Leave no parent behind in effort to reform schools

We are supersaturated with reasons why the Nevada school system is such a failure. At the 2003 session of the Nevada Legislature, Gov. Guinn led a hysterical "in the box" fight to dump more money into a bottomless pit at great constitutional peril. The last I've seen is a release by the Department of Education proclaiming that teachers are teaching the breadth but not the depth of math, English and science.

The Nevada Policy Research Institute recently published two research reports sharply critical of the Nevada schools. Again, they cite "... the meager time allocated by the districts to teaching the basic skills of mathematics, writing, and reading."

I'm not a fan of the school system. Yet when one of our largest cultural institutions gets close to critical mass, it's vital that we take the time to identify the underlying causes. We have not done this.

The success or failure of our schools is driven by the culture within which the system lives.

Like other institutions, it is a product of a cultural milieu upon which survival depends and from which it derives its character. In short, that our Nevada culture spawns poor schools is a major reflection upon the family structure from which it emanates.

Yes, we've been busy blaming the school system for the faults of the Nevada family. What is more fundamental to a culture than the basic units of that milieu, the family, and, the parents in charge? I don't mean to defend our school system because they acquiesce to these cultural demands making them self inflicted. Their ostensible failure could not have happened if the American family had not already failed in a major adult life skill, family and parental responsibility for children.

Children in other cultures that show parental acceptance of responsibility for early educational discipline far exceed the academic achievement of children in our culture. We don't support the idea that it's the parent's responsibility to add academic value and discipline to our children before they enter school.

We are consistently influenced to believe that this responsibility belongs entirely to the schools. Yet it takes parents in tandem with the school system for children to be successful. If one doesn't do the job, both fail. Schools should add basic academic skills, enhancing what parents should have started. Parents should have added at least rudimentary academic discipline preparatory to the acceptance of a more structured learning environment.

Failing this, parents have come to exert considerable power on schools. They seem to believe that their academic and behavioral job is done when they send their children off to kindergarten. "Phew! I'm glad that over, now I can relax and let the schools take over."

Some parents do accept this responsibility. Yet children to whom schools must add extraordinary value, such as a new language, enter with difficulty, either academically, behaviorally or both. They seriously obstruct the school's ability to produce educated children. Schools are forced to manage large rehabilitation programs.

It's time to stop blaming schools for parental failures. That's why dumping money into schools just doesn't work. It presents no probability of solving the problem. The schools are only one-third of the dilemma. This "false cause" frenzy drove the money dumping at the end of the last session of the Legislature. It bypassed the real cause, parents and the culture that spawn irresponsibility, protecting parents from accountability. Unfortunately, few want to take on parents, especially politicians and the teacher's unions.

This conundrum is a reflection of a society that ignores parents who choose to allow their offspring's to enter the system unready to learn. The liberal litigation mentality has also caused it, fueled by trial lawyers. It pervades our culture. It's someone else's fault. Transfer the responsibility and accountability to the "village."

Shouldn't parents make it their business to learn how to teach academic discipline? After all, parenthood and the attendant responsibilities are a choice. If they don't assume the responsibility, who should? If the school system does, and it appears that it is being forced to do so, shame on them. This has allowed parents to abdicate their responsibility by teaching them that someone else will do the job.

In short, the outrageousness of the task has set the schools up for failure, and the schools are complicit. As inferred in the Nevada Policy Research Institute analysis, teaching has become a secondary priority. Schools cannot competently take on these responsibilities that rightly belong to parents, despite the money allocated.

Indeed, the solution is not an easy one. The problem is culturally systemic and widespread. The solution is also culturally systemic and widespread because for every child there is a parent. We need a new educational paradigm in parallel with "No Child Left Behind." We can call it "No Parent Left Behind." Educating parents to start at birth preparing their children for school would be tough. Nevertheless, it would help teach parents to understand the values of their new responsibility - that is, school ready children. This is where the money should be spent.

What is more important - developing children who are ready to cooperate in the development of their own life vision, or dumping children and money into schools that don't have the social and cultural authority to succeed?

n Dan Mooney is a retired, 32-year Carson City resident.


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