Sitting in a doctor’s office may seem like a strange place to come to grips with the need for quality schools, but my visit on a steamy day in Baltimore brought clarity to my understanding for this. As the nurse, medical assistant or whatever her title is completed the preliminary tasks taking blood pressure, pulse, weight, and other basic tasks, we engaged in a polite conversation about her personal background and current situation which included the status of her obvious pregnancy. It was intriguing to hear how education played a key role in her life and how she was determined to provide her daughter with a similar experience. The young woman told me how much she benefited from having a stay-at-home Mother who was able to provided daily support and guidance, and how the local school program aligned with the family values. Her Father as the bread-winner in the family made sure that they lived in a community that valued education and supported an educational system that recognized the need to develop the potential of each student.
What made this conversation so captivating was the reality that this young woman would not be able to be a stay-at-home Mother. She had done her due diligence investigating the effectiveness of schools and school districts where she currently resided. It was painfully clear that the couple needed to move if they were going to find the kind of school they wanted for their daughter. In order to find the location they were seeking, both parents would have to work. The parents also understood that finding jobs conveniently close to their home was probably not going to happen. On top of the financial realities, she and her husband knew that having quality time at home as a family was also going to be a challenge.
I asked about the feasibility of looking into charter schools or private schools. The soon to be Mother knew that was not a viable option. Putting her daughter in those schools took away or significantly limited the opportunities for her daughter to play, socialize, and simply spend time with the friends in the neighborhood.
As a life long educator, I was acutely aware of the obvious need to improve schools in cities especially in low socio-economic areas. This brief conversation made it abundantly clear that the need permeates a wide spectrum of people and locales. Waiting for more funding, better systems, and higher quality of educators throughout the system is like “Waiting for Godot.” The need for quality schools is much more than the flood of data painfully showing how many schools are failing to provide the kind of experience that these parents want. The need for an effective school system is a personal issue, personal to parents, students, communities, and to our nation. Charter schools and private schools beg the issue. Schools can be improved without massive infusion of funds and without complex staff development. I will layout a number of things that can be done now and done efficiently—stay tuned.
One thought on “Quality Education: A Personal Concern”
I have known Ron Gleason as the principal of my son’s school and I can testify to his limitless dedication to students. Prior to enrolling my youngest son at his school in St. Petersburg, I had carried out the same research when my two sons were very young. At that time I lived in America. Being a Ph.D. in economics and computer science, I chose my own path for the best possible education for my children: I decided to home-school them. Home-schooling is often side-lined as a way for religious fanatics to bring religion into their children’s education and that it lacked academic depth. As an agnostic – or as Woody Allen so eloquently put it – God’s loyal opposition – my main concern was to overcome the shortcomings of public education. Apart from the three “R”s, I also taught my sons about geography, history before 1776 or 1492, literature, music, art, politics – and we did not just study in our living room, we also went to places which had historic and/or cultural significance. This made the teachings interesting and alive, not mere chapters in more or less dry textbooks. We went from Mozart’s place of birth to the place where he is buried, we followed the footsteps of Beethoven where he first composed his “Pastoral”. We stood before the original meridian in Paris, and the agreed meridian outside of London, we walked through the Forum Romanum in Rome and stood below the balcony of Shakespeare’s Juliet in Verona. We saw the places where Mary, Queen of Scots, and Louis XVI were beheaded, where the Russian Revolution started, where the peace treaty between Austria and the Allied Troops was signed post-WWII, etc. My sons became an attorney and a firefighter respectively, but their lives were immensely enriched by all these experiences. I completely agree with Ron Gleason wholeheartedly that the quality of schools can be improved without massive infusion of funds. It requires the political will to change the syllabus in schools to provide a cosmopolitan education which centers on the provision of knowledge, not concentrate on political correctness. Most U.S. students are taught about the Cold War, but could not point to Russia on a world map, they have no idea what the Magna Carta is, where countries such as Iraq and Afghanistan are located (though many lost friends and/or loved ones there) and the level of lack of information even about current affairs is frightening. Most public education barely touches traditional skills, but merely concentrates on political correctness and self-esteem. Is self-esteem important? Yes, of course, but it is by no means something to concentrate on if we are not to create generations of academic under-achievers (to put it mildly) with great self-esteem, but no marketable skills and certainly no idea of what is going in this world and why or how they could affect change for a future that will mostly affect them.