Metal detectors used to be confined to high security areas like airports to guard against terrorists. Now they are installed in our schools to guard against terrorists; the students. Many of California’s schools have become institutions of violence, intimidation, and fear instead of institutions of higher learning. Have our schools lost control of their purpose of educating young people to become knowledgeable, productive, conscientious adults? The classrooms have become overcrowded, the students ethical values are conspicuously missing, and the old read out of a dull textbook and memorize these facts and figures routine has failed to capture the interest of our Generation X students. The below average high school student is a direct result of poor educational procedures in the student’s formative years. For example, every student leaving the third grade should know how to read. Throughout a student’s career certain standards should be met before promotion is allowed. Instead students are routinely promoted without the necessary skills needed for the next level. Assigning blame singly on the system, the teachers, the parents, or the student will not correct the matter. The issue must be evaluated holistically. All students leaving high school should be proficient at a college entry level; able to read, express themselves eloquently in written and oral form, think critically, compute mathematics, have some first hand appreciation of the arts and a strong sense of values. The inadequate education California’s students are presently receiving can be amended by personalized teaching, the teaching of ethical values, and a hands-on, inquiry based teaching of the basics.
To realize these educational goals for every student may seem like a pipe dream, but to try for anything less would be to sacrifice individual minds not just percentage points on a graph. It boils down to the individual. Each student must be given the attention of a trainee by teachers, aides, and parents. The overcrowded classrooms of thirty to forty students must be reduced to no more than twenty-five to allow the time to attend to students in a personal manner. The more students per teacher, the less time there is for personal instruction. Jesus only had twelve students and Socrates only had a few. Teachers and respect, and spawn a desire to learn without fear of reprisal and reprimand. To further this personal approach teachers would be allowed the use of a full-time teacher’s aide and part-time parent volunteers. An aide is like a tutor and a mother; helping students so they do not fall behind and giving attention to those who need a little more tender-loving -care. A student who is continually recognized and praised for his efforts will progress not because he is prodded externally, but because he has the inner desire to be recognized and praised for his efforts. Parents can help in the classroom on a volunteer or mandatory rotation. This shows they have a decided interest in their child’s education. Another more important way for parents to become involved is to encourage learning at home. Reading plays and great literature as a family and having discussions and debates about the student’s studies, art, and music can stimulate interest and provide different perspectives for him to ponder. According to Tom Coverdale, a teacher of the year in 1994, “…students who do best…are those whose parents are involved in their education on a daily basis…” (Shea, Jimenez 1).
Traditionally, ethical values have been taught at home. Children used to learn by example from their family, their church, and their community. Schools were left to teach the three R’s. There was discipline to be sure, but the discipline only reflected what values the children learned outside the school. Today families are broken and dysfunctional by divorce, drugs, abuse, and single parent syndrome. Fewer families are joining churches, and there is a reduced feeling of community as increased mobility and violence have transformed our once tight-knit neighborhoods. Our children are not learning the values necessary to maintain high social standards. In a recent interview in The Orange County Register, Gene Bedley, a retired educator, states, “The most important things we can teach are values. If we put values at too low of a level, then kids won’t know what’s right or wrong” (Gittelsohn B3). Values like positive attitude, respect, integrity, compassion, initiative, perseverance, and cooperation are the tools with which students learn to be successful in life.
Values are the key to a successful classroom. Students learn more if they have a positive attitude, self respect, and perseverance. They learn to help themselves and others if they have compassion, initiative, and cooperation. Being honest and sincere with each other teaches them that integrity is more rewarding than deceit. These values are why a hands-on, inquiry based method of teaching works. It allows the class to understand the presented material in a manner that is applicable in life. Students are at once being taught by the teacher and themselves. By breaking up into groups they can discuss, analyze, solve problems, and present solutions to whatever the task is at hand. Students in mathematics classes can help tutor each other and discuss different approaches to problems as a group, but at the end of every unit they are still be responsible individually for the material presented.
Tying studies to real life is beneficial to the students and the businesses and colleges that will be receiving them after graduation. Jessica Young reports in The Orange County Register that Edison High in Huntington Beach has instigated a program called the Center for International Business and Communication Studies or CIBACS (B2). The program is designed so students can apply curriculum to the business world. Teams of students are matched with firms and given a real life problem such as winning a bid to supply parts from a local supplier directly to a business in a foreign domain. This presentation would include language skills, social studies, communication skills, some history and a lot of initiative. Programs like these give the students a broader perspective of business than the usual after school jobs like clerking and flipping burgers. They also teach them how to present themselves to employers and college recruiters in a professional manner.
Businesses and colleges have been complaining for years that high school graduates need too much remedial training in areas they should have mastered while in high school. The solution is years away, but with dedicated teachers, parental support, a lot of initiative, the disposal of the education code, and the dismissal of many bureaucrats we may just be able to change the dismal output currently graduating from our public schools. Students will have to be made aware that their future is in their own hands and the foundation they lay in high school will have a profound effect on the rest of their lives. There is an old saying, ‘If you want to achieve anything in life worthwhile, it must be done slowly and with much care. Diligence and patience are rewarded. There are no shortcuts in life.’ Roughly translated for public school graduates, ‘Pour your beer too fast and all you’ll get is foam.’
- Gittelsohn, John. “Values are Legacy Left by Educator.” The Orange County Register 30 July 1995: B3+.
- Shea, Lois R. and Ralph Jimenez. “Study Finds Lifestyle Has Big Influence on SAT Score: Parental Participation Urged.”
- Boston Globe 3 Sep. 1995: 1+.
- Young, Jessica. “Teens Take on Corporate Clients.” The Orange County Register 11 Mar. 1996: 1+.