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The Keys to a Good Education

RECENTLY The New York Times featured a front-page story about Latoya, a 16-year-old high school student. She was 11, she said when her father began to beat and sexually abuse her. Her mother, who used drugs, had left the family. “Home,” the newspaper reported, “was an abandoned apartment with no toilet or a room where she was too afraid to sleep.” However, Latoya was exceptional. Despite all of this, earlier this year Latoya was president of the National Honor Society at her high school and maintained a B average in honors classes.

What can assist a child even from a bad environment to do well in school? Often, a key to a good education is having a caring adult—preferably one or both of the child’s own parents—who is supportive and deeply involved in the child’s education. One high school senior felt this was so important that she was moved to say: “It is only with parental support that children can survive in school.”

Most teachers agree. A New York City teacher claimed: “For every student who does well and gets through the educational system—and there are many—there is a parent who was there every step of the way.”

Parental Support, an Important Key

Reader’s Digest last year explored the question, “Why do some students do better than others?” One of the conclusions was that “strong families give kids an edge in school.” Parents of such families provide their children with loving attention and impart to them proper values and goals. But one parent noted: “You can’t give the proper guidance if you don’t know what’s going on at school.”

A good way to find out is to visit. A mother who makes visits wrote: “When I walk the halls of my daughter’s school, I hear the foul, obscene language. Kids are making out everywhere—if it were a movie, it would be rated X.” Such visits may help you to appreciate how difficult it is for children today to get a good education, as well as to live a moral life.

Significantly, the publication The American Teacher 1994 noted: “Students who have been victims of violence are more likely to say their parents have infrequent communications with schools, such as individual meetings with teachers, parents’ or group meetings, or visits to the school.”

A concerned mother revealed what parents need to do. “Be there!” she said. “Let the school administration know that you’re interested in what your child is learning. I visit the school often and sit in on classes.” Another mother emphasized the value of being a child’s advocate. She explained: “My children have gone to the office to speak to a counselor and have literally been ignored. When my child brought me in the next day, they bent over backward to help me—and my child.”

This mother of four boys also stressed the importance of taking an interest in school activities that directly affect your child’s education. “Attend an open house, the science fair—anything your children may be doing that parents are invited to,” she said. “This gives you opportunities to meet your child’s teachers. They need to know that you view your child’s education as a very important part of his life. When teachers know this, they are more inclined to put time and extra effort into your child.”

Cooperation With Teachers

Some parents may feel that they have more important things to do in the evenings when schools schedule special occasions for parents to interact with teachers. Yet, really, what is more, important than making yourself available to those who are trying to help your children get a good education? Good parent-teacher cooperation is vital!

In Russia, there is a fine provision to enhance parent-teacher cooperation. All school assignments are recorded in what is called a Dnievnik—a daily activity record that is combined with a calendar. A student must bring his Dnievnik to each class and make it available to the teacher on request. Students must also show the Dnievnik to their parents, who are requested to sign it each week. As Victor Lobachov, a Moscow father of school-age children, noted, “this information helps parents to keep acquainted with the assignments and grades of their children.”

Teachers today, however, often complain that parents fail to take an interest in the education of their children. One high-school teacher in the United States said that he once sent out 63 letters to parents informing them of their children’s poor academic performance. Only three parents responded by contacting him!

Truly, that is sad! Parents should be deeply involved in their child’s education, which is primarily their responsibility. An educator stated the matter correctly when he said: “The primary objective of formal education is to support parents in producing responsible young adults.”

Thus, parents should take the initiative in getting to know their child’s teachers. As one parent said, “the teachers need to feel free to call you at any time.” And parents should welcome—even encourage—teachers to speak openly about their child. Parents should ask such specific questions as: Are you having any problems with my child? Is he respectful? Does he attend all classes? Does he arrive on time?

What if the teacher says something about your child that is not favorable? Do not assume that it is untrue. Unfortunately, many youths who appear to live honorable lives at home or at their place of worship are actually living a double life. To listen respectfully to the teacher, and check out what he or she says.

When Your Child Comes Home

How do you as a parent feel when you return home from work? Stressed out? Frustrated? Your child may feel even worse when he or she comes home from school. So one father encouraged: “Make coming home a nice thing to do. They’ve probably had a very hard day.”

When it is possible, it is certainly desirable for a parent to be at home when the child arrives. As one mother noted, “children can’t tell you what’s going on if you’re not there to talk with them. So I make it a point to be there when the kids get home.” A parent needs to know not only what his child is doing but also what he or she is thinking and feeling. Finding this out involves a lot of time, effort, and gentle probing. Daily interchange is important.

A primary-school teacher in New York City noted: “On any given day, values of a school system in crisis may have been imparted to your child.” So he encouraged: “Be alert to what is being developed in your child’s heart. Take time, regardless of how tired you may be, to draw him out and replace any wrong values with the right ones”.

