I grew up believing that the only thing that sets successful people apart from unsuccessful people was that successful people worked harder. Successful people, in effect, earned their good fortune, while those less fortunate deserved their hard times because of their laziness. Then, I became a teacher, and I witnessed the variables in every child’s life that helped shape their future, many of which were completely out of the child’s control and all of which occurred before he or she ever set foot inside a school.
While I still believe hard work is essential in achieving personal and professional success, it seems a little naive and maybe even a bit egotistical for any successful person to believe that a willingness to work is the only thing that sets him or her apart from those less fortunate. In fact, all of us have some part, and in some cases a very large part, of our future determined by life experiences that have nothing to do with how hard we work.
For example, do we really believe that children who grow up in suburbia to two loving, educated, motivated parents don’t have a built-in advantage over the poor child who is born to a drug-addicted, single, high school dropout mother and deadbeat, drug-dealing, alcoholic, high school dropout father, neither of whom has any interest in raising a child?
Do we really believe that children whose biggest worry is which brand-name athletic apparel they will receive for Christmas don’t have a decided advantage over the poor child who goes to bed every night without supper, with no illusion that Santa Claus will come anywhere near his or her house, and with the sound of gunfire ringing in his or her ears?
Any educator to whom you speak can attest to the vast differences in life experiences children bring with them when they walk through the school doors every morning and how life changing these experiences are. It goes without saying that we are all a product of how we were raised.
That is why it infuriates me when lawmakers pretend as if creating different school or preschool policies is all disadvantaged children need to level the playing field in their drive to become successful. When legislators simply throw more money at programs that have a history of failure, they are dooming still more children to hardships they do not deserve. It is the ultimate form of child abuse.
But, our lawmakers are at it again.
A recent study by (still another) task force, this one named “Ohio Speaker’s Task Force on Education and Poverty,” State Representative Bob Cupp tells us, will “…give the Legislature a greater understanding of the effects that growing up in poverty has on student achievement,” and the insights gained by the study, “will be helpful as policy makers work on effective ways to lift the academic achievements of all students, blah, blah, blah, blah.” (I added the “blah, blah, blah, blah” for maximum effect.)
In other words, we should brace ourselves for still more of the same old failed political nonsense we have witnessed for decades now, and we should ready ourselves for more of our tax dollars being tossed down the proverbial rat hole to implement the pathetic solutions this task force is recommending.
Out of curiosity, I visited Representative Cupp’s web site, where the task force’s nine recommendations meant to address the achievement gap and other issues facing children of poverty are listed.
Guess how many of these recommendations even so much as mention the role parents play in the growth of their children. Go ahead and guess.
The answer is Zero. Nada. Nil. Zilch. Zip. Not once. Not a single time does a task force on CHILD DEVELOPMENT mention the role parents play in that development. Nope, it dumps the responsibility for raising disadvantaged children on the rest of us.
How in the world do the people sitting on task forces like this expect to be taken seriously? More importantly, how in the world do they get invited to sit on a task force in the first place?
This particular group recommends that schools “provide or expand the offering of wraparound health and social services to students,” that “schools create or maintain partnerships with community-based organizations and use creative tools for behavior management,” and that legislators “work closely with healthcare stakeholders to create policies that will create and maintain positive school climates…”
If there is time, schools may actually try to find some time to educate kids.
And, oh, yes, I forgot to mention that this task force does include the standard statements of “holding districts accountable,” “maintaining high expectations,” and “expanding the availability of quality early childhood education to families…” Of course, the preschools to which they refer begin at age three, because, as we all know, nothing of importance occurs during the first three years of a child’s life.
Did I mention that nowhere in these recommendations was the first word mentioned about the role parents play in raising their children?
Suffice it to say, this is a task force whose recommendations I would personally be ashamed to have my name attached to.
But, then, I would never be asked to be on a task force like this in the first place.
Tom Dunn is the former superintendent of the Miami County Educational Service Center.