or workshops to keep current with trends, ideas, and techniques for teaching and motivating students.

Yes, many students responded to our effort to teach and motivate, and yes, many parents helped their children and encouraged them to respond to our efforts. But yes, when supplies were short, we willingly spent some of the alleged overpay we were given to buy supplies and supplemental materials.

However, the second page of the story divulges that a great number of the students do not respond well, and too many parents do not help their children respond to our efforts. My experience and that of many of my colleges was that most students do little homework and devote even less outside of class time to serious study of anything other than their music or programs like The Simpsons on TV. Some might impute the aforesaid to an opinion that homework is just meaningless busywork given by teachers to exercise control over students’ personal time, but that is a topic for another debate.

Parents of those students do not insist on homework being done, and many put higher priorities on their student’s jobs, sports activities or on a perceived right pursue leisure activities. Many working students, student athletes and even many students with no outside of school activities at all have those same priorities. I do not implicate the kids because children only know excellence by what they have been taught and observed.

Moreover, a psychologist I used to know, while leading a parenting class, told parents to just do the homework for the child. He said that he felt that a disagreement over homework was not worth any level of harsh feelings between any parent and child.

American students’ success does not suffer from having an overwhelmingly poor or unprogressive education system. Their success suffers because too many American parents, students and experts have contracted a poor attitude towards their own responsibility within the American education system.

Until the majority of parents realize that student learning is as much the responsibility of the student and themselves as it is of the system and the teachers, nothing is likely to change for the better. Students will continue to test poorly, and the system and teachers will continue to be easy targets for those looking for something or someone to blame for the real or perceived declining ability to compete in a world market. After all, don’t we pay taxes so teachers can be employed to motivate the student?

A more expert teacher and a more quality system cannot cause an unwilling student to learn any more than an expert plumber can open a plugged sink in a locked house. Someone has to open the door so he can get to the sink.

Elementary students often come from the home with baggage not their own and are still dealing with things they do not yet understand when they arrive at school. Many secondary students find ways to deal with that baggage and choose to not arrive at school as often as scheduled. One student with emotional, social, or physical problems that require a classroom teacher to spend more time on that student than the balance of the class can disrupt or impede an elementary class for an entire day.

Bashing the American education system and teachers will not make our children more willing to learn, more willing to challenge themselves or more willing to respond to the challenges of teachers. Government at any level cannot legislate a willing attitude. I guess that leaves teaching and showing a positive attitude towards the importance of learning up to the parent.

Media experts and politicians probably will continue to avoid being critical of parents and other citizens who can vote. There are more non-teacher voters and spenders than teachers and that means non-educators have the largest a block of political and economic clout on education issues.

Even school district administrators and school boards are hesitant to imply overtly that a lack of influence by parents is a major cause of student’s marginal level of success in school. Consequently, when asking for voter support of the system, school officials consistently ask for less than is really needed. They know voters will never pay the price for high quality when less quality appears to get their children by, and their own short term financial desires have a priority over the future financial fitness of their children.

The same voters, who get only the quality for which they vote, then continue to effectuate the conditions that lead experts and politicians to proclaim that when the schools are improved, support will improve.

If those who read this think I am placing the responsibility in the wrong places, I rest my case.

In spite of all the negatives, there is another ‘however’ here; we often read about scholar athletes, high school students achieving good or high grades while working, and high achieving students doing charitable work in their community.

So, is there a real difference between 1996 and now?

  • 1
    Retired in 1993, but substituted as teacher and administrator until 2013.
  • 2
    when this was written

One thought on “So What is Different?

  1. PBS? I heard someone say social subjects is taking a backseat to other studies

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