WHAT can you do to help your child in school? There is a crisis in education. High schools are graduating illiterates. Major universities and technical institutes find themselves having to teach remedial math and language courses. Teachers are accused of being incompetent. The declining standard of schools is becoming a major issue in Europe and North America. And your children are caught in the middle! What — if anything — can you do to help your children make the most of their educational opportunities? It is time that many of our readers ask themselves this question. It is too easy just to blame teachers, schools or administrations when our children bring home failing grades. While it is true that some teachers are not the most skillful, some children are clearly able to learn from them. And even though many schools do not have the best facilities, some children manage to get an education there and go on to graduate from college and university with honors. Why? Because what happens at school is only one part of the education process. You, the parent, also have a vital part in determining your children's success at school. To prepare this article, we asked teachers what they wished parents knew about school and education. You will find the answers revealing — and encouraging. They will show you that there is something you can do. It does not cost money. It needn't wait for government intervention. But it may make the difference between children failing or succeeding in school. You may not have realized it, but your children's teachers want your help. Most teachers take pride in their work. They are competent and dedicated. They resent the slurs that they are just "in it for the money," or because of the "long vacations." They enjoy working with children and are eager to teach them to read, write and do arithmetic. Teachers appreciate hi story and literature — and want your son and daughter to appreciate them too. They are fascinated by the world of science — and they want to share it with your children. They have talents that allow them to excel in music and sports. Nothing gives them greater satisfaction than helping others develop those same talents. But there are some things that are not fundamentally a teacher's responsibility. These must be taught at home. Here, then is what teachers wish parents would teach their children to help them do better in school.
Teach Your Children to Value Education
Come for a moment to the streets of a provincial town in Haiti — one of the world's poorest countries. Night has fallen, and the town engineers have once again managed to coax a creaky old diesel generator into life. It isn't powerful, but that doesn't matter — most houses aren't wired for electricity anyway. There are a few lamps on the main street trying to pierce the gloom with hesitant light. Beneath those lamps, squatting on the sidewalk and sitting on the potholed road, are dozens of students. They are reading and studying — taking advantage of the precious hours of light before the generator breaks down once again. These young people value education. They know that learning is a way out of the endless cycle of poverty that has gripped their families for generations. Thankfully, most of our readers aren't in this situation. Schools for our children are readily available, and our homes can be flooded with light at the touch of a switch. But do those who live in such homes value education as much as those poor Haitians? All too often the answer is no. Teachers today say that many students simply lack the interest and motivation to learn. Do you realize how easy it is to make your home an environment that can poison your children's desire to become educated? So often, our own educational experiences were negative. Perhaps your parents came up in the school of hard knocks and therefore had little use for book learning. Maybe you are a high school dropout and there was never enough money to send you to college or to help you get professional training. And so today you are locked into a job that is boring and dead end. You are embarrassed and frustrated as younger people get the promotions and opportunities for which you cannot qualify. People like this often hide their inferiority by showing a contempt for education. Certainly it is embarrassing when you can't understand the questions your teenage son or daughter has to answer for homework. It's easier to bury your ignorance in the sports page or a soap opera or make some disparaging comments like, "Where do you think that stuff is going to get you?" That is also the best way to demonstrate to your children that education doesn't matter to you. So why should it matter to them? Teachers wish parents would keep learning. They wish their students could see Mom and Dad sit down and study something from time to time. They wish that you had a few books in the house, or a set of children's encyclopedias, so that you could show your youngsters how to get answers. Or if you can't afford books, teachers would like you to take the children to the library occasionally. If you don't know how to use it, most librarians would be delighted to show you. They won't make you feel foolish for asking. They value education too much. But tragically, many adults have stopped learning. They hardly ever read a book or a worthwl1ile magazine. Their curiosity and sense of wonder have died, and the children never see them learn anything. As a sixth grader told us, "It's no use asking Dad — he never has any ideas." We were made to grow throughout our lives. Bodies wear out — but brains needn't. But a home that places no value on education is like a worn-out plot of ground. Nothing can flourish there.
