Thursday, October 21, 2010

Parents must support education

From the 25 October 2010 Greater Niagara Newspapers

By Bob Confer

California’s Pleasanton Unified School District conducted a survey last year that found 72 percent of parents in the 17,000-pupil district either seldom or never helped their children with homework. The students who responded to the same survey put the lack of parental participation even higher, at 81 percent.

This situation is not unique to Pleasanton. A few years ago Microsoft ran a study that showed similarly unpleasant attention to school work across the United States. According to their survey, 51 percent of parents claim homework is a source of tension in their household. Other studies estimate that slightly more than half of all parents help with studies.

These numbers are all over the place, but they still say the same thing: A majority of parents aren’t regularly involved with their children’s educations.

Contrast that with the number of parents who support extra-curricular activities. According to Families Worldwide 83 percent of kids ages 6 to 17 participate in at least one regularly scheduled sport, lesson or club. A survey of 50,000 Minnesota students done earlier this century produced nearly-identical results, 80.9 percent for boys and 87.4 percent for girls.

That begs the question: If parents are dedicated enough to devote time and energy to their sons’ and daughters’ sporting events, dance recitals and concerts, then why can they not find the time to help them with their scholastic pursuits, which should be paramount in their young lives?

Could it be that they don’t have the time? That’s the most common complaint heard from parents, even though the average worker in America spent 38.1 hours on the job last year, which was down from 39 before the recession started and below the 40 hour average that was the norm in the late 1960s. Today’s parents are no busier than their parents, let alone their grandparents and great grandparents who lived in a more agrarian society where farming was a demanding lifestyle, not just a job, and technological advances (like washing machines, microwaves and ready-to-eat foods) were nowhere to be found. If hours worked have continued to drop and modern amenities have made the tasks of life so much easier, where did all the time go?

It comes down to priorities. If the average American can, after pushing their kids through after-school activities, somehow find the time to watch 4 hours of TV a day (according to Nielsen), he or she can certainly find the time - even one hour a day - to help the kids with math or science, which are among our worst subjects. Our nation is ranked 25th and 21st in those studies respectively.

Today’s parents don’t see it that way. Whereas the first of the baby boomers and their parents emphasized the importance of education and held their children to high expectations (a result of the lingering taste of the Great Depression and first generation American struggles), Generations X has, until this Recession, seen nothing but prosperity and ongoing change throughout their lives, which kind of taints the prospects for pushing oneself and one’s offspring to be better by masking the reasons to do so. With America so readily meeting and exceeding its potential in recent decades, inane personal, leisure and material pursuits have taken much of our adults’ attention. Because of that, the little things (like education, which should definitely not be considered a “little thing”) get lost in the shuffle, just like our continued prosperity will.

This has occurred at the same time local control - and therefore local interest – in education has been taken from us. With the Department of Education coming to be in the 70s and bringing with it greater federal oversight over the day-to-day operations of our schools (standardized testing, funding, No Child Left Behind, etc.) many people wrongly assume young minds are in capable hands and are solely the responsibility of the schools. This was never the case and now, more than ever, it cannot be. Many teachers are overwhelmed by and ill equipped to deal with onerous federal and state standards (which don’t have the best interest of the students in mind), thus making kids who are the same.

It takes a team effort – a village, as Hillary Clinton once said - to raise a child. Teachers, administrators and, above all, parents need to take the appropriate measures to give students the very best education they can get. Remember, children mimic the example set by adults: If they don’t care about schooling, neither will the kids.

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