11 February, 2006

All that's require to save American education is...

Yesterday, my son was munching pizza and sipping soda during his school's AR Celebration. To attend, students had to earn at least 25 AR points by reading books. AR is a program that gives recognition to students for their reading and for their comprehension of that reading. Books are rated according to certain levels, and after reading a book, students earn points by taking a test that measures their comprehension of it. The higher the test score, the more points one earns.

I asked him how many students attended the AR celebration. Six from our class, he answered.

That surprised me. Only six? How many students are in your class? I asked.

Twenty-four, twenty-five, he replied.

Here you have the real problem with American education, I remarked to my wife. Our son arrived here less than half a year ago, barely able to speak English. Now he's earning scores on his English tests that are higher than most students, and attending an AR celebration that three-quarters of his class won't attend, because they couldn't be bother to read a few books over 18 weeks.

It's true that there are serious structural problems with American education. However, not one of the solutions commonly thrown around — prayer in schools, school vouchers, high-stakes testing, phonics, whole-comprehension reading (or whatever they call it), back-to-basics, constructivism, evolution, creationism, etc — not one is the reason our son is outperforming the vast majority of his classmates. Not one of them will give even the smallest advantage to a child who spends his entire evenings watching television and playing video games, instead of reading a few books and doing a little homework.

What will save American education — indeed, the only thing that can save it — is parents' encouraging their own children's education. Parents need to teach their children that an education is a worthwhile thing to have, that even though it requires effort and lacks the pleasures of instant gratification, it is something worth having.

As things stand now, we have a growing shortage of teachers. Who would want to teach? Children don't respect education, let alone educators. I taught high school ten years ago, and I didn't leave because of the money. Even though some parents were interested in their children's education, indeed grateful for the work I did, far more parents behaved otherwise. In many cases, they had no interest in all, and in a few, they were outright hostile to anything resembling a real education.

This isn't to say that students shouldn't be allowed to watch any television or play any video games; our boy is playing a game right now, and we'll watch some television later tonight, after Holy Mass. We didn't have to push him very hard at all for this; we only encouraged him a little. A little encouragement and a few questions about his day are all it took.

Kids change during their teenaged years, though. We might have to do more than give a little encouragement then. Haven't figured that out yet!

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