Are Schools Really to Blame? The Truth About 5 Issues Blamed on Schools

I guess it is because I am a former educator, but I get angry and tired of hearing schools continually blamed for things they have little control over. I know there are issues where schools deserve the blame, but there is also a lot of undeserved blame going around. Recently I read an article about the child obesity epidemic in this country, and as expected the article placed a major part of the blame on poor diets in school cafeterias. I don’t discount that school breakfast and lunch menus have not always been the most nutritious, but I do have doubts as to the extent of their contribution to child obesity. Counting my years as a student in grade school and high school, as a teacher, and school administrator, I ate in school cafeterias for over 50 years, and I can honestly say that in spite of what the nutrition gurus say about school lunches, my weight problem has little to do with what I ate in school cafeterias. I wish it was that easy, but the real villain is the overweight person standing in front of me when I look in the mirror. I want all nutrition experts, health junkies, carb fighters, and food conspiracy lovers to listen closely for a minute; my weight problem and the weight problems of the vast majority of school children was not caused by eating tiny 1 ounce servings of bread, 2 ounce servings of vegetables and carbs and, and 2 ounce servings of meat or a meat alternative protein in the school cafeteria nor was it caused by the slightly larger servings of hamburgers, pizza and French fries served by school cafeterias. I agree that the 180 lunches and maybe 180 breakfasts a child eats in a school cafeteria in a school year have not always been the healthiest meals, but school cafeteria food is a minor contributor at best to child obesity. Like me, the major reason most children are overweight is the second and third servings of mama’s home cooking along with the candy bars, chips with salsa, cakes, cookies, sodas, and popcorn eaten after school or between meals while sitting in front of the television. Unfortunately, sitting in front of the television is the only consistent exercise most children experience (myself included) and that coupled with all the junk food they consume outside of school is the major reason behind child obesity as well as adult obesity. School lunches may be a contributing factor, but more likely, school lunches are just another easy target on the blame list for schools.

Please, do not get me wrong, I am all for children eating healthy, but it is time to get off the “let’s blame schools” bandwagon. Today, if there is a problem with something in society, the politically correct response is to point the blame finger at schools. Schools are continually taking left jabs to the forehead, right hooks to the jaw, sucker punches to the gut, and kicks to the groin. The list of societal ills blamed on schools grows every year. Schools are to blame for childhood obesity (cafeteria lunches); schools are to blame for the lack of discipline and bad behavior in kids (poor classroom discipline and removing the paddle); schools are to blame for the decline of the moral fiber of our nation (prayer removed from school); schools are to blame for the academic decline of our nation (poor performance as compared to other countries); and schools are to blame for students hating school and not valuing an education (school dropouts). I am sure I am leaving something out, but that is enough to make anyone with any common sense shake their head in disbelief.

Schools absolutely have problems that need fixing, but schools are not responsible for all the problems we are facing in this country. In most cases, the problems schools are blamed for are a symptom of bigger problems in society. Obesity for example is a nationwide problem wrapped in our addiction to junk food and lack of physical activity, so why not pick on the junk food companies and television and cable networks and leave schools alone? That won’t happen because the big boys will come out swinging whereas the mild mannered little schools will meekly offer the other cheek when the blame is dished out. Regrettably, the blame game escalates each year, and until a miracle happens or there is a major revolt by educators, it will continue to do so. If you need evidence, take a look at the following issues blamed on schools by society, the media, the politicians, and anyone else in need of a whipping boy:

