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A Woman's View: What is wrong with public education and what we can do about it?

Published: Wednesday, Feb. 29 2012 7:38 p.m. MST

What is wrong with public education and what can we do about it? That is the provocative title of a new book, yet to be published, by one of my guests on “A Woman’s View” this week, Victoria Burgess.

So — what is wrong?

“Parents need to more involved and realize that each child learns differently,” Burgess answered.

I began to think of how many problems in a child’s life for which parental involvement can be the answer, or at least part of the answer. Low self esteem? Parental involvement can help with that. Drug use? Parental involvement. Teenage pregnancy? Parental involvement. Bullying? Bulimia? Parental involvement. Failure to launch? Okay, maybe not that one.

With public education, with all education, we parents know what we need to do, don’t we? We simply cannot drop our children at the school house door and expect Sterling Scholars to walk out at the end of the day. We cannot send them off to school each morning with their backpacks zipped and anticipate them coming home with perfect report cards, shocked when they don’t, wondering how that could possibly have happened. Here’s how that happened — the only thing we did was zip the backpack.

“I don’t know what the answer is,” author Linda Eyre offered. “We have home schoolers in my family. We have some in wonderful school districts. Some who aren’t. And now there are so many things online to help parents. Things are getting better.”

Author Emily Freeman agreed, “There is a lack of parental involvement, but that’s not always the parent’s fault. Sometimes that’s the district’s or the teacher’s fault for not wanting them involved. We need to have a voice in what our children are learning.”

“I have home schooled each of my kids for a year, and now I’m starting on my grandkids,” Burgess shared.

Why?

“Because they were in 5th grade and couldn’t write a sentence.”

What??????

“We set standards in our schools, but we don’t follow through with them,” Burgess offered while we picked our jaws off the floor.

“I think it depends on the school,” Freeman said. “And I want my kids to be pushed. As parents, we do our kids a disservice when we go to a teacher and say, ‘We don’t want our kids to have this much homework or this many worksheets.’”

Oh no. I’ve thought that thought. Have I ever actually said that to a teacher? I’m searching my mind. I can’t come up with a definite “yes” or “no” on that, but I’ve thought that thought. I remember when my big kids were in high school, they seemed to be drowning in homework sometimes. Just drowning. I can remember going to parent-teacher conferences and, maybe just maybe, I hope not, but maybe, suggesting to a teacher that my daughter had more than just one class, and that if each teacher assigned that much homework, she’d be looking at seven hours a night of homework.

“I had a teacher in Montpelier, Idaho,” Eyre remembered fondly, “who required a classic a week, and his teaching came from his soul. We had a paper due every day. One mistake and we got an ‘F.’ Boy, did I learn. And it has stood me in good stead. Our kids can do so much more than we think they can.”

Sigh. You're so right.

I had a teacher in 4th grade named Sister Hope. It was a Catholic School (obviously) with nuns so strict that I think this one school may have single-handedly been responsible for the reputation of Catholic schools everywhere for being difficult, bordering on abusive. She made us memorize the entire Mini Page in the newspaper every Sunday and be able to recite it the following morning. The math was so difficult that some of my classmates would cry to the point of having to go home from school. We learned how to speak Slovak for St. Cyril and Methodius Day, which prompted me to feel audacious enough to write an entire play in Slovak to celebrate that day.

If your teacher empowers you to write a play in a foreign language in 4th grade, you pretty much feel like you can do anything in 6th, and 9th, and 12th. Maybe that is why I thought I could write a book at 40, or this column at 47. That and the fact that my father told me I could do anything if I put my mind to it.

Now, where is that backpack? There must be some worksheets for me to go over in there!

Amanda Dickson co-hosts Utah's #1 rated morning show, "Utah's Morning News with Grant and Amanda," on KSL Newsradio. Amanda also hosts the award winning program "A Woman's View," heard Sundays at 10 a.m. on KSL.

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