Just like that, it’s autumn again. After an amazing wedding and unforgettable honeymoon, I realized as I reopened the doors of Ivoryman Music this last week that I’ve pretty much lost track of everything that’s happening in the world. Judging by the sulky looks on my students’ faces and the defeated sighs they’ve been heaving, though, I’d say that either school is starting soon or that Angry Birds has been banned in United States.
Please, God, let it be the former.
As students say a wistful goodbye to summer, parents everywhere are openly giving each other high fives in the streets and apparently waltzing through the aisles of office supply stores.
Actually, I’m not really sure this is the case anymore. Contrary to what this classic commercial would have you believe, parents don’t really seem to have any more of a spring in their steps when fall rolls around. For many of them, the beginning of the school year hardly means they are now able to relax and focus on something other than their children for nine months. Fall is when parenting has to be kicked into high gear.
In many households, at least one parent will assume the roles of chauffeur, event coordinator, and taskmaster just to keep their children’s school-lives running smoothly, and that’s to say nothing of what must be done to sort out their lives at home. For several parents, fall means a great deal more involvement in their kids’ lives, not less.
That is, if those kids are lucky. Legally, a parent’s full responsibility for their child’s education goes no further than enrolling their child in a school. A parent can get by without knowing or caring who teaches their child, what he or she is being taught, or even whether or not he or she is passing with no enforced repercussions. It puzzles me that something as monumentally crucial to a child’s future as education isn’t held to the same kind of legal scrutiny that seems to permeate everything else. If a child were to, say, steal a car, the parent would be held fully responsible. If he makes it to eighth grade without being able to read, though, it’s the system’s fault.
Parents have an incredible potential to enhance-or impair-their child’s learning experience. I echo the belief of thousands of teachers who say that positive parent involvement is the single most effective factor in determining a child’s success in school and, consequently, life. Any teacher worth their salt will also tell you that the most effective learning environment is one in which the teacher and parent form an alliance and are thus able to more thoroughly educate the student both at school and at home.
I grew up with the privilege of having two highly involved parents who were willing to bend over backwards to insure that my siblings and I would have both the physical and emotional support we needed as well as a swift (metaphorical) kick in the rear when it proved necessary. I owe a lot to the fact that they too believed in the power of education and not only provided for it, but instilled a love of learning in me that I cherish to this day. And just look how I turned out:
This has all got me thinking about the ways we’ve tried and failed to turn education around in this country. Even though I’ve always considered myself a staunch advocate of public school teachers and believe that something obviously needs to be done about the way they are treated and viewed by society, I’m still wondering why no one has considered incentivizing parents to do a better job of parenting as far as school is concerned.
Admittedly, there are a lot of logistics that would need to be worked out, like how to specifically implement programs, who would be eligible, how much would it cost, etc., but there has to be some way to motivate even a small percentage of parents to take a more active role in their students education. Tax credits for the families of students who make the honor roll or scholarships for students who win first place in the state science fair…I don’t have all the answers, I’m just saying it can’t be too hard.
I think there’s a really good chance something like this could be measurably effective. We’re already testing the bejeezus out of students and blaming teachers for either poor results if scores are low or “teaching to the test” if students do well. Instead of putting the entire burden of results on the teacher, why not give parents a little stake in what’s happening? Teachers could send students home with review materials and offer a $500 tax break to the parents of the top 10% of test-takers in the school. The numbers in that figure are just an example and might not work in the real world, but I’d be willing to bet we’d see higher scores in a school where such an arrangement was made.
This isn’t as crazy as it sounds. If nothing else, it’s considerably less crazy and more constitutional than requiring people to obtain a parenting license before procreating (another of my ideas) or, as a friend of mine suggested, offering tax incentives to people who voluntarily remove themselves from the gene pool altogether.
There may be a number of reasons this could never work—or maybe I’m on to something here. Seriously, tell me why this is a bad idea. There could be something (or several things) I’ve overlooked here. We’ve reached a point, though, where we can’t keep trying the same thing and hoping it will work. We need some fresh ideas. The solutions to all—all of our nation’s seemingly endless problems ultimately lie in drastically improving our education system. Speaking of problems, if you think we’re overwhelmed by them now, just wait and see what happens if we keep on with “business as usual” in our schools.