Saturday, November 13, 2010

Schools: Do We Cause Our Greatest Problem?

One of the most frequent complains heard among school personnel is the lack of support from families.  I'm guilty of this myself.  We continually complain that our problems within school would be solved if only our students had better parental support.  After all, we know achievement is correlated with parental involvement.  Sounds plausible, right?

Blaming families is easy.  We see absentee parents more interested in earning money than spending quality time with their children.  We see family units that no longer practice time-honored traditions like family dinners, sharing of thoughts and ideas, or any other sort of meaningful interactions.  If we could figure out a way to change families, we could solve all our problems in schools. 

Now think about what we've been teaching in school for the last fifty years.  If you work hard, you will get better grades.  If you get better grades, you will gain acceptance into college.  The better the grades, the better the institution.  A college education will allow you to get a better job.  A better job will afford you a more comfortable lifestyle.  A more comfortable lifestyle will result in happiness.  Boil it down: hard work = collection of stuff = happiness.  This is the lesson we teach; this is the goal we champion; this is the life we idealize.

The absentee parents of our struggling children learned this exact same lesson in school, too.  Why are parents working so hard?  They are chasing a fleeting definition of happiness.  They are trying to provide more comfort, usually for their children.  They are simply doing what they have been taught... in schools. 

A few days ago, I wrote about the evils of homework.  What does homework do?  It monopolizes kids' family time.  Not only have we produced a generation of workaholics searching for an elusive capitalistic version of happiness, but we're adding another barrier to family development by busying our students.  We already take thirty-six hours of their time per week (even more when you factor lunch and transportation time), but we insist on giving them even more outside the confines of the classroom. 

Why do our kids have such weak families?  Maybe we're the cause.

3 comments:

  1. Good question. I heard this lament a lot from teachers too. It strikes me that historically, this was one of the very functions of school, to take over the role of parenting from "the masses." I wonder if in a way, to do that, as teachers, we have to find a way of feeling OK with it. So the lament is almost so that we can do our job: we can step in and do it, precisely because the proper parent won't. Anyway, I'm just imagining... But I think you have delved into territory we don't often choose to explore...

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  2. A recent article about my local parish school had the teachers lamenting how only a handful of students had parents who were involved, but the parents are mostly working class people working their BUTTS off to pay tuition (Catholic school). Seriously? Paying thousands of dollars a year does not count as involved in your kids' education? Maybe not for wealthy people, but for people in one of the poorest zip codes in America, it surely does.

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  3. I don't believe in the school system we have set up at all, but I feel completely stuck in it. I would have home-schooled but I am a wimp and didn't think I would be able to do all that work. But if I was a stronger person, I think home schooling is the way I would have gone (and I am the daughter of two teachers).

    I have picked the absolute best alternative to home schooling that I thought I could find and I am still very unhappy with it. I am unhappy with it because my children's love of learning just disappeared and they ended up just going through the motions and going there to be in contact with their friends. This is in a place that has won awards for being a model school and is creative, progressive and unique. Most of their day is spent with teachers dealing with kids who are misbehaving and it wastes their time.

    My daughter doesn't have time to walk with or play with her dog because of the homework. The homework seems arbitrarily assigned and I can't see what purpose it is trying to accomplish.

    I believe the whole system should be scrapped completely and small family groups should get together and hire tutors to make little family schools similar to the one-room schoolhouses. I think it should be completely controlled on the community level. The part about home schooling that scared me was doing it all alone without support, but if everyone was doing it we'd all come up with creative ways to support it.

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