Students excel when parents are involved in education

The news show 20/20 on Jan. 13 aired a commentary on schools titled "Stupid in America." I didn't see the program, but John Stossel has a page at the ABC News Web site that discusses the piece.

Among the revelations by Stossel: "Kids at New York's Abraham Lincoln High School told me their teachers are so dull students fall asleep in class. One student said, 'You see kids all the time walking in the school smoking weed, you know. It's a normal thing here.'"

The show tried to take cameras into the school to document what was going on, but officials refused. Now there's a circus for you. Gee, I can't imagine why the school didn't want John Stossel along with the whole blasted television crew roaming the halls during school hours.

The story goes on to talk about the schools in Belgium where, according to Stossel, they have a "kind of voucher system" where the government funds various types of school. If they can't attract students, they're out of business.

This policy sounds okay on the surface, but it opens the door for all sorts of skullduggery in the attempt to garner government money. We have only to look at the current scandals in national government to see how the promise of money can corrupt any system.

They tested both Belgian and American students, and the Belgians did better. Stossel's conclusion? "The Belgian students didn't perform better because they're smarter than American students. They performed better because their schools are better."

Let me first say that I have no doubt there is room for improvement in our school system-probably a lot of improvement. However, every time we test some kids and they don't do as well as another group of kids, it's pile-on-the-teachers time, or accuse the system, or trash the government.

Here's a little reality: In 1956, I entered ninth grade at Monroe Junior High in Omaha, Neb. My English teacher, Mrs. Eades, was a real eye-bender (someone to put you to sleep). We all took naps in her class.

My history teacher, a fine fellow who played classical music while we read our books, was about as exciting as watching corn grow. We all had trouble staying awake.

And while I don't recall anyone dancing around with their shirts off, we had our share of boys who idolized James Dean and Sal Mineo, swaggering down the halls of school and telling the teachers to kiss-off (that's a cleaned-up version of what they really said). Switchblades and zip guns were the weapons of choice. Not everyone had them, but they were in the school.

And if we hadn't yet discovered weed, we did sneak around smoking Marlboros in the bathrooms.

As for the whining about not being able to discipline sub-par teachers, I heard that same nonsense when I was a manager at Boeing. Yes, the system for disciplining employees at Boeing was tedious. Guess why? Because in years past, managers could fire people without cause, and often did. The system was designed to protect the innocent. You can still prosecute the guilty, but you have to put a little effort into it. If you don't want to do that, you shouldn't be in management-either at Boeing or in our school system.

Much of the problem with education these days has to do with non-participation. For those of you with children in school: how many PTA meetings have you attended? How many hours have you sat with your children, encouraging them and helping them with their homework? Or do you tell them to do their homework while you sit and watch Monday Night Football?

Wherever you find students who excel, you will find parents who put emphasis on education starting at a very young age, and you can bet they were involved in every step of the process.

There are many areas in our society where we as citizens have dropped out. We're too busy with our jobs, our hobbies or indulging ourselves in our personal pleasures to worry about the environment, the government or how are children are doing in school. By the time we find out that our kids have fallen through the cracks, we look everywhere for blame-except in the mirror.

Look: Our kids and their teachers are no better and no worse than they were 50 years ago. What has been degraded is people's involvement in the things that are important to the community.

Until we decide we have an obligation to participate, all the vouchers and all the private schools in the world are not going to give us what we want. All that will do is create an elite class of people who are able to afford private education.[[In-content Ad]]