The United States Secretary of State Hillary Clinton once famously said that it takes it a "village to raise a child." Former United States Senator Rick Santorum recently retorted that it takes a "family to raise a child." But, what does it take to educate a child? Very simply, it takes a community. I have a unique vantage point. I serve as a 22-year-old school director in the Delaware Valley School District in Milford, Pennsylvania. I also graduated from the district with honors and subsequently earned my bachelors of the arts degree in political science summa cum laude from Bloomsburg University of Pennsylvania. So, I know the value of an education. And, although I do not posses a formal education degree, from the different research projects I have completed on the topic as well as my service on the school board thus far I have developed a thesis: it takes a community to educate a child.
We have seen in society today that the urgency to do something about the education system in the United States is perhaps at its climax. Politicians continually discuss the need to do something in the media and at debates. Yet why is it that nothing is getting done? The United States Secretary of Education Arne Duncan summarized some of what needs to be done in a 2010 speech at the Mom's Congress held at Georgetown University. Secretary Duncan noted that, perhaps more than anything else, we need to "re-engage" the family in education. I could not agree more. Public education is not the same as it was for my parents, members of the baby-boomer generation. If my father cut up in class, he brought home a note from his teacher and handed it to my grandmother. She did not dispute the note, but reprimanded my father. Today, it seems like parents are more inclined to defend their children, even if they are in the wrong. What, then, does that teach children about authority? What kind of educational ethos do teachers have with their pupils if parents are degrading their recommendations and concerns?
Increasingly, educators are tasked with meeting children on their level. Today's students are increasingly distracted with the modern technological wonders which exist. How likely is a child to turn off his X-BOX and open a book or do a set of math problems? How likely is a child to turn off her favorite television show and complete that literary assignment which is due at the end of the week? How likely is a child to log off social media and give his lab report the earnest effort it deserves? As much as teachers can try and creatively design lesson plans integrating technology into them, traditional homework needs to be completed, too. Parents need to make sure their children are doing these assignments and are not having their attention diverted.
My sister is an elementary school teacher. She and I occasionally discuss the public education system from her perspective inside the classroom. She says that teachers are asked to do more and more to make up for what is not being done at home. I can see her perspective. Educators can only do so much to help students achieve standards. Our conversations usually transition at some point into a discussion of the piece of controlling federal law in public education today: the No Child Left Behind Act (NCLBA).
The NCLB act had a well-intended purpose, as its preamble states: "To close the achievement gap with accountability, flexibility, and choice, so that no child is left behind." It sounds fine on its surface. But the implementation of it has been an utter failure. One hundred percent achievement as the act aims to eventually have happen is simply not realistic, in almost any statistical situation. However, I think the NCLB is a bigger illustration of something even Secretary Duncan may agree with: the federal government meddling where it does not belong. The Secretary said in his speech he can only use the "bully-pulpit," but reform needs to be a local priority and the local school boards need to have more control, as former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich recently said.
Therefore, in order to be successful, in order for the United States to stem a coming global education gap with a rising China, reform needs to happen locally, reform needs to happen in communities across this great country. Parents, teachers, administrators, community leaders in government and civic organizations need to take an active role in mentoring as well as educating youth. I do not think it is an accident that many failing schools in this country exist in communities where civil society is weak. While these communities largely exist in poor areas, which illustrates another issue for public education reform, funding, they also do not have strong civic leaders and well-supplied and well-equipped educators, which is not their fault.
If the United States is to retain its global, super-power status then communities across this nation need to educate their children, all facets of the communities. The solutions need to not be demagogued in government, but need to be realistic in terms of funding and laws placed upon educators. A Chinese proverb holds that: "learning is like rowing upstream, not to advance is to drop back." The United States must learn about what we can do better to row upstream, or forever be faced with dropping further and further back.
As previously published by the Huffington Post