One vital element — if implemented — would revolutionize students' scholastic performance.
HIGH SCHOOLS graduate functional illiterates? Young people scarcely able to read a daily newspaper or write an understandable letter? What is happening in our schools? One recent exam graphically illustrated the problem. Students placed the Sinai Desert in Vietnam. Others said former Canadian Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau was a hockey player from Montreal. Is it any wonder parents and educators are concerned about the standards and quality of the education of the young? Some of the findings of a U.S. study entitled A Nation At Risk: The Imperative for Education Reform are shocking: • About 13 percent of all 17-year-olds, and perhaps 40 percent of minority youths are functionally illiterate. • Matched against 21 other countries, U.S. students never ranked first in 19 academic tests and ranked last seven times among industrial nations. • Average scores of high school students on standard achievement tests are lower today than before 1957 — the year Sputnik set off a flurry of U.S. educational reforms. The report warns of "a rising tide of mediocrity that threatens our very future as a nation and as a people." What a paradox! We live in an age of a virtual knowledge explosion. More scientists are alive today than in any time in human history. Colleges, universities are found around the globe. Nations spend enormous sums on education. Yet the educational standards and achievements of students have on average declined. A survey of West European executives revealed universities aren't adequately preparing students for the new innovations in industry.
The Missing Ingredient
Many reformers within the United States advocate restoring "good old-fashioned discipline" in schools. They say we must start teaching the basics once again. Some say teachers are improperly motivated and need higher wages. In all these solutions, one ingredient is missing. The reports almost never mention the vital parental role in education. As U.S. Secretary of Education Terrel Bell keenly observed: "The decline [in U.S. schools] in part reflects changes in the home [emphasis ours]. We have more families with two working parents and larger numbers of single-parent families." Because of the growing number of two working parents and the large numbers of single-parent families, parents seldom are involved in their children's education. For some, the first contact with their child's education is when a problem arises. Only when a child says, "Mom, I just don't understand..." do some parents take notice of a child's progress in school. Teachers complain about general parental apathy. In a Wall Street Journal article, Victor R. Fuchs wrote: "There can be little doubt that the investments parents make in their children and the values they instill in them are a major determinance of how the children will fare in school." Not all students ride upon the "rising tide of mediocrity." Students of recent Asian background in particular compete successfully in U.S. and Canadian schools. Mr. Fuchs continues in his article: "The success of children of Asian background in U.S. public schools provides vivid testimony that study, hard work, respect for teachers and heavy parental involvement in the educational progress of children still payoff." Parents who are actively involved in their children's education engender positive results. One country that sets a good example in this is Japan. The Japanese mother is involved in her children 's education. A Psychology Today article quotes George De Vos, a University of California, Berkeley anthropologist. He has been studying Japanese culture for 25 years. "The Japanese mother," writes Oe Vos, "is a very important influence on the education of her children.... She takes it upon herself to be the responsible agent, reinforcing the education process instituted in the schools."
Education Begins at Birth
We see a general decline in standards and deteriorating quality of education of young people in industrialized countries because parents commonly no longer help in the educational process. Parents send their children off to school beginning at age 5 or 6, then expect the government to educate their children. There is a basic flaw with this concept. Education is a process that begins at birth. Experts agree the first few years set the foundation to future performance. Some writers, notably Theodore M. Black in his book Straight Talk About American Education, have perceived the problem. Author Black warns, "Parents, not schools or governments, are fundamentally responsible for the education of their children." Parents should realize schools are only one element in the education of children. Infants are taught — whether knowingly or not — by their parents from birth. Babies pick up their parents' attitudes. Children observe from their parents attitudes about music, the use or misuse of alcohol, and respect or the absence of respect for authority, among other things. Parents cannot just wash their hands of responsibility for their children's education. Parents either perform a vital element — the missing ingredient — in their children's education or by neglect set examples they may be totally unaware of.
Parental Role Written Long Ago
The irony is, this missing ingredient in education was understood long before our present educational crisis. This knowledge, available in a book translated into dozens of languages, has been neglected in modern educational circles. The book, called the Holy Bible, says: "You shall teach... your children... when you sit in your house, when you walk by the way, when you lie down, and when you rise up" (Deut. 11:19, Revised Authorized Version throughout). Not only are the parents to be involved, but also the grandparents. "And teach... your children and your grandchildren" (Deut. 4:9). People have neglected to observe that the Bible is a book about true education and sound educational methodology. The Bible consistently stresses the parental role in education. Parents are responsible for training their children. "Train up a child in the way he should go..." (Prov. 22:6). In fact, the book of Proverbs is mainly an instruction manual written by a father to his children. It contains a gold mine of information.
What Can Be Done
Parents need once again to assert themselves in the teaching of their offspring. Parents need not be scholars to teach their children. What they need is the will, and some imagination, to prepare children to function intelligently within society. Take your children on local outings, expose them to art, zoos and museums. Visiting nearby historical sites or restored famous homes leaves lasting impressions. Educational and wildlife programs are good supplements to formal education in class. Start a fun-filled, challenging one-night-a-week family study. During one evening that is most convenient, have your family look at one specific subject. One week it could be geography, the next, identifying world leaders. Subjects are endless and vary with age. Bring older children into the family study. Make it exciting! Arouse enthusiasm, open doors within children's minds. When parents themselves resolve to do their share, we will see the reversal of the downward trend in educational standards and achievements.