Updated: Jun 9, 2020
An article in the Monday Dec. 5 Wall Street Journal, “Students Slip in Global Tests” relates yet another posting of poor showing by US students in comparison with others around the globe.
This time 15 year-olds who took the Program for International Student Assessment (PISA) test in 2012 have slipped since 2009–from 25th to 31st in math, from 20th to 24th in science and, perhaps most alarming, from 11th to 21st in reading. There is a solution to the problem of poor education in America, but it doesn’t lie in policy or politics, and it can’t be solved by more money or the latest technology. The solution lies at the core of every family.
Components of a Good Education
A good education requires three things: well-educated teachers, responsible parents, and students who understand it’s their job to get an education. In the US, there is a wide range of skill and performance when it comes to teachers; most of us have had several outstanding teachers over the years, and suffered through several who might correctly be labeled incompetent; that’s just the way it is. Should requirements for teacher certification be improved? Absolutely. But we don’t have to wait for a whole new crop of well-educated teachers to appear before seeing improvement, because if the last two components are present–responsible parents and kids who understand it’s their job to get an education–then good education will occur.
Responsible parents provide structure for their children, and hold them accountable–this is the most important thing a parent can do for a child. Instead of obsessing over a child’s self-esteem, and intervening whenever something difficult occurs, parents need to go back to teaching their children the basics of respect for those in authority, hard work done well, and making good use of time. Instead of agonizing over what they can’t control–the way other children or parents behave, for example– parents must focus on tangible things, things that will have an impact beyond what they can imagine.
Things like: having breakfast and dinner together, requiring a regular routine of chores (not for money), and setting a regular bedtime; leaving a child’s homework up to him, but making it clear that progressing to the next grade is his responsibility–if he fails, he repeats a grade; not questioning a teacher’s report of poor behavior, but imposing some kind of consequence instead; not allowing a child to behave disrespectfully, not giving voice to opinions regarding the validity of a particular assignment or policy in front of a child, and not criticizing the teacher or school in front of a child.
Imagine the possibilities in a classroom of students whose parents behaved in this way, or a teacher’s delight in having a room full of students who paid attention, wrote down their assignments, followed instructions, did their homework without questioning or arguing, went to bed at a decent time, ate a decent breakfast, didn’t rush to school, and didn’t spend time in class boasting about what level of video game they conquered or discussing the latest contestant on The Voice!
“Core curriculum” that should be implemented by every family:
Eliminate TV on weeknights for the kids, along with all other technology, including phones–confiscate them if you must and turn them off. The only time your child might possibly need them is when they’re away from home. If they genuinely need to contact someone, they can ask permission to use the phone–just like in the olden days! (Obviously, if they need to use the computer, that’s fine, but there’s no need for facebook or net-surfing.)
Choose one activity for your child to participate in–church, or a sport, or music lessons–but only one. Eliminate all other weeknight activities. Routine bedtime and the ability to consistently do homework are going to be far more valuable in the long run than being on the swim, soccer, basketball, and football teams. While there is value in the teamwork that can occur in a team sport (too often these are more about the adults involvement than the kids–be honest), little-league sports is not the only opportunity your child will ever have to be part of a team.
Set a bedtime, and a time for homework to be completed and put away. When quittin’ time comes, remove all the homework, pencils, etc. and send your child to get ready for bed–whether or not he’s finished. He may get a few papers marked late, but if you stick to your routine, he’ll eventually figure out he has to start earlier in order to finish on time. Don’t rescue him!
Set a breakfast time, and provide a decent breakfast–this means you have to get up on time!
Go to bed at a decent hour yourself, so you can get up.
Get your child to school on time, and pick him up on time. Don’t make his life a constant rush, a series of apologies, and a disorganized mess. Never learned to do this yourself? It’s time to start!
Make a list of household chores for each of your children–think of anything and everything, from dusting and vacuuming, to cleaning the kitchen to doing laundry. Teach them how to do them, tell them when they must be done, post the schedule, and hold them to it–if they fail to do their chores, or do them poorly, they forfeit what they want to do.
Re-read your school’s policies regarding absences, late work, illness, dress code, etc. and make sure there is compliance.
Re-read the classroom policies of your child’s teachers–make sure you and your child understand them, and make it clear to your child that you will not ask for exceptions, but will hold him to these expectations and requirements.
Check out some interesting books from the library–enjoy reading them in the evening while your children do their homework.
Parents who follow this kind of routine will produce children who understand it’s their job to get an education. They won’t just show up to class waiting to be entertained, and feeling put out if they have homework. Kids who come to class prepared, having gotten a good night’s rest and a good breakfast, who have things like paper and pencils and other materials, and who come expecting to listen and work, will succeed! I promise! This doesn’t mean they’ll all make straight A’s, but they’ll have what they need to become educated, to get an education rather than expecting anyone to give it to them!
None of this has anything to do with money. Anyone, regardless of economic level, is capable of doing these things IF they know to do them and are willing to practice some self-discipline. Unfortunately, what so many teachers and administrators see in the classroom are spoiled children. These children don’t know how to be quiet and pay attention; instead, they demonstrate a firmly held belief that what they think and feel is the most important thing in the world. Their mommies have always run interference for them, making excuses about everything under the sun–they were up late, or they had a tournament, or they struggle with ADD, or it was the other child’s fault, or they need to express themselves, or they were bullied, or they’re just not naturally organized, etc. . . Well-meaning, perhaps–but they’re ruining their children’s ability to grow up and learn. In their efforts to “help” their children overcome the difficulties of life, all these parents are doing is making them soft, self-centered, helpless in the face of true adversity.
There is no hope for America’s youth if parents don’t wise up.
Parents are going to have to stop taking the easy way out–it’s easier to just do things for them than to step back and watch them struggle, easier to spend more on technology or expect policy changes to make a difference. We need to be harder on ourselves and harder on our kids.
Pile on the chores! Confiscate the electronics! Cut back the activities and sports! Give that kid an assignment tablet, and tell him it’s up to him to see that all of his assignments are done well and turned in on time, according to the requirements of the teacher. When he does well, congratulate him on his hard work. Don’t tell him he’s awesome, because he isn’t. He simply followed instructions, wrote neatly, and turned his work in on time–imagine that!
Our children have great potential. Whether or not any of them becomes the next Steve Jobs is irrelevant. We can’t fix the entire state of American education, but we can make an adjustment in our thinking, and in this way we can begin to restore high standards, high expectations and high performance to the process of educating our children, one family at a time.
NOTE: Over the next few weeks, I’ll be introducing readers to some young mothers who have a solid “core curriculum” for their families. Stay tuned!