While the debates rage about what and how schools should teach, what is often left out of the discussion is the important factor of what schools could and should do for families, particularly relating to the questions of: 1. How to get parents more involved in their kids' education, and; 2. How to teach and incorporate the basic principles, values and family skills that will help kids to one day have successful families of their own.
Most would agree that our educational establishments, in addition to teaching academic skills and imparting intellectual information, have a responsibility to teach social principles and impart practical life skills.
The most important elements in this second category can be reduced to: 1. Personal values and character; 2. Parenting and family prioritizing; and 3. Work/life balance.
Of the three, only the first is receiving significant attention (as many districts mandate or at least encourage some form of character education).
For the other two (family/parenting skills and personal life balance), we have not yet created any mainstream consensus that these can and should be taught in our schools. Most seem to assume that family and parenting skills, and life priorities will be learned in families and from parents, but the problem is that bad family situations and poor or nonexistent domestic skills become a continuing cycle in many families.
We know that most neglectful parents were neglected as kids. We know that harsh, ineffective, harmful parenting flows from one generation to another, just as predictably as genetics. And we know that the crime, poverty, substance abuse and nonproductive, noncontributing traditions that stem so predictably from inadequate families are incredibly costly to society.
This economic factor alone is justification for instituting required courses on family skills and on work/family balance in high school and on values and ethics in middle school or junior high. There is already a broad choice of available ethics and values curriculums, and the same should be developed for parenting skills and life balance.
While they are at it, secondary schools should offer evening classes on the same subjects for adults. We should use school buildings (and public school teachers) after hours to help parents gain the skills their parents didn't teach them, and to link what the kids are learning about ethics and families with what parents can elect to learn.
This could also provide some much needed extra income for teachers.
And while we are on public school teachers (and the shortage of them), it would be a positive step to develop a provision for alternative certification whereby a person with a field of knowledge and natural teaching ability, particularly retired persons, could be hired to teach in secondary schools within their field of expertise.
What about the factor of getting parents more involved in their children's education?
One place to start is the acknowledgement that private and charter schools often achieve higher test scores and more results with less money and manage to get parents far more involved than do public schools.
On surveys, parents rate private and charter schools "simpler," "friendlier," "more autonomous," "less constraining" and "clearer in their goals."
So how do we get more charter and private schools, make them more affordable and make public schools more like them?
I (Richard) served for two years on President Ronald Reagan's Presidential Advisory Panel for Elementary and Secondary Schools, and I can tell you that the only truly dramatic and far-sighted idea that ever came before our panel was that of a school choice or voucher system.
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