My ambition in 1978 was to become an elementary teacher. At age 17, I headed off to Bowling Green State University as an education major. While I never lost respect for the profession, after four quarters and some life changes, I decided to pursue a different degree. As someone who has tremendous admiration for professional teachers and a deep desire to see children well-educated, I am finding current public concern about our public schools interesting enough to collect a few thoughts on the topic.
This week I have learned of the confirmation of the new education secretary for the United States, seen Facebook comments ranging from celebration to despair, and also been reading Hillbilly Elegy by J.D. Vance. Vance, an Ohioan in his early 30s, explains in great detail the serious disadvantages of his life and what it took to overcome them and succeed. I highly recommend this book. It is giving me insight into the lives of people who live around me and reinforcing some of my deepest held beliefs.
I am a product of public education. My husband was educated in Catholic and public schools. Our two sons attended and graduated from public schools with honors. We all went on to finish college, and our oldest has made a good start toward his master’s degree. I believe there are several factors that account for these accomplishments. I hope to present them with humility.
- All four of us were raised by hardworking fathers and mothers who saw raising their kids and being a home maker as their honor. Being available during school hours enabled me to volunteer in our sons’ schools, pick them up after school, prepare dinner, and have time and energy to help with homework or read together in the evening.
- We were involved in church. Speaking for myself and, I believe, for Eric and Kyle, our involvement in Sunday School, youth groups, and church service was as integral in our education as was our schooling. Dave’s Catholic upbringing laid a solid foundation of integrity and strong family values.
- Good personal choices in life regarding time management, earning and spending money, and health kept us on track. While I don’t deny that each of us has a good measure of God-given ability, I wholeheartedly agree with author J.D. Vance that effort leads to success. In Hillbilly Elegy, he explains that the feeling that our choices don’t matter needs to be overcome.
Vance also discusses his mixed opinions about whether students should be provided with government vouchers that enable them to attend private schools, escaping failing public schools, or whether the money should be poured into the public schools to improve their effectiveness. In truth, no amount of funding or teaching expertise can overcome the sad and sometimes dangerous home life that many students endure. Without encouragement, discipline, and security in the family, the kids face an uphill battle.
My heart aches for broken and struggling families. I’d love to see all of our communities and students thriving. There’s not an easy fix, but here are 10 ways in which we members of the public can help:
- Vote for your local school levies.
- Take an interest in your local school board and vote for people you believe will serve well.
- Support and show appreciation for your child’s teachers.
- Show up for parent/teachers conferences.
- Be committed to your child’s well being, seeing that they get enough sleep, good nutrition, and time with you.
- Make reading at home a priority. Read to them. Listen to them read. Perhaps, like Dr. Ben Carson’s mother, you should limit TV viewing and require your kids to read two books a week and write a report on each.
- Volunteer at a school. See if your Ohio elementary school has a Project MORE program in which volunteers spend one-on-one time reading with kids who are struggling. Help out with field trips or parties. Attend your child’s evening programs and sporting events. Ask what you can do! (My own part is making weekly visits to two 1st grade classes to share lessons from Winners Walk Tall about responsibility, respect, honesty, etc. The Winners Walk Tall program was developed by a grandfather in Cincinnati to help keep kids out of gangs.)
- Support or start programs such as our church’s Bountiful Backpacks ministry that provides weekend food for needy kids.
- Donate books to your school’s library.
- Pray for teachers and administrators.
All hard work brings a profit, but mere talk leads only to poverty. Proverbs 14:23