Steven is a retired teacher disturbed by the problems he sees in education. Schools weren’t perfect when he was teaching but they were better than they are today. He has ideas for improvements.
Some of his ideas are new and some have been around awhile. It’s hard to disagree with them. The problem is, they will cost money and that money will have to come from higher taxes. He thinks if we can spend billions on defense, we can afford to spend millions on education. Children’s minds are more important, he says, than missiles and bombs.
The reform of public education begins with getting more parents involved in it. Studies in the Amana colonies in Iowa show high performing students result in part from the support of parents. Involved parents are needed more than ever. Twitter and Facebook, appealing as they are to students, won't teach them the important things about life they need to know.
In Steven's community, there’s a noticeable lack of parental involvement. Parents will flood a cheerleader tryout but won't attend a back-to-school event after their children are beyond third grade. Teachers try everything to get them to attend and nothing works. It’s always the same, relatively small group of parents who come.
I was surprised to hear him say students must learn their multiplication tables and long division by fourth grade. I assumed most students managed to do that. Apparently not. Many teachers say students won’t do the homework necessary to learn these basic skills.
He also says a pleasure reading time is needed in elementary schools. This would help build reading skills and make reading an avocation. Students need to read something besides what's on their cell phones.
The first three grades, he says, should be dedicated to reading, writing and arithmetic. Again, I had assumed that was the case. Not so. Too many children today become adults without being able to read and do basic math. Being able to write a coherent email can be a challenge for some. Shortcuts used on Twitter aren’t a big help.
Calculators should be banned until the end of the fourth grade, he says. I didn’t know children were using them in grammar school. Eons ago I never saw one in grammar school or high school. You had to do the math in your mind.
Students must also be taught to spell. Too many of them can’t do that now. Reading a lot and seeing words frequently would help them learn to spell, my friend says.
I remember spelling bees when I was in grammar school. Boys would stand on one side of the room and girls on the other. By and large the girls were the better spellers. But for me and two other boys, there was competition to be the last boy standing. And sometimes one of us would win. We learned to spell and had a lot of fun.
It’s wrong, my friend says, to allow software on grammar school computers that corrects grammar and spelling. Grammar checks and spell checks do the work for them and students lose an opportunity to learn.
Civics and American History also need to be emphasized. He remembers having a student in the 9th grade ask him who had the Nazis fought in the Civil War.
He also recommends that teachers be given supplies to give out to students who need them. Poor students don’t have the money to buy supplies and teachers have to provide them. Too many have to do so out or their own pocket.
Executives in private industry go to lunch and charge it to their employers. Teachers don’t do that. So why not give them access to the supplies their students need.
My friend knows higher taxes will be needed to do this but says more children will graduate and be prepared to find a good job or further their education. And they in turn will become taxpayers.
Another of his recommendations would also involve higher taxes. Students should be allowed to eat breakfast at school if they arrive hungry. At some schools this is currently the case. It's important, he says, because too many students don’t eat breakfast at home.
Poverty is often the reason but sometimes it’s two parents leaving early for work. They assume their children will eat a good breakfast. Not always the case.
It would also help to stop criticizing teachers, Steven says, most of whom do their best to instruct students. Students who come from difficult home environments aren’t easy to teach.
Some teachers are the most caring adults in the lives of children. They need public support and the money required to get the job done.
Everything Steven suggests is based on common sense. The problem is, most of his suggestions require that you and I pay higher taxes not only to educate children but to feed those who come to school hungry.
Since we have to pay taxes for public education, why not pay a little more to do the job right.
You and I won’t go broke and we won’t go hungry and we’ll still be able to buy a car when we need one.
Parents of poor students can’t do that.
When someone must live paycheck to paycheck, it's difficult when the paycheck isn’t big enough. And that is still too often the case in the United States of America.