In the United States, we have – in theory – a wonderful resource which is accessible to every citizen: education. Unfortunately, we have squandered and nearly destroyed this valuable resource. Who is to blame? Everyone; that is, society as a whole. A lot of finger pointing occurs in any discussion of the failing education system, and various people or groups get blamed: teachers, administrators, students, parents.
Most teachers enjoy what they do, or they did at one time. Unfortunately, incompetent teachers exist, just as do incompetents in any other profession, and they should be removed from their positions. The majority of teachers, though, are competent at what they do; even more so when they are given the support and resources they need.
Strong teachers’ unions have made it difficult to dismiss teachers from their positions and have made pay raises nearly a guarantee. A teacher can earn a pay raise just by putting in a certain number of years or by gaining additional education, neither of which necessarily guarantee a more qualified teacher. Merit plays too small a role in teachers’ pay raises. Standardized tests, though, are not a good indicator of a teacher’s performance.
Poor usage of tax money, overpaid administrators, and lack or misuse of resources also contribute to the failure of our education system as well, but the blame should be focused on parents, and, by extension, society as a whole.
The decline of the family unit, which is a result of changes in societal norms, is at the heart of the failure of our education system. I have worked for several years for a supplemental education provider where I see students who have not thrived in our education system. Since the service we provide is expensive, the students usually come from middle to upper class homes. One thing that most of these students have in common is a chaotic home life. This is certainly not universally to blame for all education problems, but contributes to a significant portion of them. Although this education provider doesn’t see students from the lower socio-economic brackets, many of these students also come from chaotic homes, often more intensely so than the higher socio-economic classes.
These students should have every advantage, considering their socio-economic status and resources available to them. They typically attend highly ranked public or private schools, their parents are able to afford healthy food, clothing, shelter, and school supplies. Most of these students are expected to attend college, which often will be paid for by their parents. So, why are these students failing in school, or at least not performing to their potential? Let’s look at their home life.
Their parents may be divorced. The divorce of a child’s parents is hugely disruptive, and many times a child’s decline in school performance can often be traced back to the school year in which his/her parents divorced. This is not an argument that parents should remain married in all circumstances. Often, an unhappy marriage can be just as disruptive for children. Violence, arguments, and tension between parents are obviously distracting to a child, preventing the child from focusing on school work. Parents need to be aware of this and attempt to keep the majority of the drama away from their children, not just for educational implications, but obviously for the psychological impact.
Aside from the “big” issues like divorce and other major life changes, the everyday home life needs to be examined. Parents are busy with work, don’t sit down in the evening for a family dinner, shuttle students to multiple (and excessive) extracurricular activities, and in general, have no structure or routine in place at home. These parents forget their own appointments, forget their children’s tutoring appointments, and are disorganized. Obviously, children are going to imitate their parents behavior. If a mother doesn’t keep an organized calendar of appointments, how is her daughter going to learn to keep a planner with her homework assignments? If a father is always paying bills late, how will his son learn to turn in homework on time? If a family doesn’t have a set dinnertime, how will the child schedule a regular homework time? Children are at the mercy of their parents’ chaotic schedule.
Another detriment to our education system that can be attributed to home life and society as a whole is lack of discipline and respect. Teachers struggle to maintain discipline in the classroom because not all children have been taught to be respectful and obedient. Nowadays, parents get upset with teachers who discipline their children. If all students were taught at home to be respectful and obedient, teachers could spend more of their time teaching and less disciplining, which would make the education experience more pleasant and rewarding for all involved.
As a society, we have come to value entertainment far too much, especially entertainment which caters to short attention spans. Children frequently watch television and play video games. Even on short car trips, children must be entertained with DVD players. When these children get to school, they are unable to focus on anything for an extended period of time and expect to be entertained. How can a lesson on nouns and verbs compete with the latest video game? At any period history, teaching has always required creativity in creating lesson plans which engage students’ interest, but teachers are now faced with competing with video games, the Internet and text messaging for their students’ attention.
Again, these issues at home cannot be universally blamed for the failure of our education system, but correcting these issues can go far in overcoming the other issues plaguing our school systems. Parents need to be good examples of organization, teach their children to be respectful and obedient, and provide activities to lengthen attention spans. In a typical 5-day school week, a child spends more time outside of school than in. Much of this time is spent sleeping, but in terms of a year, a child only spends half of the days of the year in school. This means that teachers and schools cannot be expected to be solely responsible for the development of a child.
Outside of the family, our society needs to take on significant responsibility for the education system. Even people who don’t have children, or whose children are grown, should be interested in the education system because it is producing their future leaders in government and business, as well as the people they encounter every day: their accountant, the grocery store cashier, their doctor, and so on. We should all exercise our democratic rights and use our voice to weigh in on policies and politicians, from the national level to the local school board. Volunteering is another good way to get involved, either with schools themselves or with struggling families. We need to work to stabilize our communities, and in turn, families, in order to improve our education system. None of us has a right to complain about the operation of a school system if we have not contributed to its performance in a positive way.