Monday, September 13, 2010

Two more cents on education debate

Thomas Friedman recently wrote a stellar editorial "We're number 1(1) in the New York Times.  He notes that Newsweek's rating of the top 100 countries in the world has the United States coming in at number 11. Regarding the downturn in our nation's education, Mr. Friedman quotes Washington Post's economics columnist, Paul Samuelson, "The larger cause of failure is almost unmentionable: shrunken student motivation.”

There is a related story written by a former school superintendent that is worth a read, No Dentist Left Behind. This looks at the folly of having a dentist totally accountable for their patient's cavities. The dentist/patient analogy is used to illustrate the folly of "leave no child behind", which held teachers and schools accountable for their student's academic achievement.

The challenges teachers face in today's classroom are enormous. We have millions of kids who are living in poverty, coming from single parent homes, many who are also transient.  Just yesterday I visited with a young man at the dog park.  He was there with his little brown dog.  I asked about what school he was attending. He was a Junior at the local High School, Armstrong.  He said he likes the school, and hopes he might graduate from Armstrong, cautioning that he had never lived in a home for more than two years.  He seemed likable and articulate, but also faces tough odds.

So what can we do? 

1. Volunteer as you're able in a school. Most schools are set up to handle tutors, teacher aids, etc.
2. Become a mentor. Kids don't care how much adults know until they know how much they care.
3. Help fund a classroom need.  There is an electronic resource called DonorsChoose that makes this simple to find effort needing support in a school in your area. 
4. Watch the upcoming film, Waiting for Superman, coming out soon in theaters. This movie discusses the national crisis in education. Locally I believe that it will be showing at the Lagoon Theater.
5. Don't buy into worship of athletes. Instead, let's provide greater respect for teachers and others in education. Kids notice where our attention is going and what gets rewarded.  How about going to a school music performance instead of a professional ball game?
6. Read, write or take a class yourself. Kids may or may not do what we tell them, but they most always do what they see us doing.
7. Have high expectations of kids.  Even young people coming from adverse circumstances can thrive when they have caring adults in their lives. Emmy Werner and Ruth Smith wrote about their 30 year longitudinal study on the power of resilience, Overcoming the Odds: High Risk Children from Birth to Adulthood.

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