Ever since I was a little girl, I knew that my education mattered. You know how I knew? My mother and father told me it did, and then they reminded me over and over and over again. My mother worked hard to receive her masters when I was a child; my father, ironically, dropped out of high school and received his GED after he married my mother in 1963. He was not a stupid man, he made poor decisions, and when I was growing up, he read constantly and fervently. He may not have ever attended college, but I guarantee you he read as much as, if not more, than most college graduates. Thus, I grew up in a home where my mother worked toward an education, and my father, understanding what he missed, taught my brother and me that learning mattered.
I was taught that an education was not a gift, it was earned. I was told that the only way to really become educated was to read and to study. I knew to memorize facts. I was told to learn history, otherwise, I was warned, it would repeat itself. No one signed a homework notebook and no one logged-on daily to check my grades. My parents trusted that I would want an education because I understood that an education would allow me to advance in a world where hard work paid off. I worked hard and studied hard, and I still believe an education matters.
However, in the 21st Century, I am unsure if the same message is being spread. I look at the world’s educational framework, and frankly, I am aghast. When did public education become the pariah? When did parents who are without an understanding of pedagogy decide that they could teach children better in their own homes? When did the charter school become better than the public school? When did the distrust of educators begin?
Frankly, as a public educator who spent twelve years of learning in Catholic, private, expensive schools, I feel that I have the background to pass judgment. The difference between education “then and now” is not the schools, it is the structure of society. Societal demands seem to dictate that everyone is college bound; that everyone deserves an A; that the schools and the teachers are the ones to blame; and that the child should get everything she needs during the school day– including an education, guidance, morality, life lessons, encouragement, motivation, and structure– without tearing down the child’s self-esteem and hinting that maybe the way to an A is through hard work. Yes, we are, for whatever reason, babying the generation at hand, and by no certain terms, is this going to benefit either society or these children in the future. Adult children stay at home longer, expect financial and medical support longer, and think that they should have it easier because society puts such pressure on educators to get children to feel good about themselves that we have forgotten that sometimes, disappointment is the best motivator. However, because of the .0001% who feel depressed when they lose (we will call this “the squeaky wheel syndrome”), we cannot allow anyone to know what it feels like to fail. In the educational realm, self-esteem trumps personal integrity and hard work.
As a parent and an educator, I can say this: I expect hard work. I do not think everyone deserves an A. I think that reading anything and everything increases a child’s comprehension, vocabulary development, knowledge retention, and critical thinking. I do not think that “practicing skills” takes the place of really knowing information. How can a child prove that he or she can critically think if she does not have the insight and background to prove it?
As a parent and an educator, I will say that a child can and will learn in the public school environment. I feel distraught for parents who think they are doing their own children a disservice if they send them to the local public schools. This year, I finally chose to send my children to the local public schools; for the first few years of their educations, I had them enrolled in the local Catholic school (my own issues with Catholic guilt). I pulled them out because I felt that in the Cleveland area, these schools are succeeding on the reputations they developed in the 1960s and 1970s, when public schools in Ohio did not have regulations or federal support and mandates. Catholic schools were the exception, now they are not allowing children to grow and benefit the way public schools can. When my daughter’s friend was pulled by her parents from our Catholic school in fourth grade, I was aghast. Even though I worked hard as a public-school teacher, I fed into the stereotype of the superiority of our little Catholic school. Four years later, I see the difference! Her daughter was as much as a go-getter and hard-worker as my daughter. This year upon entering public school, because my daughter was not afforded the math skills to succeed by her previous school, she struggled through Algebra and worked hard to maintain a B- average. Her friend, the one who left in fourth grade, was in Pre-Calc. as an Eighth-Grader– something I know Carson could have done had she not been held back by the uniform education strategies of her former “elite” school.
Recently, a colleague of mine asked her AP European History class a question about the European Union. She asked the students to understand the EU from both an economical and a political standpoint. She asked the students to pick one historical figure who would have approved of the ideas of the EU. Of the nineteen students in her class, only one had done the research. Only one had the background knowledge to critically think and answer Napoleon Bonaparte. The rest, well, they were sure that they were a Google search away from the answer because they have been indoctrinated into the mindset that to have the skill to analyze is more important than the knowledge analyzed. However, they could not look this answer up; they needed the knowledge to synthesize information and formulate a response. We, as a society, have allowed for students to believe that they are always just a Google search away, and that is not going to lend for critical thinking or produce the future leaders of this world.
Education matters. It is an amalgam: a melding of parental support; personal motivation, through both success and failure; and societal support and trust in the people hired to educate children.
The business model does not work in education. The trend to test excessively will not make the children smarter. What will work is what has always worked: even in the 21st technological age, what matters is the teachers in the classroom, the kids, and the parents who constantly remind them that with hard work, they will receive an education. And no matter what, they need to know that they have control of their education, and if they want it, it will matter.