School is beginning all over America. For the first time, students are beginning pre-school, kindergarten, first grade, middle school, first year high school, first year college and first year graduate school. These beginnings are unique because they are a series of "firsts" in our educational journey and often set the tone for that first term.
However, every first day of a new term is a new opportunity to start fresh. It is a new beginning that could genuinely change the course and direction of one's life.
Unfortunately, today a growing number of our schools have become wastelands of human potential. A once bedrock of opportunity and a system of learning that empowered students to greatness seems to be crumbling. Why is that? What has changed?
This summer, in a sociology class I taught at Suffolk Community College, that question came up in a series of issue oriented discussion groups. This summer's group of students was a wonderful collection of diversity. There were students from colleges and universities from all over the Northeast, students from Europe and South America, married students and students of color. What was refreshing was their honesty and candor.
When the question of education came up as to why our American system of education is crumbling, the European students felt it was because American students are not disciplined and that they are spoiled. The American students agreed with the European students, but felt that our schools lack accountability.
There is no clear-cut answer as to why American education is in trouble. However, a new year is beginning and we have another chance to start anew and support schools. One thing I have learned after thirty years of teaching is that we don't stand a chance of success with our students if we do not revive the partnership between teachers and parents. There is no place in the learning environment for politics. The comprehensive education of every child must be the number one priority of every school, everywhere. The mediocrity that has infected us must be treated and eliminated.
Equal opportunity for students, no matter what their geography or special needs, should exist for every student, in every town, everywhere.
The learning environment must be a clean, safe, positive place, where every student is treated with respect and dignity. The next governor, senator or even the President of the United States might be sitting in one of our classes.
An education is a gift and should be treated accordingly. As parents, we need to support our teachers, even when our children make it uncomfortable. We should not excuse them or make excuses for them when they make poor choices. We need to work together to learn and grow from the very conflicts that will assuredly emerge throughout the year.
In turn, teachers must be more conscious of the tremendous opportunity and responsibility we have to act competently, respectfully and lovingly toward all of our students, even those students who make us crazy.
Our school administrators need to be empowered to be leaders, not caretakers of our schools. We need men and women with vision who have the courage to risk and to lead.
Our school boards must be mindful of their charge to advance, support and protect the quality of educational life for all students. Thus, they should not let the politics of their bureaucracy paralyze good education. We all need to be reminded that our schools are about our children and their future.
We parents need to be held accountable like we have never been held accountable before. Our children's education should be a number one priority. Therefore, we need to be in constant communication with our schools, attend appropriate parent-teacher meetings and see to it that our children act accordingly.
What does that mean? For elementary and middle school children it means keeping track of homework, tests and special projects. It means making sure that our children are attentive to their work and the dates assignments are due.
Educating a high school student is more challenging. Hopefully, if we are reasonably effective and successful through middle school, our student entering high school will have the proper foundation to begin this new adventure.
The challenge on the high school level is to hold our children personally accountable for school assignments, tests, projects and school attendance. As a parent, you should not be a warden or treat your son or daughter like a baby. On the other hand, you should not do work for them, make excuses for their non-compliance or lie and rescue them. Too many seniors are graduating high school as functional illiterates. It is breaking the system down.
One of the challenges we have to face is that the traditional approach to secondary education has to change. It is not meeting the needs of a growing number of students from every sector, from the gifted and talented to our students with special needs to our students right in the middle. Our high schools are failing.
However, one constant that continues to have profound effects on our students is the teacher. Every Fall I ask my Freshman Humanities students to write about someone other than their parents, who has greatly influenced their lives. Ninety-eight percent tell powerful stories about teachers who went the extra distance and helped them to grow and become beyond what they thought was possible.
Most of us owe a tremendous debt of gratitude to the teachers who have touched our lives.
As the new school year begins, maybe we could thank a teacher today for what he or she did yesterday to help make the world a better place for tomorrow!