“…you’re either part of the solution or you’re part of the problem.” Eldridge Cleaver spoke these words in 1968, and while he wasn’t precisely referring to parents, his words are still true. If we are not doing more for our children, if we are just waiting for the schools to churn out successful children, we are not doing enough. Not even close.
Education Failures Beyond the Classroom
In a book by Laurence Steinberg the evidence clearly shows that parents and communities need to do more. Beyond the Classroom is an examination of “why school reform has failed and what parents need to do” in order for us to raise confident, capable, and contributing children. The blame often gets placed on school districts and teachers, and while there is mounting evidence that many districts are not balancing their goals with their finances and priorities, this is just one small piece of the messed up education puzzle in America.
What Does the Research Say about Failures in Education?
Ten years of study and more than 20,000 respondents surveyed has culminated in a collaborative effort of three universities and research teams that have given a comprehensive look at what makes students fail or succeed. The results, presented in journal after journal and summarized in Beyond the Classroom, clearly show that while schools might give failing letter grades, the failures go far beyond the doors of the classroom.
- Less than 15% of students spend 5 hours a week reading for pleasure.
- In contrast, 1/3 of students spend 5 hours a week “partying”.
- More than ½ of students surveyed said they could get a “C” on their report card without their parents reacting, and ¼ of students said a “D” would be unnoticed.
- More than 33% of students said their parents have no clue how they’re doing in school.
- Only 20% of parents consistently attend school programs, and more than 40% of parents never attend.
These numbers aren’t coming just from students living in poor neighborhoods with even poorer school districts. The respondents are a reflection of a diverse group of socioeconomic backgrounds from all over the country.
The research presented by Steinberg and his colleagues clearly shows that American students are rarely spending time out of school on activities that actually help to reinforce the experiences they are having in school. In fact, the experiences outside of school are almost in opposition to those within, as if the children and their families are fleeing from the confines of education, instead of finding ways to embrace it.
Two Types of Students
Steinberg classified two different types of students in his research, those who are filled with “engagement” and those who are disengaged from their education.
- Concentrate on the tasks before them
- Strive to do their best in the classroom and on homework
- Actively participate in classroom discussions
- Appear to genuinely care about their performance in school and the quality of work they contribute
- Are easily distracted
- Do not put forth much classroom effort
- Spend little energy on assignments and homework
- Have a “cavalier” attitude about school and the future, and are just going through the motions of the day
How Can Parents Help Their Children Succeed?
Steinberg makes a strong case for the largely unexamined importance of the lives of children outside of school and how those hours spent greatly impact the time inside the classroom. While I don’t embrace all of Steinberg’s assertions about students, I do agree with his emphasis on the balance needed between schools and family when it comes to education. Schools can’t do it all, and if we don’t send motivated, engaged children into the classroom, we can’t expect successful students to emerge.
Authoritative Parenting – the 1st Key to Academic Success
The research conducted by Steinberg and associates clearly shows a link between successful students and authoritative parents. Steinberg pinpoints three specific dimensions where parents can make the difference.
Acceptance versus rejection – Children who feel accepted have parents who are affectionate and involved in the lives of their children. These children feel they can turn to their parents for problems, for guidance, and just for companionship.
Firmness versus leniency – While parents sometimes feel more comfortable being lenient, parents with firm rules, clear expectations, and high standards are more likely to have children who understand consequences and are more capable of making good choices. Lenient parents are more likely to raise children who lack self-control and responsibility.
Autonomy versus control – Parents who encourage their children to explore their individuality, respect each other’s opinions, and allow for self-expression are more likely to raise children who are self-reliant, industrious, and competent.
The Home Environment – the 2nd Key to Academic Success
There are several factors that contribute to a successful home environment.
- Children who work hard in school often come from homes where hard work is expected. This can be through chores, household responsibilities, and working together on community projects.
- Parents need to be actively involved in school so that they can transfer school activities to home activities that support each other. If your child is learning about famous artists, take your kids to museums, read books about art, and explore art classes together. These activities are mutually beneficial.
- Parents need to be actively aware of peer influences and work to diminish detrimental effects. The peer culture in America generally degrades academics.
- Fewer than 20% of teens say that their peers value good grades.
- Less than 25% of teens regularly discuss schoolwork with their friends.
- More than 33% of teens say they “get through” their school day primarily by “goofing off” with their friends.
- These numbers don’t mean we should ban teen friendships, but we do need to be active, positive influences. Know who your child’s friends are, monitor their activities together, and offer opportunities for teens that support their education and they can still do as a group of friends.
As a homeschool parent I am obviously not enamored with the ideas of public school, it doesn’t mean that I place all of the blame on the floundering education system in America. Our education methods are floundering because we aren’t doing enough as families and communities. We can’t expect to send our kids through the doors of school and have them churned out as successful students. We are raising our children. We need to make sure we are supporting their education, both inside the classroom and their lives beyond the school building.