Can we calm the classroom chaos


When my daughter Annette entered sixth grade last fall, she thought she had hit Independence Day. No more will Mom or Dad have to look over my homework, she thought. No more will I have to bring home my daily papers, she reasoned. No more will I have to study with Mom the night before a test, she argued. I have come of age.

Not quite yet, Miss Too Big For Yer Britches, we countered. What’s this big fat C on your paper?

Now, Annette is an honor roll student. A good student. But, like every parent, I want her to try harder, to work up to her potential (Yikes! I got this lecture in junior high, didn’t I, Mom?).

You see, although there are many fine teachers at her elementary school – and at the schools of your children – there are also too many unruly students, distractions and disciplinary problems in each classroom that teachers expend all their energy on the problem kids and the good students get short shrift.

“There are 24 kids in my son’s first grade class,” a friend tells me, “and 17 of them are out of control.”

Someone once said, “Where anything goes, everything usually does.” Who can learn anything in that environment?

“I’m waiting,” says my sister Carol who teaches high school science in Twinsburg, Ohio, “for the parents of the good students to revolt. To demand that something be done with problem students who are standing in their children’s way of a good education.”

Classrooms, even the early years, are filled with disrespectful behavior; teachers’ hands are tied when it comes to discipline; students with emotional, social or behavioral problems get mainstreamed into regular classrooms without intervention; and parents think “my child wouldn’t do that.”

Columnist George F. Will hit the nail on the head in a piece earlier this month on the dismal world of K-12 public education: School woes won’t be fixed by money, but by stronger families and attentive home life.

Says Will: “The intractable problem for schools is ‘9/91’: Only 9 percent of the hours lived by young Americans between birth and their 18th birthdays is spent in school, and the other 91 percent – families, popular culture and the culture of the streets – often overwhelms what schools do.”

Will also cites information from the Educational Testing Service that “90 percent of the differences among the proficiency of public schools can be explained by five variables: number of parents in the home, days absent from school, hours spent watching television, quantity and quality of reading matter in the home, amount of homework done.

“Schools can only influence the last,” Will writes. “And now there is a movement to abolish homework, partly because it widens social inequalities by disproportionately benefiting children with attentive parents.”

Will is right. Schools are not the means by which society’s ills can be cured. Ask any teacher.

As for my children, all I can do is “gently encourage” their progress (and get in their face on occasion) no matter what grade they’re in. Don’t underestimate your own involvement.

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