One subject my thoughts frequently return to is educational reform and public schools. While I agree there are improvements to be made in public schools, I can’t help but think we are going about it all wrong.
What has pushed the reform movement more than anything else has been a comparison of global student test scores.
However, a Purdue professor recently wrote that comparing American education test results with those of other nations leads to a misconception about the quality of our schools.
He notes that we are testing all our students, while most other industrialized nations are only testing their top students. He claims that America’s top students consistently score as high as or higher than the rest of the world’s top students.
I believe he makes a very relevant point. I am, however, still concerned about the results of the rest of our students. A chain, they say, is only as strong as its weakest link.
We can disagree on whether or not taxpayer dollars should go to private schools. We can fight over whether or not sufficient funds are made available to our public schools.
We can argue whether or not test scores should be the measure of a quality teacher. We may debate the wisdom of Common Core standards, and we can disagree on the need for hours and hours of testing and the many more hours that are spent teaching to the test.
But these issues alone do not necessarily resolve a problem.
I am confident there is enough material for me to write numerous columns on the issue of public schools and educational reforms.
I simply want to devote this space to a single aspect of the problems associated with the successes or failures with our overall educational system, namely the disregarded factor of the quality of our students.
In my opinion, there is nothing so wrong with our public schools that can’t be resolved with better students.
While that is, admittedly, an overstatement, I assure you I am in no way being facetious.
In all the debate about our public schools and educational reform, we ignore one of the most important factors in a quality education: the students themselves.
Students are caricatured in the debate as poor innocent victims of an ineffective educational system, when in fact they are a major part of the problem.
They are shareholders in public education; in fact, they are the most important shareholders.
As such, they must bear a significant responsibility for their education.
I have been fortunate to spend a great deal of time these past few years in the classrooms of multiple schools.
I am pleased to announce that students today are offered a far superior education than I received.
While I have observed exceptional teachers struggle in environments not conducive to teaching, perhaps my singularly most important observation is the alarmingly poor attitude held by far too many students.
It is shocking the number of students who don’t care about their education and who don’t realize its importance to their futures.
Too many zone out their teachers. They are too concerned about their cellphones, electronic devices and YouTube videos.
I am tempted to say there is a pervasive laziness among today’s students, but a principal pointed out to me that it is less laziness than a combination of societal problems.
It is American society’s demand for instant gratification coupled with a pervasive sense of entitlement.
Students, for the most part, want the answers given to them rather than to expend the energy to seek them.
This should come as no shock. Ours is, after all, a culture that promotes instant gratification. As for a sense of entitlement, it is neither a liberal nor conservative trait, nor is it exclusive to youths. We all tend to share it, whether we admit it or not.
No educational reform being pursued tackles the issues of the student responsibility for their education.
So where do we begin tackling the issue?
While it is a duty of educators to emphasize the importance of education, they alone cannot accomplish the task. Parents must commit themselves to the very same task.
Further, it is imperative that parents help tackle the societal pitfalls of the search for instant gratification and sense of entitlement.
They must make it crystal clear to their children that they won’t succeed in life if they don’t commit themselves to the work required for a quality education.
Parents should require their children to leave all electronic devices, especially cellphones, at home during school hours.
Parents need to continually and emphatically remind their children that no one is entitled to a good grade, but rather, those grades must be earned.
No parent should complain if they aren’t doing these key things.
Michael Adkins is the former chair of the Hancock County Democratic Party. He lives in Greenfield.