Bradwell elementary school in Chicago has announced that 44 of its 77 students will not pass eighth grade this year, sparking an interesting debate: who’s at fault, the parents or the school?
The easy answer is that both deserve blame, along with the flunking students themselves. But who deserves most of the blame? In the past, I would have said the schools. After all, that’s what schools are there to do, educate kids. They have them six hours a day, five days a week, nine or so months a year starting at age 5.
But over time I have changed my mind. I now think that at least 80 percent of a child’s success in school is due to the parents. There are children who fail in superb schools, both public and private. And there are children who thrive in otherwise mediocre schools. How come? Usually the parents.
It’s the parents who either do or don’t read to their kids when they’re toddlers, and help them learn the fundamentals of reading and the alphabet before kindergarten. It’s the parents who do or don’t steer their preschool kids to TV shows that do more than just entertain them. A child’s entire orientation toward learning is in the hands of the parents before kindergarten.
It’s also the parents who do or don’t have their kids ready to start school each day. Many schools now have free and reduced breakfast programs to augment their hot lunches because so many kids come to school in the morning without eating. Why do we expect schools to feed students before school even starts? There is no excuse why mom or dad can’t fix their kids breakfast in the morning. The oatmeal and bacon that used to take five to 10 minutes to prepare now takes 90 seconds. Ditto for a bowl of cereal and a piece of fruit. Why do we simply let parents off the hook when they don’t do their job?
It’s also parents who either do or don’t make sure that homework is done. It’s the parents who decide how much time their children spend in front of the TV and Gameboy. It’s the parents who do or don’t pay attention to how their children are doing in school. One of the Chicago parents blaming her son’s school for flunking him said she had no idea he was flunking English – even though he had already failed it twice before.
And most important, it’s the parents who decide whether their children value learning outside of school. Are the same dads who encourage their kids to learn the fundamentals of football and the starting lineup of the Mariners also pressing them to learn the fundamentals of reading and math?
Day in and day out, the greatest source of encouragement for kids to learn comes first and foremost from parents and other relatives. Moms and dads don’t have to be highly educated to do this job. They just have to believe it’s important and follow through. The story of this country is the story of parents pushing their kids to have more opportunities than they had.
Yes, exceptions abound. And I’m not giving schools a free pass. I’m a critic of many things in our school system. But perspective is important. When kids continue to fail, it’s often because their parents have failed them first. We can’t “raise the bar” for our kids in school if parents aren’t doing that at home.