Today we suggested that everyone just give up on this whole school idea. School will never work! Teachers are rotten! There's no money! Etc. This elicited lots of commenter feedback, with one commenter in particular issuing a simple, earnest plea.
I was a teacher for a long time—in high school middle school and at a college—and I've taught at "good" schools and "bad" schools and places in-between.
Why are some schools better than others? It's the same reason the Yankees are better than the Pittsburgh Pirates—they have better players. And better schools have better students. And better students come from parents who care about, and are invested in, education.
Before we can begin to improve education in this country we need to admit one cold, hard uncomfortable truth and work from there: Students from educated, stable, and yes, wealthier families do much, much better in school than other students. (Not white, not suburban, not Asian, not anything else—but the statistics show again again that family income and family stability matters more than anything in a student's success in school.)
Let me say that I hate that this is the case. I am by no means wealthy and I am not saying wealthier people are smarter. I am saying that education leads to wealth which leads to kids in the next generation doing well. The opposite is also true. Poorly educated leads to lack of wealth leads to another generation of the poorly eduaction. How to break this cycle? The answer must lie in part with the parents, not just the kids.
I mean, if you wanna fix a school, fix the parents and the school will be fine. I don't know how to make this happen, but I also know that we as a society are not really working on many parental-improvement programs. How about a No Parent Left Behind Act? It has long been said in education that if you wanna get your school better test scores, get your parents better jobs.
In my experience, fucked up, failing students come up fucked-up, failing homes in something approaching 100 per cent of cases. Occasionally, great parents turn out rotten kids. And, sure, sometimes, coked-up, meth-head, prison-bound, illiterate wife beaters have wonderful sons and daughters bound for Oxford and Yale. But those are the exceptions.
It sucks, but look at the stats. Magnet school students—in massive numbers—come from homes where education is a priority, where books are read and family income is high. Students who do well on AP tests, IB programs, the same. The single most accurate predictor of a high score on the SAT is family income.
I understand it is for some parents. They work two or three jobs. They don't speak English. They have addiction issues. I know, I know, I know. And I also know a fucking standardized test is not the panacea, either.
This is so incredibly frustrating. But I know the problem is not with teachers. And I will not blame a 10-year-old for failing in school when an adult at home has never once asked him or her about homework, about school. The school only has kids seven hours a day, 180 days a year. Where are all of us the rest of the time?
So all we have to do is fix generations of imbalanced socioeconomics? No problem.