The education debate. What parents can do

At a time of tight budgets at all levels of government as well as of a gradually aging society and shrinking school-age population, it would be most unfortunate for Americans to lose their enthusiasm and love for education. That enthusiasm, it seems to us, properly starts in the home. For it is from the home that must come the deeper moral and spiritual values that shape individual character and nurture the true sense of education.

On a practical level, that means that parents - indeed all adults - have a special responsibility to encourage the very best work of which children are capable, while insisting on a scrupulous regard for discipline and politeness within the classroom. On a deeper level, the educational process must be seen as more than just academic, although high academic standards are important. Rather , learning must be seen as involving a day-to-day commitment to excellence and growth in all aspects of a young person's life.

The nation's teaching staff, for all of the best training that it can be given, cannot carry the educational burden alone. Yet teachers are often saddled with such a burden because parents have turned the responsibility of nurturing and disciplining children over to the schools.

There are many ways parents can be more attentive to the educational needs of their children. Among them:

* Reading to children at an early age, establishing that it is fun and that it is central not only in the classroom but to life in general.

* Establishing the need for a sharing of duties around the home - and seeing to it that such duties are performed.

* Showing by their own example that a consideration for others and a commitment to family and community are vital to individual growth and self-satisfaction.

* Speaking well of education, praising its importance.

* Helping a child with homework at the end of a school day, rejoicing in the child's successes, yet being alert to recognize personal and social problems affecting the school experience.

* Carefully watching the cultural influences in the home, including the viewing of television. Children can be shown how to discriminate between the good from the tawdry.

Above all, it is in the home environment that parents can instill rudiments of obedience to moral and spiritual law. Far from being impractical, such rudiments bring order to a young person's life, helping him to develop his highest sense of identity. They are not constricting but liberating.

In concluding this series, it is worth noting that, for all its current shortcomings, American mass education is a remarkable political and social achievement. On any given day during the school year up to 40 million young people are seated in countless classrooms across the country. The US educational system, at its best, recognizes that each child is totally distinct from every other child, having a different background, a different way of looking at the world, a different aspiration; that each child is precious, embodying the fondest hopes and possibilities of the nation itself.

Given the vital importance of education, can the American public do less than provide all the intellectual, moral, and spiritual support necessary to ensure the success of that system? A commitment to education that starts in each and every home cannot but foster a vigorous and creative educational system - and a vigorous and creative new generation.

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