The Challenge of American High School Education

Written by fatherfrank  |  12. February 2004

Schools are once again in the news. School violence is up. Class sizes are up. Teacher morale is down. Parents are concerned about standardized test scores. Students are concerned about safety and their right to privacy.
There is no debate that American high school education, even on a good day, is a challenge. The landscape and texture of American public schools has changed dramatically in the last twenty years.
Not only has our approach to education in the classroom changed, but how students and parents respond has also changed dramatically, and for the most part not for the better.
Those of us educated in the 1950's and 1960's remember that school was a place you had to be. You knew you had to cooperate both in the classroom and on the campus. If you elected not to comply, you would clearly be held accountable.
If your teacher called home to complain about your deportment in class and/or your failure to complete a homework assignment, there was no debate over the teacher's concern. She could be lying through her teeth, but that did not matter she was the teacher and because of her role, you were expected to respect her at all costs. During those years, teachers had tremendous power. Most of the time they used their power appropriately.
Those were different times. Schools did not have the opportunities they have today. Computer technology has revolutionized the classroom and the average student's learning experience.
Unfortunately, all of this technology has not revolutionized students' attitudes. Student attitude and behavior has deteriorated substantially. Discipline and academic compliance is a problem in the inner city as well as in the affluent suburbs. A growing number of students are non-compliant and downright indifferent towards their education.
Parents have changed in attitude as well. Twenty years ago you could almost always count on a parents' unconditional support and cooperation. If you called home with concerns, most of the time you were met with gratitude and appreciation for your time and interest in their child.
Today it is a major effort just to connect with a parent. When you finally do connect after multiple phone calls, you are often met with frustration, defensiveness and the "not my child" syndrome. This only builds a wall between parents and teachers where there should be a bridge.
A growing number of parents are not able to meet with teachers and/or commit to any corrective action that might bring about change in their child's behavior and academic performance.
Many teachers are justly complaining about spending an inordinate amount of time playing social worker and disciplinarian and thus not really teaching. That misdirected energy hurts the problem child as well as the rest of the students who want to learn.
The social climate in many schools is radically changing. The local high school was once a safe, wholesome place for anyone's son or daughter to be. Now students from every socio-economic background are faced with issues around gangs, drugs, alcohol and other deviant choices.
A growing number of suburban high schools have security forces on par with the local police. Some schools even have metal detectors. Students must have picture ID's and all visitors must sign in and be approved. Clearly those procedures are necessary, but what a sad commentary on American education. It is unfortunate that our schools are no longer safe, life-giving places to be.
Parent - teacher communication, at best, is shackled and dysfunctional. Parents clearly need to become more invested in their children's education. However, not in an abusive, oppositional way, but rather in a cooperative, collaborative way. The partnership that once existed in our high schools needs to be revived. Our schools need to reclaim their place as the center of life and activity within our communities.
Our schools and teachers are not above reproach. Too many students talk about the lack of respect they encounter from some teachers and administrators. Painfully, we know that it does exist in many forms in all of our schools. No teacher or administrator should treat a student disrespectfully, even if the student is out of control. As educators, we need to lead by example.
Students who are disrespectful and out of control need to be held accountable. In this area we need to be more consistent and responsible. Administratively, we need to do more. If a student cuts twenty-nine times and his parent is not contacted, that student is being cheated. That school is acting irresponsibly and woefully neglectful.
Cutting deals when students are abusively absent from class and regularly disruptive is educational neglect and blatant irresponsibility. Social promotion is a disservice to the student and demeans a local high school's competence as a learning center.
If we continue to graduate students who are academically bankrupt and incompetent, we will continue to impair an already crippled school system. Too many of our high schools have become wastelands of human potential.
As parents and community members, we need to support our local schools. We need to support our dedicated teachers and our administrators who are committed to making a difference on behalf of children. We must work more diligently for safer school environments that empower all of our students to learn and become whole persons. We must work for smaller classes and for additional support staff to assist the growing number of students with special needs. Those students should not be forced out of the system.
If children are our national treasure, then let's treat them accordingly.

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