  1. Schools are to blame for childhood obesity: (Even though I have addressed this one, here are a few more items you may wish to consider about the relationship of child obesity to the food served in school cafeterias) The real problem is not the combined 360 breakfasts and lunches a child may eat at school during a school year, but rather the 735 breakfasts, lunches, and dinners the child eats at home; the 365 days of between meals snacks the child eats at home; and the 365 days of sitting at home in front of a television with no physical activity other than operating a game control or TV remote. To put it bluntly, child obesity is impacted most by lack of physical activity at home as well as the endless supply of junk food children eat at home.
  2. Schools are to blame for student bad behavior: There are those who believe that poor school behavior can be linked to poor behavior in society. They reason if kids were taught in school to respect others, they would be better equipped to respect the law and other people when they finish school. Also, they argue that there would be fewer prison inmates if schools taught children the value of an education and to stay in school. Some people even claim society began its decline when corporal punishment (the paddle) was removed from schools, but the biggest reason for the overall decline in civil behavior in our society has little to do with our schools. The decline is more likely due to the transfer of parental responsibilities from the home to the schoolhouse. The lack of discipline in society today is a direct reflection of the tolerance level of parents/guardians and what they are teaching or not teaching their children at home. Although schools do their best to be surrogate parents, schools cannot replace the parenting children need at home to become productive well-adjusted citizens. Parents cannot abdicate their responsibilities and expect all to turn out well. It doesn’t work that way – never has and never will.
  3. Schools are to blame for the decline of the moral fiber of our nation:  “Our schools and society went to hell in a hand basket when they took prayer out of the schools.” For years, I have heard that statement almost word for word from well-meaning people, but contrary to popular misconception, children can pray in school. The reason children do not pray in school is not because they can’t, but because they do not pray at home. Any child can pray in school; it is a personal choice that is supported by the Constitution of the United States that cannot be denied by the courts, the government, or the political or personal ideologies of others. Prayer resides in the heart and soul of each individual and cannot be removed without consent of the individual; therefore, prayer can never be removed from school as long as it is embedded in the values instilled in the home. The moral fiber of a nation begins with mama and daddy, not with laws, policies or government and its institutions. Schools simply imitate the society in which they exist. For example, schools are a direct reflection of our society’s judgmental approach to life rather than an approach of compassion and understanding. In today’s society we are quick to judge anyone who does not think as we do, believe as we do, or live the life style we do. This same judgmental attitude is rocking our kids to the core in our schools. Judging of others breeds distrust, intolerance, contempt, and shallowness, which can be seen in such forms as bullying and social cliques in our schools. I agree prayer in school may help with such issues, but the answer to the moral concerns in society and our schools begins with parents teaching moral values and praying with their children at home. The moral foundation of society is founded and nurtured in the home, not necessarily in the school.
  4. Schools are to blame for the academic decline of our nation: No matter what the profession, there are individuals within the profession who need to do a better job or find a new profession, and the teaching profession is no different. However, overall teachers do a remarkable job considering the obstacles they face, but regardless of how competent a teacher is and how hard the teacher works, academic success begins at home. There are too many parents who are spectators in the education of their children; they depend exclusively on the teacher to educate their children. However, educating a child is not a spectator sport. Parents cannot be content to watch from the sidelines; they must get involved. The value of an education must be taught and reinforced in the home as well as at school. Children with parents who value education have the greatest chance at academic success because the parents make sure their children are in school when the school doors are open. Over the years, one thing I have noticed over and over again is that the children of parents who make sure they get to school on time and stay in school throughout the school day are more likely to do well in school. Teachers cannot teach a child if the child is not in school. However, it is common for the teacher to be blamed for the child’s habitual absence from school and poor academic performance – the teacher doesn’t like my child, the teacher is out to get my child, the teacher doesn’t know how to teach, the teacher has class favorites or the teacher grades unfairly. Rarely is it ever the child’s or the parent’s fault. Parents need to stop and think before laying all the blame on the teacher; they need to quit reasoning like a child, put on their big boy and girl pants and start using the reasoning skills of an adult.   If a child is doing poorly in school, it is most likely due to the child not coming to school, not doing the work when in school, not putting enough time into the work or the child needs extra help.
  5. Schools are to blame for students not liking school:  When children enter kindergarten, they come with an open mind eager and ready to absorb any and everything. They are like sponges; they cannot get enough. They want to be in school, and they enjoy school. Unfortunately, all children do not maintain their love for school. Why? Sometimes it is the fault of the school – a bad experience with a teacher, lack of success in the classroom, or lessons with no relevancy to the child’s life. Sometimes it is the parents fault – siding with the child against the teacher, continuously speaking negatively about the school or teachers, lack of interest in how their child is doing in school or too busy to pay attention to how their child is doing in school. Also, sometimes the fault lies with the student – they insist school is not cool, they think school is boring or they feel school is not fun. Guess what kiddos and parents, life is not always cool, easy or fun, and it is never too early for children to start learning that lesson at home as well as in school. It is better they find it out while in school and living at home than when they finish school and get out on their own. Granted, teachers should do their best to make learning as relevant and fun as possible, but that does not necessarily mean that school has to always be entertaining. The bottom line is that kids go to school to learn, and learning will quite often be less enjoyable than sitting in front of their Xbox, Play Station or playing some mind riveting game such as Angry Bird or Zombie Zappers on their tablet. Children need to be taught that school is their job regardless of whether or not it is entertaining, and that doing their best is the expectation for that job. However, for children to make that connection, parents must begin teaching that lesson at an early age at home. Parents must teach their children that school is important, and that going to school is not an option to be discussed or debated. There is nothing wrong with a child being told they are going to school whether they like it or not. Of course, teaching them early is the key. Parents cannot wait until middle school or high school to take an interest and try to teach the importance of an education; if they do, it is too late.

To address these five issues with any hope of bringing about change, the key is to begin at home. However, many people refuse to believe that, especially when it is much easier and cleaner to blame schools. The blame pointers have few qualms about pointing fingers at schools or teachers and painting them as scapegoats for society’s ills. Why? The answer is simple; schools (teachers and school administrators) rarely fight back. They are easy targets who rarely stand up for themselves, so they continually get kicked around since society knows they will meekly nurse their bruises and quietly go about their business of teaching, loving, mentoring, and parenting the kids they teach. Schools are certainly not without blame, but the blame thrown at schools is quite often a symptom of a greater root problem; a root problem that most often can be traced back to the home.

JL

 

©Jack Linton, October 18, 2014

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