Marilee Swirczek: Failure to educate our children begins at home

"Deportment used to be on the report card. Some of the nation's more forward-thinking schools are bringing it back." - Rudolph Crew, former superintendent, Miami-Dade Schools; Professor of Clinical Education, Rossier School of Education, USC.

The latest U.S. Department of Education's Program for International Student Assessment (PISA) shows the United States far behind other countries in reading, math and science. I know from my classroom experience that critical thinking and college-level writing skills are also lower than ever.

The failure of American education is so serious that the federal government now micromanages what should be states' business.

Instead of pointing fingers at schools, purchasing expensive programs, or forcing educators to assess students more than teach them, it's time to think about where failure begins - in my opinion, that would be the American family.

Though we have many conscientious students, increasingly students enter college with behavior that I can only describe as rude: coming late to class or not at all, disregarding assignments, texting instead of participating, requesting special treatment for no good reason, dressing inappropriately for an academic environment, fighting, even bargaining for higher grades that were not earned. This behavior reflects a lack of basic family values that results in disrespect for education and educators and sets students up for failure.

Never before in our nation's educational history have students received more attention: teachers' aids, state-of-the-art technology, special federal programs, tutors, before and after-school programs, continuing teacher education, staff development, student engagement workshops, lunches planned by nutritionists, school psychologists, guidance and career counselors, tests and assessment strategies, individualized instruction - you name it. If taxpayers' money can buy it, schools have it.

What do we require of students in exchange for all this? Just that they be there in body and spirit. That they practice personal discipline to get to school on time and not interrupt their peers and teachers who manage to be punctual. That they feel a responsibility to complete homework and participate in class. That they appreciate the privilege of attending clean, safe schools by helping to keep their schools clean and safe. That they demonstrate fairness and tolerance. That they value community and true patriotism and work for the common good as citizens of our global village.

If students cannot get to school on time without being forced, how can they compete in the future global economy when students in other countries (like Japan, Korea, Canada, Germany, Switzerland, the United Kingdom, among others) outperform them? Will they contribute anything without coercion? Will they have the sense to hold down jobs, raise decent families, think their way through problems, or recognize real tyranny?

Is a generation in danger of being left behind because our families have failed to impart basic values? In the end, it will be the American family that is the gravest threat to our national security, and we will have only ourselves to blame.

• Marilee Swirczek lives and works in Carson City.


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