Thursday, July 28, 2011

Parents and education

I'm done, I've had it, up to wherever here is! Politicians are not going to want to hear this, neither are parents, but if you want to improve education it has to start at home. I grew up in the 60's and 70's and went to, what were considered good suburban schools.  During that time I had some good teachers and some horrible teachers. Education in that period often consisted of sitting at your desk, doing rote memorization, or copying off the board. Many of my teachers were barely adequate, some wonderful, and a few just downright mean and spiteful. Teachers did not spend a lot of time working on their craft, or modifying their lessons for the different learning styles of students. Yet between the 50's and early 70's education in America was considered great, and our nation excelled in technology, science and innovation.

Today, teachers ARE held accountable. They are expected to attend workshops to improve their skills. They have to get master's degrees if they expect increase their salaries. They are expected to teach a range of student abilities that the teachers in my day would never be expected to teach. Most teachers I know work very hard to improve their craft and often bend over backwards to help their students. And yet the focus continually is on the teacher, as though they alone can fix the problems of education. Teachers are facilitators of knowledge and skills, and that is all they can be.

"You can lead a horse to water......" Familiar? So if teachers are better prepared today to teach a diversity of students, why are we faltering educationally? I'm sorry, but the first cuprits are the parents (it should be the students, but kids learn what they are taught at home). Parents somewhere around the late 70's came to believe that education is the complete domain of the schools. Most parents at this time washed their hands of education as if shedding a terrible burden. They lost the understanding that education starts at home, not in the schools. This is not to say that parents should be doing their children's homework, or standing over them all night long. Helicopter parents only keep therapists in business. It is the attitude towards school and teachers that have changed. Children today learn from their parents, politicians and the media that teachers and schools are inadequate and that you cannot learn unless you have the very best teachers in the world. In other words, they have been taught that they are victims, incapable of learning anything on their own. In the classrooms, only the teachers are supposed to work, somehow this will trickle down to the students. They have been told that education should always be fun and easy. Teachers can and do try, but in my case math will never be fun, but I still needed to learn it, and wish I'd applied myself more. They have learned that homework is useless, and that you should never have to ever memorize anything. What they have not been told is that they are responsible for their own learning and that although a great teacher can make learning easier, you can still learn even with a poor teacher. My parents didn't care about the teacher's skill level, they cared about how much effort I put into the work. They taught me self reliance and the importance of a work ethic. They made school my number one job. They did not pull me out of school for vacations, or to clean the house. They did not keep me out late on a school night, and then let me stay home, because I was tired. And always they emphasized my role in my education and did not make excuses for my behavior. Parents now feel that they should be their child's friend, and  make excuses for their child's poor work habits. Children have to feel that school and learning are important and only parents can truly do this. Turn off the TV. If your child is not doing their work, take away the cell phones, the unsupervised computer time, sports and clubs. Insist on study times, and take some time to look over their work. Even if you are not a great student yourself, you can check to see if the work is complete and neatly done. Read to your kids and read in front of them, even if only magazines, or the back of the cereal box. Kids mimic your attitudes and behaviors so that what you see as important is what they will learn is important. And please have conversations with your kids, which is more than just telling them to get out of your face. If your texting, phone conversations and TV viewing is more important than talking to your kids, that is what your kids will see as important. My father used to love to say, "Do as I say not as I do", but the truth is your kids are much more likely to do as you do rather than as you say.  Do this all early, since trying to start this when your kids become teenagers is impossible.

Check in with the teacher to find out about your child's progress, before they call you to tell you your child is failing. Please don't tell me you don't have the time. Your children should be one of the most important things in your life. If not, do us all a favor and please stop breeding. Your educational level is not paramount, your attitude is! If you think school is a waste of time, that learning is boring, and that anyone who is intelligent or well educated is a nerd, then don't expect your kids to do well in school. However, if that is your attitude stop blaming the teachers and take a look in the mirror. It's kind of like never changing the oil in your car and then blaming the mechanic when your engine blows. Teachers are not miracle workers. They can't fix in six hours a day (or one 40-50 minute period a day) what you have taken years to destroy.