What’s Wrong with Our Schools?

A number of things…

As a community, we have lost respect for our schools. We speak disparagingly of our schools in front of our children. We no longer instill in our children a sense of the deep value and importance of education. Foreign shores are teeming with people who would die to be in our schools, yet we ourselves have little regard for them.

We often assume our children are right and their school is wrong, reflexively defending them from a teacher’s disciplines or scholarly demands instead of teaching them to respect their school and their teachers.

We send our schools five and six-year olds who may not have had the benefits of a home life with a fulltime parent there to bond with and care for them, as one or both parents must work to subsist.

If they’re lucky, our children may spend their pre-school years in a good daycare center, but there are precious few that provide the nurturing and wealth of early education and sensory experiences that young children need to grow into healthy learners.

With steep cutbacks coming in housing and nutrition subsidies for the poor and the working poor, we are already sending children to our schools malnourished with junk food and suffering from developmental problems brought on by poor nutrition, rising poverty and homelessness.

In many cases, we send them children who watch hours of TV daily and go out and about wearing headsets blaring rap or techno, isolated from the sounds and sights of a world rife with excitement and natural lessons. Their eyes are glued to tiny game, cell phone or PDA screens as they IM their friends or play electronic games in a fantasy world filled with implied sex and violence, both of which are now “in their face.” The wonders of sexual discovery at an appropriate age and in appropriate circumstances are lost on our children who have seen it all. The real horrors of war and societal violence are quotidian and vicarious, and conveyed without physical pain or pain of loss.

We pass school budgets that have little or no positive impact on the quality of teaching, but are escalated by rising healthcare, labor, utility, insurance and maintenance costs.

We have schools themselves serving towns that now house as many children in their centralized school as there are people in the town they came from.

Too many politicians give speeches and pass laws about how schools should work while rarely visiting them to see how they do work or asking those who teach there what they need to enhance the culture of learning.

The current administration in Washington, under their new rubric of “starve the beast” or “the ownership society” – or “whatever” as our children now say – passes lofty sounding legislation rife with doublespeak while providing little, if any, funding to realize those lofty goals.

As a society we will be judged not only by our material wealth but also by how well we care for our children, our aged and our poor and infirm. In our obsession with consumerism, our abiding belief in the salvation of mankind through free market economics, we are losing aspects of community which are vitally important and will inevitably define us in history. Archeologists may paw through the detritus of our consumer age and remark on the size of our cars and houses, but history will judge us by our human and cultural values.

When I look back on how education changed my life, I see no schools, gyms or technology- no physical plant. I see the faces of about six or eight people who cared so deeply about my learning that they would not let go of me. Sometimes they made me afraid, sometimes they pushed me further than I thought could go, but in the end, I learned from them in spite of myself. I remember books, music, plays and science and math experiments that amazed me. I also remember competitions and recess games, but mostly I remember with fondness and respect those who made a difference in my life. We need to celebrate and support them, make them leaders in our schools. This is where the much vaunted “creative economy” begins.

Much of what is wrong with our schools lies within us.

We must support quality, accountability and educational leadership, and personally help to create a culture of learning in our homes and schools, instead of talking about what they aren’t, especially in front of our children.

March 4, 2006

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