Part of the national dialogue for a while has been how the state of education in the United States is in crisis. While, yes, things could be done at the hiring and administrative level to improve how teachers teach students, an important thing to realize is that teachers cannot take the place of parents. Forcing teachers into a parental role is beyond the capacity that one can reasonably expect a teacher to do, especially when each teacher is in charge of so many students.
Therefore, this is a proposal to help improve schools from the home front: providing parental role models. The lack of student achievement in schools is not entirely the fault of the teachers. It is also a cultural issue. Poor and/or broken families either are too worried about getting the next paycheck or simply don’t know how to raise their kids to value good education, achievement, and good citizenship. Their living environment surrounds them with negative influences where good grades is not a priority and is sometimes even looked down upon. While one may make the argument that poor people shouldn’t be having kids, let’s get real here. That’s NOT going to happen.
Furthermore, while the parents may be at fault, why should the child be the victim?
While this would by no means solve the entire problem of education, here is my humble suggestion:
Recruit nonprofits and religious charities to run boarding houses where children would live together until they finish high school. Parental visitation is allowed, of course, but the majority of the time the kids will be surrounded by positive mentors and role models who take on the roles of parenting that the kids’ birth parents are not able to provide.
Of course, getting kids there must be voluntary. Parents must believe that their kids will be better off living separately, or court-ordered if it is proven that the parents really shouldn’t be parents.
Rigorous background checks on the mentors would be absolutely paramount. The mentors would also have to ensure cohesion among the kids and prevent bullying and shenanigans that kids could get in serious trouble for (drug abuse, pregnancies, etc.). I’d also like to make sure that kids are completely supported and accepted in such a home. For instance, if a kid realized that s/he is gay, I would hope that the mentors give the kid their full support and NOT tell the kid that there’s something wrong with her/him. Rejection in the latter form on impressionable kids could be internalized and seriously mess up a kid.
Yes, a boarding house program will be expensive. It will require a lot of funding from donors and probably the United Way. But breaking the cycle of poverty requires full-blown intervention. The reason why I would like nonprofits to fill this role is that having the government step in in such a role isn’t culturally palatable in the United States (and may also be an economic MORAL HAZARD in subsidizing bad parenting and throwaway children), but also because nonprofits have done this before.
Caritas, a Catholic charity, runs boarding houses for students in Mexico. These houses have adult supervisors who are this 24/7 support system and basically the kids’ parents during the week. The kids have the option of going home to see the parents on the weekends.
I think that keeping the parenting, schooling, and mentoring are all separate provides openness in the kids’ lives and also allows for the distribution of responsibilities among different adult role models. When I visited Puebla, Mexico a few years back, I lived in such a place for a week and was quite impressed by how things were run.
Of course, the nonprofit running such a house doesn’t have to be a church. It could be of any belief or not affiliated with any religion at all – as long as the values of the organization are in line with loving the children, accepting the children as they are, and encouraging the children to be curious about the world and excel in academics.
On a smaller scale, the NBC news program Rock Center ran this story on a nonprofit in Pine Bluff, Arkansas, called Targeting Our People’s Priorities With Service (TOPPS), run by Annette Dove: http://rockcenter.msnbc.msn.com/_news/2011/12/09/9332136-making-a-difference-helping-kids-be-kids-with-support-nourishment-and-love
While TOPPS does not house the kids, it provides a safe and nurturing place for kids to hang out after school and keeps them off the streets. More organizations like TOPPS could go a long way in improving the culture in our schools to help shape our students as high achievers.
I recommend nonprofits look into more ways to help kids achieve more and change American school systems from a cultural front. It’s impossible to ask schoolteachers to do everything, which is why I think it’s so important to have a mentor role for the kids if the parents cannot do so.