Shifting Attitudes to Save Our School System
More dollars won’t do it. Taking tenure away from teachers (or even giving it back) won’t do it.
Adding another layer of testing certainly won’t do it.
The key to turning poor student achievement around rests on one word: Attitude.
Specifically, parental attitudes toward education. There is a wholesale lack of respect for education in this country and the results of that attitude are played out daily in classrooms, school hallways, restrooms, locker rooms, on school buses, and on playing fields and playgrounds. This is where our problems with lack of educational achievement rest in this country. Not in Washington, Tallahassee, City Council, the Mayor’s office, or even any principal’s office.
As an educator with fifteen years experience in the classroom and another ten at the district level, I believe most parents value the concept of education. However, our society has lost the ability and perhaps the will to convert that conceptual value into very concrete messages for our children. Simply put, we must be much clearer and we must convey those messages to parents first.
“Get involved in your child’s education.” This facile phrase is repeated in every article or TV program on the topic. It sounds good, and of course it is a true statement. Most parents would agree with it. However, I am convinced from years of working with parents that many don’t know how to DO it. Therefore, we have failed as educators in a very basic way. We assume our audience knows what we mean. It appears they don’t.
So, what do we mean? These are the beliefs and subsequent actions that parents must take if we have any hope at all of putting this train wreck called education back on the track of actually educating future citizens before it is all too late. And that time is fast approaching. They must become the soup of life for children as they grow and the head off to their first day of school.
To My Children:
1. School is a place for learning. Nothing else.
2. We have free public education in this country, which is NOT the case in many other countries. It is also mandatory.
3. The primary purpose of going to school is to learn to read, calculate, think, and accumulate knowledge for your future. The reason is so you will be educated enough to participate in society in positive, productive ways.
4. Our democracy demands an educated citizenry. Without it, you will be open to negative forces and influence spawned by ignorance, which means society as a whole will suffer from your ignorance.
5. Each member of the family has a job to do. Your job is school. Jobs are often boring, tedious, and not fun. However, it is still your job.
6. You must attend school every day it is in session, unless you are ill or contagious. And I will decide that for you.
7. You are expected to get to school on time, just as I arrive at work on time. If you have difficulties with this, you must be prepared to accept the consequences. And I will not take those consequences for you.
8. As in nearly any job, you have a supervisor. Yours is called “the teacher.” This person studied and worked to attain that position; therefore, their authority is inherent in their job and must be respected by you. If you “have problems” with your supervisor, there are procedures to follow to address those problems. However, their authority remains intact throughout that process. Arguing, swearing at, defying, or raising your voice at the supervisor is not part of that process and will not be tolerated by either that person or me.
9. Proper comportment (behavior) at school is required. This means appropriate dress (non-revealing, clean, and in good repair), moderated tone of voice, courteous language and non-aggressive behavior toward your classmates and all adults you come into contact with.
10. When in the classroom, you will sit where directed and focus on your supervisor for instruction and directions at all times. You will remain there until instructed to leave. You will do all work you are given to the absolute best of your ability. You will ask questions in an appropriate way when you don’t understand something. You will NOT understand much of what is presented, which is normal and why you are on the job in the first place.
11. You will be required to do some of your work at home. This, too, is part of your job, and the work must be completed regardless on other activities like sports, dance, or play. YOU are responsible for this work, not me. I have my job to focus on. You need to focus on yours.
12. If you need supplies for your job, you must ask me in a timely manner. The night before is not timely. If you lose your supplies once I purchase them for you, you must be prepared to face the consequences at school. I will not accept those consequences for you. I will not bring supplies to school for you. I will not bring “forgotten” items to school for you. Remember: This is YOUR job and therefore, your responsibility.
This is tough work. It takes courage and fortitude. And many parents are simply unwilling to accept their part in this process. Many fall victim to the disease I call “the exception to the rule becomes an all purpose excuse” disorder. Yes, there are poor teachers, poor principals, poor superintendents. But they are the exception and we cannot use them as an excuse to lay our responsibilities down and give up. This victim mentality has given us several generations of children who treat teachers and school in general as the enemy….and mom and dad are right there supporting them in that erroneous idea.
Our society is suffering from the lack of focus on what is necessary to educate our children: Hard work, discipline, and a foundational respect for education. The walls are crumbling around us, lawmakers are getting involved with no real understanding of what they are doing, teachers are victimized every day, children ARE left behind, and the media salivates over it all. And the only thing that will turn the tide is a reversal of the attitudes within the walls of every home in this country concerning the value of education.
And parents are the messengers.
ABOUT DEBORAH HANSEN: Deborah Hansen writes about education and family. Her latest book is “Broken Strings: Wisdom for Divorced and Separated Families.” She has lived on the First Coast for over 20 years and is a former member of the Jacksonville Ethics Commission.