Tuesday, September 28, 2004


A reader who has had children in both public and private schools in Omaha wrote this response to recent articles about the 2,000 Apple iBook laptop computers given to students at Westside High School earlier this month:

‘’I thought about the parallels between modern education and modern parenting. Instead of time spent with their kids, both parents work full time so that they can provide all the glitzy goodies to make up for the fact they spend no time with their kids.

‘’The logic is so circular it would be comical if it weren't so sad. In homes as well as schools, instead of doing the difficult work of teaching and learning, kids are provided with toys and entertainment. Also sad. Sigh.’’

She said she has learned to look beyond the lack of frills and extras in the private-school classroom to the quality of the education that her children receive there. The focus is just better when the parents are in charge, as they are in private school as opposed to public school, she said. In private school, it’s all about interaction and learning the material. But in public schools. when the educators and politicians are in charge, things get materialistic very quickly, and the emphasis shifts off what is essential: quality curriculum and quality instruction.

‘’You just have to seize the moment with kids,’’ she said. ‘’You can’t just give them things. If you aren’t there for them, after a while, they’ll quit turning to you. They just won’t feel close to you, and then they won’t let you influence them.’’ She’s concerned about what computers in the classroom are doing to the teacher-student relationship, which she feels has always been the key to success, and always will be.

So is the parent-student relationship. Is ‘’stuff’’ getting in the way of it?

Think about it: the vast majority of Nebraska schoolchildren in public schools read and do math at only a mediocre level, or worse, according to nationally-standardized tests. Very, very few of them are doing superior or advanced schoolwork. And yet how many of them have a car, a cell phone, the latest clothes, piercings, all kinds of home electronic equipment, and how many of their schools are just lavishly equipped, and now, there’s even a school-issued free laptop computer that’s much more expensive than the computers most of us adults are using in our jobs.

But they can’t read, write, spell or understand as well as previous generations. And yet how many of their parents have ever uttered a peep of concern or criticism over that glaring inconsistency, and demanded a better job by our schools?

The controversy over technology in schools may accomplish one thing: it may wake parents up to what is really important -- what we really want from our schools, and how schools can best use our money to give our kids what they really need, which really doesn’t cost that much.

After all, what kind of a mom or dad would serve a child a meal with one tiny bite of meat, and the rest of the plate heaped up with Twinkies, ice cream, M&Ms and potato chips?

And what kind of a mom or dad would stand for letting a school turn their child into an adult who is only barely literate and numerate at a K-12 cost that is approaching $100,000 per pupil?

Maybe it’s time we did a better job as parents . . . not in guiding and disciplining our children, but in guiding and disciplining our schools.

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