This past week, Susan J. Demas wrote a column that came down very hard on parents. She took them to task for not keeping up on their end of the bargain when it comes to educating their children. She said, “Forget blaming teachers. Blame the parents.”
She said parents cannot cede responsibility to teachers and administrators when their children are school aged. She pointed out that children are only in school 7 hours a day, but the other 17 hours are critical. How children use that time is largely up to parents. She also correctly noted that research supports the value of parent involvement in student success.
Last week the Daily News ran an editorial encouraging participation in parent teacher conferences. The editorial also discussed the importance of parents being involved in their children’s education and cited facts from the Michigan Department of Education to support their case.
I am certain many educators cheered when they read both of these articles. I, too, welcomed them and I know that the points they raise are true. This is an important message.
However, I want to take this discussion a step farther. I believe that if we are to be successful in educating our young people, the most important first step we can take is to stop trying to find someone to blame and recognize that, to borrow a popular phrase, it does take a village to raise a child. Parents need support, educators need support and perhaps most important, our young people need to know that their community believes that getting an education, not just going to school, is an important value of their community.
Parents are the first teachers. Children who come to school having been exposed to books and encouraged to be interested in learning have a real leg up. Dedicated teachers take it from there. We need well trained, dedicated and appropriately compensated educators in all our classrooms.
But our youth are also influenced by the attitude they perceive in the community where they live. When they see their community stepping up to provide and maintain adequate, not necessarily flamboyant, facilities, and recognizing student achievements, they are far more likely to value school. When they see adults using the library, reading books and modeling responsibility and good behavior, their opinion of school is affected.
When they see adults expecting and rewarding good behavior their attitude is affected. As Lady Bird Johnson said, “Children are likely to live up to what you believe in them”
And not to leave anyone out, when our youth hear our elected representatives bashing our schools and educators, why should they believe in the value of either.
There is room for improvement everywhere. Let’s get on with it, not by looking for someone to blame, but by asking what our role is. To quote Martin Luther King, Jr., “Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter.”
Education matters. Our children matter. The country we will leave to future generations matters. When we point the finger of responsibility at someone else, there are still four fingers pointed back at ourselves.
Janet Ralph is president of the Greenville Public Schools Board of Education.