Richard Louv, author and former columnist for The San Diego Union-Tribune, began a column in the mid-90s as follows: "At the beginning of the school year, it's good to remember the key to education. It isn't curriculum, but people. To be specific: teachers.''
Professor Linda Darling-Hammond, former executive director of the National Commission on Teaching and America's Future agreed. She was quoted as saying, "Teachers are the single most important component of student achievement.''
Their hearts, I'm sure, were in the right place; nonetheless, Louv and Darlin-Hammond were mistaken.
The achievement level of America's public schools - as measured by the achievement level of its students - has been in a state of steady decline for 40+ years.
If indeed teachers are "the single most important component of student achievement,'' then teachers are to blame for this decline. But teachers are not the problem, and better teachers, as prescribed by Darling-Hammond's commission, are not the solution.
The problem is parents.
Specifically, parents who fail to send to school children who are teachable: prepared to pay attention, accept assignments and do their best.
Actually, the parent problem is twofold, involving parents with wonderful intentions as well as parents with no intentions to speak of. However, since the latter are not likely to be reading this column, I'll confine my comments to parents with good intentions.
Today's well-intentioned parents pay lots of attention to their children. So much so, unfortunately, that many of their children never learn to pay sufficient attention to them. Consequently, those children come to school unprepared to pay attention to teachers.
Well-intentioned parents provide lots of outside activities and experiences for their children. Unfortunately, many of them don't seem to realize that the most valuable learning takes place inside, not outside, the home.
These parents often forget to have their children perform daily chores, or they object that the family's busy schedule won't allow it.
On those relatively rare occasions when they assign chores, they frequently allow their children to get by with second-rate jobs. Not surprisingly, therefore, their children often come to school unprepared to accept assignments from teachers. They come to school thinking (but not consciously) that second-rate work is good enough.
Today's well-intentioned parents want the best for their kids. They do lots of things for them and give them lots of things. So much so that many of their children come to school believing that adults exist to serve. The best teacher, however, cannot give a child an education through her effort.
She can only provide the child with an opportunity to get the education himself, courtesy of his own effort.
In closing, a few facts:
- Regardless of IQ, a child who has not learned to pay strict attention to authority figures will not learn what he is capable of learning.
- Regardless of IQ, a child who isn't willing to do his work and do his best isn't going to do well in school.
- A teacher cannot correct a problem parents have created. He can only build on what parents have already accomplished.
No, the problem isn't teachers. The problem is that good intentions don't always produce good results.
Copyright 1996, John K. Rosemond