Thursday, May 5, 2011

The Governor's Vision for Strengthening Education

In an op-ed written by the Governor in January of last year, Heineman lays out his vision for strengthening education in Nebraska of which truancy intervention is one priority. The Governor's plans are noble and well intentioned and he proposes creating a Nebraska Virtual High School. This idea is excellent because it could serve a wide range of students and could provide flexibility for families. However, there are some key initiatives in his plan that Nebraska parents should take a closer look at because of the encroachment on family life.

Policy proposals like LB 463 are motivated by a belief that American schools suffer from a serious achievement gap when compared to other industrialized nations. In the State of the Union address this year the President held up China's public schools as an example, saying that we are lagging behind and need to be more serious about closing the gap.

Before we follow in the footsteps of school districts around the world we should examine the issue further. Truancy policy is only one of the Governor's priorities that could negatively impact families. His proposal to examine "ways to change school schedules and calendars in order to give students more learning time" could also have a serious impact on family life.

Tough truancy prosecution and longer school days are initiatives supported by educators and lawmakers on both sides of the aisle who believe that students fail because they don't spend enough time in school. I contend the opposite, that the largest contributing factor to academic failure is a broken home, and that more time in school means less family time which weakens families further.

American students aren't "falling behind" because they don't spend enough time in school or because there’s not enough money in education, there is already plenty of both. Our student population today suffers from chronic apathy and lack of self-motivation among other decays of character and life skills that are the result of the broken family and a culture of entitlement and narcissism. The antidote to the poison crippling our families is a greater focus on traditional values, more quality family time, and parental responsibility.

We should oppose policies that further remove kids from their families. As it is, our kids have practically no time at home, and quality free time in a child's life is almost extinct in our "modern world". Children today spend most of their lives in an institutional environment; daycare, pre-school, school, soccer, basketball, football, dance, art, music, etc. And after a day of organized activity most American kids return home and spend the rest of their time doing homework and indulging in media.

The stresses particular to two-income or single-parent families combined with the unsupervised exposure our kids have to television, gaming, and social media has swallowed up most of the family time needed to build good character and replaced it with influences that seriously undermine the moral fabric of our society. This is a huge factor to our "failing education". Kids today are starving for nurture at home which is essential to a bright mind and a strong work ethic.

Perhaps it's unintentional, but some of the Governor's proposals to strengthen education could weaken families. The role of the family is being stripped away in the name of modern progress and family centered communities are a relic of the past. Kids who could explore, build, and tumble around on the floor with dad are something you see in re-runs of "Leave it to Beaver". What is happening to us? Is this what we want? Really? More school, more nanny state politics that presumes that "government knows best.”

People talk about the days of American innovation with a wisp of nostalgia and tell us that our schools today aren’t up to the challenge; they say we can’t produce the next Henry Ford or Edwin Hubble. Didn't the great American innovators and scientist come out of the Andy Griffin days when boys ran free for hours after school ankle deep in mud catching bullfrogs at the river banks?

This is America...what made us great will keep us great. The fuel has always been individualism and hard work built on the bed rock of strong family centered communities and a moral society. The greatness we're reaching for didn't come out of high tech high schools or Ivy League halls; it comes from the solid character that is built in the halls of a happy home.

Those were the days when we still understood how to cultivate greatness and a good education. "One of the surest ways to recognize real education is by the fact that it doesn't cost very much, doesn't depend on expensive toys and gadgets. The experiences that produce it and the self awareness that propels it are nearly free." (John Taylor Gatto, "Dumbing Us Down")

We intuitively know this is true and yet we are persuaded to believe that more is better! More time in school, more technology, more supervision, but sometimes more is just more. In this case it's just more of the poison that's killing our families and less of the creative free time our kids need to develop their genius.

If we are taken in by promises of a better education for our kids at the expense of family life then we will have to live with the consequences when we wake up someday and Arne Duncan's (Obama's Educations Secretaries) vision of education has become our reality; "schools will be open 12, 13, 14 hours a day, seven days a week, 11-12 months of the year." We will wake up to a world where our kids have no time left over to "keep important appointments with themselves and their families to learn the lessons in self-motivation, perseverance, self-reliance, courage, dignity, and love – and lessons in service to others, too which are among the key lessons of home and community life. Thirty years ago these lessons could still be learned in the time left over after school." Thirty years later what lessons are our kids learning?

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