Don’t expect the impossible

Tom Dunn - Contributing Columnist

For many years now, laws have been created as if schools and schools alone determine a child’s success or failure. While embracing this myth, Ohio’s legislators have created a school report card that it claims tells communities “how their schools are performing,” based on how well students do on tests. The problem with this contention, of course, is that it is not true.

Research tells us that two factors that determine a child’s academic performance more than the school he or she attends is his/her God-given ability and the environment in which he/she is raised. It is a fact that children are not all born with the same intellectual, social, emotional, and physical capabilities, and that these capabilities impact their development. These differences in ability partially explain why we do not all achieve at the same levels when we reach adulthood.

We also know how important a child’s environment is in his/her development. Research tells us that children who live in middle class (or higher) homes, with two college-educated parents, as a rule, perform better academically than children who live in poverty with a single parent who has dropped out of high school if for no other reason than the life experiences to which they are exposed.

We know that a child’s success is determined far more by his or her parents than it is by the school he/she attends. Knowing this, one has to wonder why our legislature doesn’t claim that its school report card tells communities “how their parents are performing?” Scientifically speaking, it would be more accurate than blaming (or crediting) a child’s success entirely on the school he/she attends, as the legislature currently does. But, they wouldn’t think of doing that, would they?

I grew up in the 1960’s and 1970’s, so I was raised in simpler times. My own children are now approaching forty years old, so the same can be said for them. We were raised before politicians created the myth that schools and schools alone determine if a child will be successful, that parents play a minimal role in their child’s education, and that schools can undo the damage done by absentee or poor parenting. Well, they can’t.

The education my siblings and I received from the Covington Schools has served us well, as has the education my children received from the Troy City Schools. We were taught by caring, compassionate, dedicated, and intelligent teachers who provided us with the education we needed to be successful, as long as we were willing to take advantage of it.

But, having said that, at no time did my parents or my wife, Cinda, and I expect the schools to raise our children for us. It was our job to send them to school every day unless they were sick. It was our job to provide them with the proper foundation and attitude to learn. It was our job to teach them to be kind, compassionate, and respectful. It was our job to teach them right from wrong and to hold them accountable for their mistakes. It was our job to make sure they were raised to be positive contributors to society. Then, it was the child’s job to take what we/they had been taught and apply it to lead successful, productive lives.

Today’s laws make it the school’s job to make sure parents send their children to school on time every day; they make it the school’s job to teach children to be kind to others and not bully them; they make it the school’s job to teach kids not to attend parties where prescription drugs are mixed in bowls and that they shouldn’t grab a handful and swallow them; and they make it the school’s job to warn kids about the dangers of date rape, sexting, and inappropriate social media usage.

There are a thousand examples of laws politicians have created that hold schools responsible for raising our kids, then, to add insult to injury, they have the nerve to create a report card professing to tell us “how your schools are doing” when the schools don’t successfully raise our children. It’s a disgrace.

To be clear, schools cannot (and should not) be expected to raise our children. Schools cannot (and should not) be expected to get them out of bed and to school on time. Schools cannot (and should not) be expected to teach them the values that enable them to become kind and compassionate adults. Schools cannot (and should not) be expected to convince children that filling their bodies with illicit drugs or engaging in a promiscuous lifestyle are bad choices. Schools cannot (and should not) be expected to teach children that mocking and belittling others is wrong. That’s the parents’ job.

What schools can do is support good parenting while furthering a child’s education. They can build upon (but not undo) what children have (or have not) been taught at home, assuming that what they are being taught is appropriate; they can teach children how to improve their written and verbal skills; they can teach kids how to develop high level math, science, and social studies skills; they can help to teach children how to think critically and get along well with others; and they can play a supportive role in helping children develop into successful adults, as long as the children are willing to take advantage of this support. There are millions and millions of successful graduates of public schools who prove this to be true.

So, how about if we start engaging in conversations about how kids really become successful instead of continuing to engage in these fantasy-land discussions that occur in the political world today? If we would do that, we would save a whole lot of money and make a difference in young people’s lives, and wouldn’t that be nice?

Tom Dunn

Contributing Columnist

Tom Dunn is the superintendent of the Miami County Educational Service Center.

Tom Dunn is the superintendent of the Miami County Educational Service Center.