Pointing to formulaic short answers – like funding per student, teacher salaries or size of classrooms – overlooks some critical pieces of the puzzle.
In his new book, “David and Goliath: Underdogs, Misfits and the Art of Battling Giants,” Malcolm Gladwell lays out the issues with too small a classroom as well as those of too large. There are dynamics at play in both that are naturally detrimental to the learning process.
While there’s much merit to his contention and it’s well worth the read, it stops short of some key pieces for success.
With only the credentials of being a parent with kids out of school, I would humbly suggest that a successful education begins at home.
Any parent who believes that it is solely incumbent on the school to educate their child is setting the child up for a difficult learning experience regardless of socioeconomic level. School is not just a baby-sitting service.
Gladwell makes the point that it is much more difficult for parents who are struggling to make ends meet to find time to read bedtime stories to their children. He doesn’t address the issues of parents who have themselves dropped out of school or the struggles of single parents. All of these are disadvantages for families to overcome. It’s not impossible, but more difficult.
Rare is the student – without a support system in place at home – who willingly camps out at the library and is driven solely by his or her own will. They do exist and are marvels to behold, but they are few and far between.
Gladwell makes the case that it is also difficult to instill motivation to children on the other side of the economic curve, where the insulation of wealth can remove the incentive to seriously pursue an education.
Education normally is a series of building blocks that requires mastering each level to advance to the next, beginning in preschool. If education isn’t of value in the home from the beginning, it’s going to be difficult for a teacher to flip that switch in junior high or high school, when peer pressure is usually pointed other directions.
That brings up a second point. There’s luck involved with entire grade levels. Sometimes in a small town, there’s a nucleus of motivated students who are passionate about learning, and the peer pressure from those students feeds off each other in a positive manner. Unfortunately, that’s not always a given from class to class.
In Academic Decathlon competition, Friendswood High School is a traditional juggernaut in Texas. It’s no coincidence that Friendswood is home to many NASA scientists and engineers. Would there be any doubt that education is important in the homes of students attending Friendswood?
Beeville, by contrast, is not a melting pot of engineers and scientists. But that doesn’t mean parents can’t be actively invested in their children’s schooling, making sure they understand the importance of education, from preschool onward.
Can Beeville schools be improved? Sure. But Beeville students will almost always be as weak or as strong as the homes from which they come. And that’s a fundamental challenge that will only be overcome one home at a time.