Dear American Parents,
With the confirmation of one Mrs. Besty DeVos to the high office of the Secretary of Education (Congratulations on being the most contested candidate we can all remember!) there has been a tremendous amount of buzz regarding the future of your children’s education in our great nation.
Siren calls of the dismantling of the “cornerstone” of our republic and vicious accusations of our administration’s lack of care regarding you and your family’s well-being have likely been a concern for you. If you indeed have your children’s well-being at heart, I hope such matters regularly make it to the dinner table.
Thus my letter.
These are the 3 reasons you can relax your worries right now and can put that energy to better use.
Education is not the most important marker of personal or life achievement
Every developmental study on curriculum, school processes, and testing outcomes has to account for one very important factor – Home Life.
What’s your child’s home life like? Is it clean or cluttered? Do they see affection modeled by their parents or do they watch you unable to make things work? Do you regularly talk to them about their feeling, thoughts, and passions? Do you hit them? Are you an engaged and interested parent or do you find yourself on your smartphone/zoning in front of the T.V. more often than not?
Was your child breast fed for 1 yr.? Do they eat nutritiously? (You buy/grow the food and do/don’t cook it. Not their choice, yours.) Do you seek out communities and friends that are positive places for them to do life and create bonds?
Somehow many think that Mrs. DeVos is going to make or break the future of our children, yet she has no impact on any of these questions about the foundation we create for our kiddos life achievement (yes, unlike many of the loudest/staunchest opposition, I AM a parent and this decision does concern me and my family…If you did not reproduce, please discontinue telling all of us who have what is best for our future.) The answer to these questions is not to pour more money into a broken education system. In fact, the answer to these questions has nothing to do with the education system (and is worth another letter all by themselves).
I was raised in a single-parent home below the poverty line with three siblings yet I graduated Valedictorian of my high school and received a full scholarship to Vanderbilt University. This success was not a result of Podunk Tennessee’s stellar education system (they rank pretty dang low on the scale of awesome). My mother was not perfect, but she took her role as a mother very seriously and engaged with her kids daily so that our potential as individuals was realized. She knew who we were and made an effort, daily, to spend time with us, fed us well, and structured our home with hard and fast rules. An avid gardener and fantastic southern cook, my momma dropped out of high school to support herself when she was in 10th grade. Yet through self-learning and the stubborn determination to do well for her kids, she raised a lawyer, an artist, a developer, and an entrepreneur. It’s not rocket science…Biology does the most of the work for us as long as we stay engaged with our offspring.
Did you know that how many hours/day your child speaks with you impacts their vocabulary more than their grade level[i]? Did you know that sugar causes and exacerbates ADHD[ii]? Did you know that hours in front of the T.V. lowers IQ[iii]? Did you know that life achievement is more determined by how well your 4 yr. old can resist a marshmellow than by what school he/she attends[iv]?
I hope that if you can’t be excited about Mrs. DeVos’s confirmation, you can turn your purposeful attention and energy to what you can control as a parent—Arguably the other 99% of what will truly direct the future of our children.
Technology has changed everything
Once upon a time, when books and information and educated persons were scarce, it made sense to pool the community’s resources giving all children in the community equal access to the learning material that was available. Today it is not the case.
Within 3 hours, every person in our nation has the capacity (as long as they’re literate) to become more informed about ANY subject than 99% of the rest of the world. We no longer are restricted by the locale or cost of education material when we have the whole of human knowledge and endeavor at our finger tips.
