Most experts agree that it is better to prevent a problem than creating one, then trying to fix it. That is why programs that educate people about the dangers of smoking, for example, are considered to be better at addressing heart disease than smoking, having a heart attack, then undergoing bypass surgery.
Preventing a problem instead of trying to address it after the fact also explains why intelligent people don’t blindfold themselves and walk into traffic on a busy highway. Surgeons may be able to fix the damage created by colliding with a speeding vehicle face first, but chances are the end result won’t be as good as avoiding the collision in the first place.
This seems to be a rather simple concept to understand, so one has to wonder why state lawmakers continue to blindly craft laws governing education that are focused on fixing problems rather than preventing them.
Governing blindly describes how policy-makers have addressed the discrepancies in academic and social skills that are exhibited by students in every kindergarten classroom in the country. Some kids begin school capable of reading books, identifying colors and numbers, engaging in intelligent conversations, and behaving appropriately in public settings, while others can’t recognize a single letter, number, or color, are very limited in their verbal skills, and act as if they have no idea what constitutes appropriate behavior. The differences in skills a kindergarten teacher sees on the first day of school are staggering, and people who think these differences don’t impact children for the rest of their lives are living in la la land.
Anyone who has actually sat in a kindergarten classroom has been well aware of these gaps for decades. In fact, one doesn’t have to be a teacher to know they exist. All is needed is a modest degree of observational skills when watching children interact, skills that lawmakers have apparently lacked until now. But, after wasting millions of tax dollars on tests to learn what any reasonable adult already knew, it appears that they are finally acknowledging that these gaps do, in fact, exist.
Lawmakers also finally seem to be admitting that children who come to school poorly skilled may be negatively impacted by their skill deficiencies for a lifetime. But, legislators deserve no “attaboys” for acknowledging something so obvious; something they have ignored for decades, as they have crafted their ridiculous laws that they claimed would help children succeed. They should be ashamed of themselves for being so late to this party.
But, they aren’t.
However, acknowledging that a problem exists is not sufficient if one is serious about solving that problem. So, unless the people who establish education policies acknowledge why this gap exists, kids will continue to suffer.
Not once in the public arena have I heard a legislator place the responsibility for this disparity where it belongs, which is squarely on the backs of parents (unless, of course, a child has a disability that is the reason for the gap). Not once have I heard them admit that the way children develops vocabulary skills is by parents working with them on their vocabulary. Not once have I heard them acknowledge that children who know their letters, colors, and numbers have that knowledge because their parents took the time to teach them their letters, colors, and numbers. Not once have I heard them admit that children learn how to behave when their parents set appropriate boundaries for personal conduct and expect them to behave within those boundaries.
Nope, they do no such thing. What they do is pretend as if none of this is true, then they craft legislation that gives the illusion that schools can undo damage caused by parents who have absolved themselves of any responsibility for educating their children. Then they hold schools responsible when they can’t eliminate the gap. It is ridiculous.
Politicians will point to the extra money they say they have appropriated for preschool programs as proof they are dedicated to giving all children an opportunity to succeed. But, all they have done is transfer the responsibility from one entity (schools) to other entities (special preschool programs), all of which are incapable of replacing good parenting. Stated simply, these gaps in skills cannot be legislated away.
If we truly want to solve this problem, we must eliminate this “we’ll address the problem after it is created” mentality. Instead, parents must take the lead in educating their children beginning the day they are born, and they must recognize that this involvement will prevent the gaps from existing. The schools can take it from there. It really is that simple.
Or, we could continue to ignore this fact and subject another generation of children to failed political education policies that do them no good.
But, shame on all of us if we take that route.
Tom Dunn is the former superintendent of the Miami County Educational Service Center.