tvoivozd at infionline.net
Mon Sep 6 14:34:43 EDT 2004
In my case, the quality of education depended upon the quality of the
teacher, all the way from first grade through college, and particularly
in high school, on the quality of the high school principal, who had
free rein in choosing an outstanding staff of teachers. He was
certainly aided by the fact that teachers were relatively much higher
paid than today---attracting the best as in any other business other
than education. In the 1930's, administrators did not blot up the
majority of education funds to defund teachers---Depression Era taxes
had to be focussed on essentials---real essentials. All books were
provided by the school, not as an expense loaded upon parents as today,
and recognizing that food is essential for mental acuity, as well as the
fact that some students might only get one meager meal a day, all
students in Wisconsin got morning milk and some kind of solid food, and
because of the mineral deficiency in Wisconsin soil, iodine tablets.
My parents were both University graduates, in an era where almost nobody
went to college, and were rabid about providinng books at home, even
during the depths of the Depression, when my small sister and I became
latchkey kids as both parents were forced to work long, hard and poorly
paid hours prior to my return to the farm at age fourteen, where we
worked long, hard, and poorly paid hours---no change there until we got
rid of Hoover, who was nominally a Republican, but really a Libertarian
by present definition. I had a bellyfull of both..
*Good Homes, Good Students*
By William Raspberry
Monday, September 6, 2004; Page A23
Show me a home where education and learning are central values, and
where the parents are reasonably competent at the business of
child-rearing, and I'll show you the home of a good student.
The correlation between parental competence and academic success isn't
perfect, of course. There are homes where parents are indifferent (or
absent) but where children are eager learners. And there are homes where
parents seem to be doing everything right but where the children turn
out to be awful.
But the correlation between good homes and good students stands.
Further, the clearest identifying characteristic of what we call a good
school is a critical mass of children from good homes.
If this is so, why do our public policies pay so little attention?
Listen to our school leaders and you'd think the difference between
school success and school failure lies in the quality of the
superintendent, the size of the school budgets, or the academic
backgrounds and skill levels of the teachers.
But watch the parents. Give them the choice that money and mobility can
afford, and they quickly arrange to put their children in schools with a
critical mass of students from "good" homes. Indeed, the reason
vouchers, charter schools and other alternative arrangements have such
strong appeal among low-income parents is that they believe their
children will benefit from being in learning-centered environments.
I don't mean to suggest that the things that schools and school
districts do don't matter. Of course it matters to have qualified
teachers, principals who can provide safety and support, budgets that
furnish the tools of learning, and competent staffs to bring all these
But it matters more what parents do -- and believe.
My point is not to let the schools off the hook but to offer an
explanation of why a torrent of school reforms over the past few decades
has brought the merest trickle of improvement. We haven't paid enough
attention to improving the homes our children come from.
Maybe one reason is that we have confused good homes with affluent
homes. It's true that the educational values I'm talking about are more
likely to reside in the homes of economically successful adults.
But the values that place a premium on education don't exist only in
rich homes. Good homes in the sense I'm talking about are homes where
parents understand and stress the importance of knowledge, quite apart
from its economic utility.
The problem is that we have thousands and thousands of parents, mostly
poor, with only a limited understanding of the transforming power of
education. Many of them are poor because they left school, which, in any
case, wasn't working for them. How can they tell their children of the
wonders education will open up for them?
Well, they can't -- unless they believe it. And they won't believe it
unless those of us who know the truth take the trouble to teach them.
That simple notion is at the heart of many successful parent-education
programs across the nation -- Head Start, Parents as Teachers and a host
of others. And it is at the heart of what I am trying to do with a
modest program in my Mississippi home town. Baby Steps, I call it, and
the major aim is to help parents understand the critical value of what
they do at home. We try to do it by teaching parents of young children
-- birth to age 5 -- some of the tricks for getting them ready for
learning and for life. And we try to make it fun.
We are talking, mind you, about parents who love their children but who
may think they don't have much to give them by way of academic help. We
tell them that the best help they can give is to make their children
know how much they value learning.
So far only a few dozen parents are regularly involved -- not bad for a
town of 3,500, and perhaps enough to create a critical mass of "good"
My hope is that by the time the children of our Baby Steps parents
emerge from the preschool pipeline into regular classes, the difference
will be plain to see.
I don't exempt either the school system or the larger community from its
responsibility to help the town's children grow up smart and successful
-- and, indeed, both the system and the community have come together in
support of Baby Steps in its first year.
But I am convinced that all the other things we do will have limited
impact unless we also undertake to enhance the competence of our
children's first and most effective teachers: their parents.
/willrasp at washpost.com/ <mailto:willrasp at washpost.com>
© 2004 The Washington Post Company
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