Teach Your Children to Respect Authority
Faced with the problem of educating young, energetic minds, a teacher has to have authority. Some educators experimented with letting children do exactly what they wanted. It didn't work. To do their job, teachers must be held in respect. Lack of order and discipline has become the number one problem in the classroom today. A teacher may be ridiculed, baited and sometimes physically assaulted by youths who haven't the slightest degree of respect for his or her position. Is it any wonder that so many give up? How long could you take it? Teachers complain that many students maintain an adversary relationship with all rules and regulations. Where did they learn that it is clever to get away with breaking rules? Who taught them that authority is out to get you and must be thwarted at every possible turn? Could it be partly your fault? Have you trained them to resent and ridicule law and government? Not intentionally perhaps — but does your child hear you make disparaging remarks about the school, the police or others with positions of authority? How do you regard authority? How can a child grow up with the proper respect for law when he sees parents cheerfully ignore speed limits, no parking signs and other regulations? Then, when you get caught, what does your child learn when he hears you fume against the "injustice" of it all? If your children hear you criticizing and ridiculing authority figures in life — your boss, your minister or your president or prime minister — you should not be surprised if they in turn lose respect for their teachers. Parents who are polite to those in authority, who grin and bear it when they make a mistake and get a ticket, and who show proper respect for their nation's flag and leaders are teaching their children a valuable lesson that can help them get the most from school. Some female teachers say that they have a particular problem maintaining the respect of their students. These are children who do not think that women in authority should be taken seriously. Once again, this problem can stem from the home. Children must be taught to respect both parents. A father must back up his wife in setting of standards and maintaining discipline. Parents should always make a special effort not to argue and disagree in front of their children. Studies have shown that the stress that comes from domestic strife seriously detracts from a child's academic performance. Most teachers can tell stories about promising children whose chances of success were sabotaged because their parents' marriage fell apart. The problems may have surfaced in the classroom — but the roots lay back in the unhappy home. Above all, teachers ask that parents support them if they have to discipline their offspring at school. We heard of a case in Chicago, where a young Asian teacher on an exchange program from Taipei punished a sixth grader for talking back rudely. Next day she was summoned to the principal's office, to confront an irate mother and her petulant daughter. The teacher explained that she had nothing against the girl personally, but she was disrupting the classroom and wouldn't do what she was told. "Look," shouted the mother, "I pay my taxes! You do as you are told!" The little girl grinned smugly. The teacher quit. How, oh how, teachers wish parents wouldn't do things like that!
Teach Your Children to Be Honest
Little Johnny is caught cheating during an exam. He is disqualified, and sent home with a note explaining why. Apprehensively he gives it to Dad, who is busy making some last minute "adjustments" to his tax return. Just last week Johnny overheard his father boasting about a shady deal he had put over at work. Now almost certainly Johnny's dad is going to give him a lecture on why it is wrong to cheat. But actions speak louder than words. If the parents' own values show that it is clever to stretch the rules and outwit others — how can a teacher ever teach otherwise? Or consider this. Bill has been caught stealing. It is a serious offense, and the principal feels that he needs to talk with Bill's mother about it. Begrudgingly, she takes a morning off from work and meets her son outside the office. As the principal walks out, fully prepared to be reasonable and to try to help, he overhears Bill's mother say, "You dumb kid. What do you want to go and get caught for?" That happened — in fact, it happens many times a day in schools. Sometimes a student will bring a note to school that pretends to explain an absence or why some homework isn't done. It is duly signed by the parent. But the parent, the student and the teacher know that the note is a lie. The parent is effectively working in collusion with his child against the school. The note may indeed get everyone off the hook, but what has it done to the child's values? Parents and teachers should work together to instill right values in children. But if parents undermine the school, the teacher may well quit, as many do.
Teach Your Children to Do Their Homework
Whatever you as a parent think of homework, the fact remains that your child will eventually be given some. Teachers acknowledge that homework may be a nuisance, but it is a necessary part of education. There are valuable lessons in having a student complete assignments on his or her own, away from the classroom. Teachers wish parents would cooperate. Try to set aside a quiet place where your children can sit and work undisturbed. Encourage them to complete their work on time. Teachers realize that parents may not be able to evaluate their children's assignments in terms of whether it is correct. That is not necessary — it is the teacher's job. But all parents can encourage their children to produce work that is neat and tidy. Children reflect more than just scholastic aptitude in their homework — they reflect the standards and values of their home. What is your child's homework saying about you? Don't believe it when your children say they can work better with the radio on, while talking to their friends on the telephone or stretched out flat on the living room floor with the television blaring in the corner. Don't provide ready-made excuses — " We had to go to Grandma's," or, "Dad had tickets for a ball game." Parents would be doing schools a big favor if they would teach their children the importance of planning their lives around what they have to do rather than what they want to do.
Teach Your Children to Sit Still and Listen
A teacher once described his job as like "trying to keep 30 corks under water at the same time." All children get restless now and then. But some are seemingly incapable of paying attention in class. They wriggle around, talk, wander about the classroom and generally disrupt surroundings. No teacher can teach effectively under those circumstances. Teachers wish parents would train their children to listen. You do this by talking to them, and making sure that they respond. You also make sure that children follow through on instructions given to them. Yes, it's easier to just "let it go," but your child will then begin to realize that instructions need not be taken seriously. A teacher who has taught school for nearly 30 years at all levels, both in the United States and Europe, said that parents often ask her what they should do to prepare children for school. "They expect me to say, 'Teach them to read, or to do simple math.' But I ask them not to do that. That's my job. I ask them to send me someone who can sit still, pay attention and follow instructions. That's your job, I tell them."
