The achievement levels of students in both elementary and high schools have fallen drastically in recent years. Many factors contribute to this decline in academic proficiency: the prevalence of the nuclear family, in which both parents must work to pay living expenses, the rising number of single-parent families, the rising cost of food and health care, and a culture of instant gratification and violence which makes long-term educational plans and goals seem irrelevant to many young people.
The steps recommended below will be expensive, however, if America wants to maintain its position as leader of the free world in the fields of education, science, technology, manufacturing, medicine, and other disciplines, we have no choice.
The children are the future. Their needs and well-being must take priority over other projects which could well afford to wait. Do we really need to explore Mars right now, when most of tomorrow’s adults will be too poorly educated to carry on space exploration in the next generation?
Wake up, America! There is still time to bite the bullet and ensure that our children are given the conditions and resources needed to meet and even surpass the accomplishments of the children of the nineteen hundreds. Here’s what needs to be done:
* A sick child can’t learn. A doctor should be on hand in every school for at least three half days each week. Any child who comes to school ill should be sent to the doctor. Appropriate medication should be supplied, free of charge, to needy families.
* A hungry child can’t learn. Nourishing breakfasts and lunches should be available in the lunch room or cafeteria to children of needy families. If necessary, boxed meals should be sent home for supper. To function at peak potential, a mind needs good nutrition.
* A frightened child can’t learn. There should be zero tolerance for any type of weapon in a school zone. This would include guns, knives, slingshots, firecrackers, anything that a child might find frightening. It could even include scissors, nail files or other sharp objects, if they were found to be used in a threatening manner.
Bullying should not be tolerated. Anyone guilty of breaking this rule would be suspended until the school, the threatened child, and also the victim’s parents received sincere letters of apology, with a promise not to repeat the offense. A second incident, when proved, would result in the immediate expulsion of the bully.
If a teacher or other staff member noticed any signs of physical abuse on a child, they should be compelled to report it to Child Welfare authorities immediately. Failure to do so would result in a substantial fine. Teachers should also be taught the behavioral signs of sexual or emotional abuse in children and be on constant lookout for these types of behaviors.
* A distressed child can’t learn. A child whose parents are going through a separation or divorce, who is coping with the death or terminal illness of a beloved relative or friend, will not be able to focus on school work. Counselors should be on call to help children deal with these traumatic life situations.
* A child who has an incompetent teacher can’t learn. Every teacher should be required to hold a university degree in education, and serve a three-year probationary period under the guidance of an experienced mentor before receiving a permanent teaching certificate. There should be ongoing direction and counseling by the principal of the school or other supervisory personnel, for the duration of the teacher’s career.
* An undisciplined child can’t learn. Strict rules of conduct should be explained at the beginning of the year, and reviewed often. Each offense should have a designated consequence and these should be applied fairly. For example: homework not done, without a note from home, will be done during recesses and lunch period the next day. Inappropriate language will require an essay, signed by a parent on, ” Why a Citizen Should Use Proper Language in Everyday Life”. No physical punishments would be permitted.
* A child with a poor self-image, who doesn’t feel part of the group, won’t achieve as well as he should. To avoid this, school sports and special skill groups should be encouraged. Whether it’s a football game or a chess tournament, every student should have an extracurricular activity in which he can compete skilfully. If practical, school uniforms also promote a feeling of belonging and advance a sense of school spirit.
In summary, children are our most important resource, our legacy to the country and to the future. No expense should be spared to provide them with the best in nutrition, health care, education, character formation and social training. The initial cost of these programs would be insignificant compared to the cost of welfare payments and social assistance programs required by the crowd of unruly, poorly-educated adults that the present educational system will produce. And, we don’t have time to wait. The children are growing older every day.