There is nothing more political about raising children than the education of our schoolchildren in the United States. The public school systems are challenged to keep our children competitive worldwide with other countries. In 2002, UNICEF compared public education in twenty four nations around the world: the US ranked 18. Forty years ago America had the highest graduation rate: now America is ranked as 19th. US 4th grade math scores remained the same since 1995 while other counties have improved. Currently, in America, the property taxes imposed by counties and municipalities fund, among other things, local public schools. Consequently, it should come as no surprise that those schools in wealthier areas have more resources, and on average children in those schools do better on standardized tests. I live in a county that has more poverty and less affluent areas than neighboring counties in Montgomery and Fairfax counties which have the best school systems in the nation, and locally. This is not to say there are not stellar children that excel either, just there are challenges.
A few years ago, friends of mine who lived in a nice large house in my county sold their house and moved to a smaller matchbox of a house in Montgomery county. They had to pick between paying less mortgage and having to shell out money to pay for private schools or move to a high performing county and scale down their home? They chose the latter. I know of a few other friends and colleagues who have elected to do the same.
Irrespective of all of those dynamics, I still am of the position that the key to success of any child is parental involvement. Raising children in the United States is so different from the way my parents grew up in Africa. In their small West African nation, parents send children to school with the expectation they will be thoroughly educated and disciplined even. When they immigrated to the states, they did not think they had to be actively involved in the school system. It was a culture thing for them. Fortunately for me, I went to a solid public elementary school in the District of Columbia and was a bit of an egg-head so I did well even without their active involvement, perhaps a testament that parental involvement isn’t always necessary.
However, that is not an option for me and my children, even though my children attend a pretty decent private school. As I type this, I sit in a public library, very challenged to get my 8 year old to fall in love with reading. I admit that my husband and I are guilty for introducing him to video games too early in life. When I was growing up, my parents purposefully denied us access to video games and limited our television watching. We spent our spare time at the local library across the street from our home. My favorite place there was the reading cove and I would get lost in a book for hours until the library would close. Fast forward 15 years and here I am back in the library trying my best to make sure my kids stay above the fray. The boy loves television a bit too much than we would like. He has an addictive behavior and personality and just seemed overly obsessed with both and so much so that we ended up banning him and his siblings from viewing TV and playing video games on the weekdays during the school year.
Now we play catch up. Fortunately, I own my own business and have the luxury of working from home. My schedule is that I can carve out time to spend with them in the library. My husband wakes up extra early each weekend and does math and reading drills with our kids too. We simply cannot rely on the school to do all of their education, unfortunately.
Unlike my parents native Sierra Leone, in America, it is quite different especially in school systems with taxed teachers. Also, sometimes, students are in a class with other children that have behavior problems and the teachers must spend a good part of their day dealing with discipline issues. Also in any given class, there may be a wide spectrum of abilities. It really does require parents to be an active participant. I have found that the most active and involved parents also have the most engaged and high performing children. It’s not to say that other naturally bright students do not excel without parental involvement. Indeed, I dare say I am an example of that having earned scholarships to attend the most prestigious schools in Washington, DC when I was 11 years old and without an active parental support.
All this is to say that those parents who are single parents or working multiple jobs to put food on their children’s plates may not have the luxury of being as actively involved. It’s not that they don’t want to but just after a hard day’s work, it is so easy to just let the kids do their own thing and relax in front of the television. Weekends can get so busy too.
What is a wary parent to do? If you cannot get your child in a free high performing magnet school, charter school or public school and cannot afford private school, and neither have the luxury to do your part to supplement the education your children are getting, what are your options? Is there an alternative? I am not sure there is one.
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