(Don’t give me the “what if they don’t have access” garbage. I personally know several people on food stamps who have smart phones and post on social media almost hourly. Access to the internet is not truly a problem in our society when a wireless-capable device can be purchased for 10 hrs. of minimum wage work and free Wifi is offered at every McDonalds, Library, and Department store in the country. My 5 yr. old nephew has learned more on You Tube than in school…what’s more disturbing is that many families USE Wifi enabled electronics to babysit their children, and it’s not educational content they’re consuming…)
Imagine a world where family cohesion and value-teaching in the home is augmented by an hour or two of world-class virtual instruction in the arts and sciences. How much better off will our children be when, after a short but productive education round powered by curiosity and passion, the child puts into practice what they learned with parents, then plays outside with his/her friends the rest of the day?[v]
The world has changed significantly in the last 30 years, the cost, access, and way of our education system should morph with it…oh and it can likely do so at a fraction of the current cost. I look forward to “an outsider’s” take on how to begin moving in that direction.
But What About the Teachers?
I know you are worried about good people’s jobs and may even be a teacher yourself. If you are one of the good ones, you’ll be fine. In fact, you’re likely to be better off in an “education market” where your value (time spent, effort and energy contributed, parent/student engagement and satisfaction, efficiency in and out of the classroom, and other markers of value that aren’t currently measured) is realized in true economic gain for you and the market. That is, if the government is only footing part of the bill instead of the whole bill, you will make the money your creative instruction and education methodology is worth.
Unless you’re my economics teacher from 9th grade who sat on his tail, never delivered an inspiring or motivating message, and demanded silence while we copied definitions from a book. Then you have a reason to worry. You, sir, stunk as an educator. I hope this transition inspires you to find something you can do that adds value to the world leaving the instruction of our future to better-suited individuals.
I know an amazing teacher, let’s call her Mrs. Canyon, who taught gifted 4th and 5th graders for 20 years. I visited her classroom to find a vibrant crew of 20 youngsters bouncing energetically, but attentively at their desks on Swiss balls (that she bought on her own dime). They listened to me speak about the value of nutrition and physical fitness for their developing brains then asked intelligent and fun questions afterward. Then we took a “brain break” (a 10 min walk instituted by the teacher around the school after she read of the importance of movement every hour for both the health and development of children – she saw an increase in all of her class’s test performance, btw, after only a week). Sadly, Mrs. Canyon, quit prior to retirement citing a loss of passion after her school instituted yet another round of meetings, hearings, and restrictions on classroom operations in an effort to raise test scores. More bureaucracy, less freedom, all in the name of “educating” our children. Did I mention she made the equivalent of just under $12/hr.?
(P.s. the tempting answer is “pay her more”. Every dollar you spend on tax money for education, less than 20% goes to the teacher[vi] – instead going to the HUGE line of bureaucratic overhead, school building upkeep, lunches, and bus service. We can pay her more by getting most of her salary out of the tax system so that every dollar you pay Mrs. Canyon for her awesome work goes to her paycheck.)
Given the track record of Mrs. DeVos, I am excited, not anxious, for teachers like Mrs. Canyon who, if even partially exposed to the freer market, will innovate ways to help our children reach their fullest potentials and will get paid what they deserve to do so.
Put Your Energy Where it Matters
All of the attention on the future of the public education system distracts from the real issue that matters – The wellbeing and achievement of our next generation.
It is my prayer that theirs is one of freedom and the foundational values and the intelligence, creativity, and social skills that an engaged, nutritious, and affectionate home life affords them. Whether our education system is public or private or an interesting mix of both, it is time for it to evolve further than the inefficient, bureaucratic, brick and mortar schoolhouses that we’ve raised higher in importance than the nuclear family and their tribe.
And if you are a person with enough time and energy on your hands (You don’t have a toddler or a teenager) to be overly anxious about the future of our nation’s children, please put your energy where it will make a difference. Have a conversation with a kiddo below the poverty line (they’ll benefit from your vocabulary), read to a head start class (they’ll appreciate your dramatic flare), or volunteer at a local church’s nursery (whether you believe in Jesus or not, every child benefits from an active playmate). Heck, babysit a friend’s kid(s) to give the parents a night to keep the foundation of affection alive.
These things truly make a difference. And Mrs. DeVos isn’t stopping you.