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2010-09-02 digital edition

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2010-09-02 / General Stories

Focus on the Family

TO IMPROVE OUR SCHOOLS, PARENTS MUST GET INVOLVED
with Dr. James Dobson

QUESTION: What can we as parents do to improve public schools in our area?

DR. DOBSON: Most educators know that parental involvement is absolutely critical to what public schools are trying to do. Others (fortunately not the majority) see themselves as the professionals and resent parental interference. We should never accede to that idea. Parents are ultimately responsible for the education of their kids, and they should not surrender that authority. Educators are their employees, paid with tax dollars, and are accountable to the school-board members whom parents elect. The best schools are those with the greatest parental involvement and support.

With that understanding, let me urge you to visit your child’s school to answer questions of interest to you. Does the staff understand the necessity for structure, respect and discipline in the classroom? If so, why don’t you call your child’s teacher and the principal and express your appreciation to them. They could use a pat on the back. Tell them you stand ready to assist in carrying out their important mission. If your school system is not so oriented, get involved to help turn the tide. Meet with parent groups. Join the PTA. Review the textbooks. Work for the election of school-board members who believe in traditional values and academic excellence. Let me say it again: Schools function best when the time-honored principle of local control — by parents — prevails. I believe it is making a comeback!

** ** **

QUESTION: Schools are asked to accomplish many things on behalf of our kids today. They are even expected to teach them how to have sex without spreading disease. What part of the curriculum would you give the greatest priority?

DR. DOBSON: Schools that try to do everything may wind up doing very little. That’s why I believe we should give priority to the academic fundamentals — what used to be called “readin’, writin’ and ‘rithmetic’.” Of those three, the most important is basic literacy. An appalling number of students graduating from high school can’t even read the employment page of the newspaper or comprehend an elementary book. Every one of those young men and women will suffer years of pain and embarrassment because of our failure. That misery starts at a very young age.

A tenth-grade boy was once referred to me because he was dropping out of school. I asked why he was quitting, and he said with great passion, “I’ve been miserable since first grade. I’ve felt embarrassed and stupid every year. I’ve had to stand up and read, but I can’t even understand a second grade book. You people have had your last laugh at me. I’m getting out.” I told him I didn’t blame him for the way he felt; his suffering was our responsibility.

Teaching children to read should be “Job One” for educators. Giving boys and girls that basic skill is the foundation on which other learning is built. Unfortunately, millions of young people are still functionally illiterate after completing twelve years of schooling and receiving high school diplomas. There is no excuse for this failure.

Research shows that every student, with very few exceptions, can be taught to read if the task is approached creatively and individually. Admittedly, some can’t learn in group settings because their minds wander and they don’t ask questions as readily. They require one-on-one instruction from trained reading specialists. It is expensive for schools to support these remedial teachers, but no expenditure would be more helpful. Special techniques, teaching machines and behavior-modification techniques can work in individual cases. Whatever is required, we must provide it. Furthermore, the sooner this help can be given, the better for the emotional and academic wellbeing of the child. By the fourth or fifth grades, he or she has already suffered the humiliation of reading failure.

Dr. Dobson is founder and

Chairman Emeritus of the nonprofit organization Focus

on the Family, Colorado

Springs, Colo. 80995 (www.focusonthefamily.org).

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