Picture from the Discovery Education website
Copyright © 2007 by Ralph Couey
Written content only
People agree that elements of our Public Schools are broken. Researchers and professionals have offered plans for repairing the system. With the hustle and bustle of the holidays over, and with time hanging heavily on my hands, I thought I’d chime in.
Time: Research regarding unlawful behavior of children and adolescents, including drug abuse, shows that most juvenile offenses occur between the end of school and bedtime. Schools in the U.S. dismiss between 2:20 and 3:30 in the afternoon. It would seem that some kids have way too much time on their hands.
I would suggest extending the school hours to perhaps 5 p.m. and using that time for elective classes that kids would find fun and interesting. Students who are struggling would probably benefit from extra tutoring during this time. Or, with the rise of childhood obesity, organized physical activity, such as intramural sports or classes in dance would keep them active and healthier.
Classes with a point: Every kid is unique. They have their own strengths and interests which should be encouraged. In our society, we have people who want and need college, and others who can succeed just fine without it. Computer scientists and brain surgeons need university degrees. Automotive technicians and carpenters don’t. Yet all four professions are absolutely crucial to our economy. Vocational education needs rejuvenation. It’s relevant and honorable, and needs to be taught. There will always be a need for craftsmen.
Small businesses provide the lion’s share of jobs in our national economy and are the backbone and lifeblood of communities. That hard-won knowledge and expertise of starting and running a small business should be passed along to those with the entrepreneurial spirit. Make it fun, make it hands-on, make it relevant, and students will come in droves.
There should be classes teaching life skills. In one high school, administrators were concerned that no boys were signing up for class called “home economics.” In a stroke of pure genius, they repackaged the course under the title “Bachelor Living,” and suddenly found they had to beat the boys off with a stick. It wasn’t just learning how to cook, but also how to craft and live by a budget, the dangers of credit, how to negotiate for the purchase of a car, how to wash clothes, how to clean house, how to look for an apartment, interview for a job. all the survival skills that a young person needs to know in embarking on their independent lives. Far too many young adults lack those basic tools.
Human Relationships: Bullying has expanded beyond the bathrooms and hallways with the help of technology. IM, cell phone texting, email, and social websites have all been used as platforms for unbelievable cruelty. Kids used to find sanctuary at home. Now, the cruelty reaches behind that door, giving the child a feeling that there is no safe place to go. Every human, regardless of appearance or station in life is deserving of dignity and respect. We are universally horrified by violence; we should be equally horrified by the verbal and physical abuse that has become a daily part of so many kids’ lives.
Uniforms: “Clothes make the person,” the saying goes and nowhere is this more apparent than among students. Clothes separate kids into economic and social classes, and also serve to define criminal activity as well. A uniform could be as elaborate as a coat and tie for boys and dresses for girls, or simply coveralls decorated with school patches, such as the comfortable, affordable, durable, and functional clothing worn by the Navy. Uniformity in appearance promotes unity in the ranks.
Parental involvement: Kids can’t raise themselves. Raising a child is a pro-active, hands-on, full-time task. This includes talking to teachers and being involved at school.
In recent years, researchers have amply demonstrated that the adolescent brain is underdeveloped in those areas of behavior control and risk assessment. Therefore, parents need to hover constantly. Don't be afraid to snoop. Don't hesitate to ask pointed questions. Insist on meeting their friends. Check on them to make sure they've gone where they told you they went. Will they get mad? Sure. Will they hate you? Oh, yeah. But our job is to get them through this time successfully. And alive.
These ideas probably seem drastic. But these are dangerous times. Deluding ourselves into ignoring things has only made things worse. We’re in danger of losing our kids. We should, therefore, lose our fear of drastic change.
Their future is, after all, our future as well.