Teach Your Children the Right Use of Television
Your television set is a 20th century fact of life. Most people have heard the warnings that the wrong type of program (and even too much of the right type) can hurt your children's chances of success in school. Teachers wish that parents would take these warnings seriously. Teachers are not anti-television. It can be a wonderful tool to assist in education if used carefully. But most parents aren't being careful enough in supervising viewing. The average high school graduate in the United States has spent about 10,800 hours in the classroom, but more than 15,000 hours watching television. Even if this is all good, clean, wholesome programming — which it almost certainly isn't — it still represents a massive overdose of a pseudo-learning situation. Television promotes passive listening. It is effective in putting ideas into our heads — but not in an active, response-orientated way. It programs rather than teaches. Very little mental activity is needed by the viewer to get the message, such as it is. With cable systems, and soon satellite communications flooding our homes with more channels, your television set threatens to devour even more of your family's prime learning time. So quite apart from the flood of wrong values that are being injected, day in and day out — too much television dulls the senses, dissipates the ability to concentrate and thus makes it harder for a student to function in the classroom learning situation. Add to this the impact of hard drugs, alcohol and after-school jobs on youth and it is little wonder schools face serious problems.
Teach Yourself to Communicate
Teachers wish parents would communicate with them. Have you ever met your child's teachers? Do you even know their names? Have you ever been to the school and seen the classrooms where your sons and daughters spend one third of their waking hours? Some parents only go to their children's schools when they have a complaint or when the children are in trouble. Most teachers wish that parents would take advantage of the occasional open houses and other opportunities for parent-teacher conferences. There is a grave danger in the mood of criticism toward education. Parents and teachers are being pitted against each other. That is a tragedy. They need to work together. We do not wish to minimize the real problems that exist — gang violence, teenage sex, the drug scene, the millions of soured and turned-off young people who make up so much of our high school population. For some, we acknowledge, it is already too late. This is not a perfect world, and our education systems have been an imperfect part of it. Serious mistakes have been made. Precious years have been frittered away fooling around with gimmicks instead of solid teaching. High schools in some areas are at last beginning to admit that too much emphasis has been placed on nonacademic courses. They are getting back to a core curriculum of the three Rs. The teaching profession in the United States has been through considerable soul-searching in recent months. Most teachers would like to see the illiterate, the inept, the incompetent and the inane expelled from their professional ranks (unfortunately easier said than done). Nevertheless, given a chance, American and European schools can teach (see "International Desk," this issue). There are still thousands of dedicated and competent teachers who have accepted the responsibility for their part in educating your children. But they know that they can only do part of the job. They need your help.
Taking Off the Rose-Colored Glasses About Illiteracy by Dan Taylor
Despite the optimistic forecasts of the 1960s by the UN., the nagging problem of illiteracy worldwide is still with us. Today, fully one third of mankind is illiterate. And the numbers are growing. Normally, we comfortably attribute illiteracy to populations in desperately poor areas. But what is frightening is that thousands of unmotivated young people leave schools in the wealthier areas of the world with barely adequate or inadequate reading and writing skills. Estimates put the number of illiterates in Western Europe at between 10 and 15 million — and 23 million in the United States. The profile of the average illiterate in the industrial world is also the familiar pattern of poverty. Minorities are affected more than majority populations, women more than men and rural more than urban residents. The economic costs of illiteracy are high. Many illiterates resign themselves to low-paying jobs. Others simply opt for government assistance. One estimate fixes the cost of welfare and unemployment programs for illiterates in the United States at $6,000,000,000 annually. The toll, in human terms, can be equally costly. The feelings of inadequacy and inferiority often become a driving force behind an illiterate's desire to cover up his handicap. Some who read or write inadequately are always " forgetting their glasses" or "getting a nasty cut on their writing hand" in order to avoid exposing themselves to possible ridicule. Their fear promises a life filled with anxiety. Mankind has made awesome progress — but only in certain areas. The computer age promises a host of jobs. But unless a literate population is there from which to draw employees, the computer boom may be a bust. Those young functionally illiterate " graduates" and dropouts soon discover that life is not one party after another or a football game. They too resign themselves to low-paying jobs and poverty. Unless more parents become active in their child's education, to motivate their child and teach him to appreciate education, we may very well see a whole generation that is always "forgetting their glasses."