Since America’s earliest days, education has consistently ranked at or near the top of the list of priorities most important to its citizens. Americans, in general, regard education as the single most valuable contribution we can make to the betterment of our children’s lives and to the overall long term health of the nation. Every year, America invests billions of dollars in our educational system from the primary and secondary levels to the college and graduate levels and beyond. As a result, America consistently produces many of the brightest, most educated, and most capable children in the world who go on to reach great heights of educational and professional achievement and lead meaningful, productive lives.
But what about the other kids?
Regrettably, however, many of America’s children miss the boat educationally, so to speak, and, therefore, fall far short of their potential. Americans are so concerned about this lamentable situation that the subject is constantly in the minds and on the tongues of political leaders, media personalities, pundits of every sort, and average Joes gathered around the coffee pot every morning at work. Theories abound as to the cause of the dilemma – not enough money spent on education, too many kids in the classroom, lack of local control of education, etc., etc., etc. Unfortunately, some even blame the teachers. Undoubtedly, the cause is complex and multi-factorial, however, with this last theory, in particular, I heartily disagree.
It never ceases to amaze me when I hear stories of out of control children reeking havoc in America’s classrooms. Stories abound of kids bringing guns to school, or getting busted on campus with crack cocaine in their pockets, or incidents involving educators being physically assaulted at school by aggressive, criminally-minded teenagers. What amazes me even more, however, is that after all that, teachers continue to teach. Holding their students’ welfare above their own, many educators continue to run the daily gauntlet of student apathy, misconduct, and open aggression in an effort to reach as many of their students as possible and, in so doing, often put themselves at great risk of harm – both emotional and physical.
Of course, having been an observer of our educational system for many years, both internally and externally, not to mention the fact that one of my sisters is a teacher and that I have many friends in the teaching professions, I have my own theories. I don’t believe the problem lies in a failure to spend enough on education. I believe we spend plenty. In fact, educational expenditure is often a poor predictor of outcome as many developed nations around the world spend less money per student and, yet, have higher performance on standard educational assessments.
I believe, rather, that lack of local control of educational systems, too much government regulation, and too many children in the classroom are factors much more deleterious to educational success than the amount of money spent per child. An even greater problem, in my opinion, is diversion – which is to say, too many diversions. Children these days have so many diversions (cell phones, concerns about fashion, sexual aggressiveness among certain students, drugs, peer pressure, etc.) that it isn’t at all difficult to understand their lack of focus on education.
Several years ago, I participated in a US-sponsored humanitarian relief mission in Nicaragua in which my unit built two schools and a clinic. Everyday at the work sites where the schools were being built, children from the local community gathered around and “played” school in the shade of the trees. They were so excited about having a school that they actually gathered there before the school was completed. They had few diversions – they were focused on the opportunity to go to school, so much so, that they pretended they were already in school before the schools even opened. That enthusiasm for education, I believe, is missing among many of America’s school-aged children and I believe the cause is too many diversions.
Nevertheless, whether I’m right or wrong on my theory of diversion, I’m convinced I’m right that teachers, in general, are not to blame when children fall short of their educational potential. In fact, I believe teachers are to be commended for continuing their struggles to overcome the diversions that distract children from their studies. Certainly, there is the occasional teacher that is subpar, but I believe that is the exception rather than the rule. It’s time to reaffirm our belief in, and support of, our teachers. They must know they have our confidence and our understanding. A teacher’s job is tough, especially these days with so many diversions competing for student’s attention. We need to help teachers and students alike by attempting to minimize the impact of these diversions so children can focus on their educations. And, most important of all, we need to stop blaming the teachers.