Teach them well

September 26, 1994|By Leon L. Lerner

EDUCATION Secretary Richard W. Riley, recently issued a report entitled "Strong Families, Strong Schools," urging more parental involvement in their children's education. Surely, there is a desperate need for such involvement today in the classroom, but a lot of teachers would appreciate parents who simply prepare their children to fully participate in school.

In the past, it was taken for granted that parents would teach their children how to behave, how to listen and how to get along with others. Children were told that teachers were to be held in high-esteem as people who can deliver skills to students and open wondrous worlds of thought, beauty, creativity and knowledge.

These traits and habits were taught quietly, persistently by parents who knew that they had to lay a foundation of proper behaviors to help their children succeed in life. Without such instruction, there was bound to be failure, both academic and personal.

Do such parents exist today? Of course they do. There are many, many, young, eager men and women of all economic levels, in different social settings, of all ethnic groups who are managing to accomplish these goals.

Such parents limit the amount of television their children watch, place heavy emphasis on reading and owning books and on using libraries. They are their children's first teachers, training them to read, to count, to develop learning concepts long before classroom teachers enter the picture.

Unfortunately, today there are numerous parents who have given up their responsibilities to infuse their children with values and knowledge. Instead, teachers have been handed the job. It is easy to blame them. Yet, one must be aware that many of them are fighting desperate battles to personally survive, either alone or with spouses who do not or cannot carry their burden as a parent. Also, there are genuinely caring and loving parents who have little time to spend with children because of other obligations, typically work. Most baby sitters -- try as hard as they might -- are usually no substitutes for parents.

Come the beginning of each school term, there are parents who summarily dump their responsibilities on teachers, assuming that all will be well.

A generation ago, as a junior high counselor in Baltimore City, I found that income and neighborhood were not necessarily indicators of classroom success. Almost without exception, the most successful students had strong parental backing. I recall these parents as hard working individuals who accepted the public schools as important learning places. Today, there are still such parents in the inner city.

However, with more parents doing an unsatisfactory job, teachers increasingly are asked to fill roles that should be the parents, exclusively. For instance, before a child comes to school, he should know how to say "please" and "thank you."

Many teachers accept this challenge willingly, and many succeed in mastering the parental roles that are thrust upon them.

Currently, numerous techniques, varying old and new methods are being introduced into classrooms to provide the same results that would occur with adequate parental support. Are these techniques working? The final verdict has not yet been rendered.

The question needs to be asked -- is there any educational invention that can substitute for the love and attention of a parent?

Mr. Riley called the family "the rock on which a solid education can be built." One could hardly argue with that.

Leon L. Lerner writes from Baltimore.

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