Editor’s note: This is the final part in a four-part series
Over the past few weeks we’ve looked at the dismal academic results of America, results that are unbefitting of a nation that spends the most on education and enjoys the richest economy. The focus of this series was not on policy, but rather on the students and how this generation has lost the hunger for personal betterment that previous generations possessed.
It should be noted, though, that not all of today’s teens are underachievers. There are some exceptional performers – as matter of fact, many of them – who buck the trend and really set themselves apart from their peers.
I’ve been working with children and teens as a volunteer over the past 19 years; I’ve led boy scouts, talked to elementary and high school students, and spoken to college students. In that time, I’ve witnessed (or have been privy to) a decline in appropriate character and ethic, but, at the same time, I’ve seen the best and brightest become better and brighter. I would go so far as to say that the exemplary youth of today rival those of my generation. The highly-driven youth of 2012 have a greater diversity of thought, participate in more productive activities, are highly intellectual and set themselves up for even greater achievement in adulthood. Whereas the typical teen has become less functional, the outliers have become more functional – they truly are young adults.
While a majority of their peers might raise concern for what America’s future holds, the strength of the superior students is astounding. They possess the fortitude and leadership that could, when they come of age, help change some of the underachievement relished by their generation. With these intelligent kids becoming the captains of industry and the makers of public policy, America will be in some good hands in the decades to come.
But, to guarantee that they can overcome the pervasive underachievement, we adults need to lend them a hand and help motivate their fellow students. We’re all stakeholders in this – parents and the childless alike – because we’re already investing a princely sum of our money in the education of the young, and their outcomes yield the workers and contributors of tomorrow. Strong students become strong adults which yield a strong economy and strong country…without a proper foundation the entire house will collapse.
So, what can we do?
For starters, we need to make academics sexy. The message from pop culture is that school isn’t fun. Maybe it’s not with all the rote procedure. But, if we sprinkle in some real world applications of biology, physics, math, business, etc., kids can see real benefit to their studies. To do that properly, schools need to reach out to the community and vice versa. There’s nothing more powerful than speakers and field trips specific to the subject matter. Every school district is chock full of interesting residents who can leverage the assets of that community. Let students tour your workplace. Visit classrooms and talk about your employment, public service, passions, or topics of interest. Volunteer to speak to any and all age groups. You could be the spark that ignites a lifetime of appreciation for science, engineering or history.
Second of all, we need to foster character. We can create a focused, high-quality pupil by building their self-esteem, self-awareness, and awareness of the Greater Good. To do so, we need to get more youth (and adult volunteers) involved in organizations like the Boy Scouts, Girl Scouts, Youth Cadets, church groups, 4-H, FFA and the like. All of them contribute mightily to leadership development, volunteerism, morality, work ethic, civic responsibility, and personal responsibility, things you don’t (and in some case really shouldn’t) get from the classroom. But, all of them contribute to behavior in the classroom - and at home - and can create a more driven student.
There are many more ways we can increase student achievement and I’m sure the most successful students out there can contribute to the discussion and let us know what drives them. From them, you’ll probably find that “love” is a common denominator, from the parents who raise them to the teachers who teach them to the volunteers who give their time to them. It’s time everyone pitched in and shared the same with today’s youth: They are, as a whole, an underachieving lot who only need some solid guidance – from family and neighbors alike – to become the good pupils that we were way back when.
Bob Confer is a Gasport resident and vice president of Confer Plastics Inc. in North Tonawanda. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
This column originally ran in the 16 July 2012 Greater Niagara Newspapers