Photo by Edward F. Palm)

About Me

My photo
Forest, Virginia, United States
A long time ago, my sophomore English teacher, Father William Campbell, saw something in my writing and predicted that I would someday become a newspaper columnist. He suggested the perfect title for my column--"Leaves of the Palm." Now that I have a little extra time on my hands I've decided to put Father Campbell's prediction to the test. I'm going to start using this blog site not just to reprint opinion pieces I've published elsewhere but to try to get more of my ideas and opinions out there. Feedback is welcome. To find out more about me, please check out my Web site: www.EdwardFPalm.com (Click on any of the photos below for an enlarged view.)

Friday, March 12, 2010

The Public School Blues

President Obama came out this week in favor of accountability in our educational system.  He even endorsed the Rhode Island school district that recently decided to fire all the teachers in a substandard school.  I am reminded of something the Chancellor of the District of Columbia's Public Schools, Michelle Rhee, said about a year ago in justifying her own pogrom against teachers--that the single most important factor in a student's success is having a good teacher.
      I beg to differ.  I am all for holding schools and teachers accountable for all that they can reasonably do.  And I certainly wouldn't defend incompetent, apathetic teachers. But the sine qua non of student success is the home environment.  In my experience, successful students generally have parents who understand and care about education.  The real problem is that young people are not being held accountable for their performance in school--either by their parents or their schools.
       No one is left back anymore; they get social promotions lest their self-esteem suffer or they bully the younger kids.  Parents coddle their kids when they flunk out or drop out of school rather than send them out to work.  We no longer have a military draft to motivate kids to stay in school.  Instead, our high-school drop-outs are swelling out the ranks of the underclass so deplorably represented on Jerry Springer, Maury Povich, and other train-wreck TV shows.
        We can beat up on teachers all we want, but it won't fix the problem.  We need to beat up--metaphorically, of course--on the kids who are blowing off school and the parents who are letting them. --EFP


J. David Bell said...

Both my wife and I have lived near (and worked in) under-performing school districts, and bad parenting is only one factor that contributes to these schools' poor performance. You'd also have to list inadequate funding, deteriorating physical plant, lack of essential pedagogical materials, high teacher turn-over rate, violence inside and outside the schools, racial isolation, entrenched poverty, and a host of other social ills that can't be pinned on any individual or group of individuals. All of which is to say, it's just as reductive to point the finger at the parents as it is to point the finger at the teachers; both exist within larger social structures, not in a social vacuum.

Edward F. Palm said...

True enough. All the social ills you mention contribute to the problem, including bad parenting. But I do think you miss the point here, JDB: Michelle Rhee declared that a good teacher was the sine qua non of student success. I still think the home life is the crucial factor. After all, the schools have the kids for five hours a day--if and when they go. No amount of funding or gifted teaching is likely to offset the bad examples and neglect a kid living in "entrenched poverty" experiences for the other 19 hours a day. On this much I think we agree: focusing on teachers alone is not going to fix the problem. --EFP