Similarly, a veteran high-school teacher advised: “Rather than merely ask what happened in school, it would be beneficial to ask pointed and specific questions concerning the day and its activities. This need not be done in a rigid or prying manner but in casual conversational dialogue with the child.”

Richard W. Riley, the U.S. secretary of education, urged: “Talk directly to your children, especially your teenagers, about the dangers of drugs and alcohol and the values you want your children to have. Such personal talks, however uncomfortable they make you feel, may save their lives.”

Never should a parent, especially one who has responsibilities in a Christian congregation, give the impression that he is too busy to listen to his children. Even though it may be disturbing to hear what they say, let them know by your facial expressions and manner that you are pleased they are speaking freely with you. One student advised: “Don’t be shocked when your child talks about drugs or sex in school.”

Promote Study and Responsibility

Most young people are not as committed to schoolwork as Latoya, who was mentioned in the introduction. The majority need a lot of encouragement to study. Regarding his own children, former New York City school chancellor Joseph Fernandez said: “We had mandatory study periods in the home. We made books available, encouraged trips to the library, and made priorities out of attendance and involvement.”

Another school administrator said: “We need to surround our children with books and stories the way we now surround them with television, movies, videos, and malls.” When children are doing their homework, parents may be able to arrange to be nearby doing some personal study or reading. Your children can thereby see that you value education.

In many homes television is the greatest challenge to studying. “By age 18,” one educator said, “young people have spent 11,000 hours in the classroom and 22,000 watching television.” Parents may need to limit TV viewing by their children, perhaps only watching it occasionally themselves. In addition, commit yourselves to learn something with your children. Read together. Schedule daily time to check homework.

In school, your children will receive many assignments to prepare. Will they fulfill these? They probably will if you have taught them to care for responsibilities at home. An important way to do this is to assign them a daily routine of chores. Then require that they fulfill these according to a specific schedule. True, such training will take a lot of effort on your part, but it will teach your children the sense of responsibility that they need in order to succeed in school and later in life.

Student Commitment, a Vital Key

Guidance counselor Arthur Kirson identified another key to a good education when he said regarding Latoya, mentioned at the beginning: “The first time I met her was after one of the major incidents at home. Here’s this kid sitting with a scratched up face [from the alleged abuse suffered from her father]. And the only thing I’ve ever seen her worry about is her school work.”

Yes, a vital key to a good education is a child’s intense commitment to learning. A New York City youth observed: “In schools nowadays it’s completely up to the students to develop self-motivation and discipline in order to benefit.”

For example, a mother who was concerned about her child’s education was told by a teacher: “Don’t worry Mrs. Smith. Justin’s so smart, he won’t need to know how to spell. He’ll have a secretary do it for him.” Regardless of how smart a child is, mastering the skills of reading and writing—including clear composition, readable penmanship, and accurate spelling—is important.

Shockingly, some educators failed to protest when renowned psychologist Carl Rogers claimed: “No one should ever be trying to learn something for which one sees no relevance.” What is wrong with his statement? As should be obvious, a child often cannot foresee the future value of what he is asked to learn. In many cases, the value of it is not realized until later in life. Clearly, a child today needs a personal commitment to getting a good education!

Cindy, a 14-year-old ninth-grader, is a good example of a youth who demonstrates such commitment. She explained: “I stay after school and talk to the teachers and get to know them. I try to determine what they want from their students.” She also pays attention in class and gives her homework priority. When listening in class or when reading, successful students make it a habit to do so with pencil and paper handy so they can take good notes.

Also vital to getting a good education is a commitment to avoid bad associates. Cindy related: “I am always looking for somebody who has good morals. For example, I’ll ask schoolmates what they think about so-and-so’s using drugs or sleeping around. If they say something like, ‘What’s wrong with it?’ I realize that they are not good associates. But if someone shows real disgust with such behavior and says she wants to be different, then I’ll choose her to sit next to at lunch period.”

There are clearly many challenges to getting a good education today. But such an education is possible if both students and parents use the keys. Next, we will consider another provision that can assist you tremendously in obtaining a good education.

What Parents Can Do
✔ Get to know your child’s school, its aims, and its attitude toward the values and beliefs you hold.
✔ Become acquainted with your child’s teachers, and try to build a good working relationship with them.
✔ Take a deep interest in your child’s homework. Read with him frequently.
✔ Control what your child watches on TV and how much he watches.
✔ Watch your child’s eating habits. Junk food can have adverse effects on his ability to concentrate.
✔ Make sure your child has sufficient sleep. Tired children do not learn well.
✔ Try to help your child choose wholesome friends.
✔ Be your child’s best friend. He needs all the mature friends he can get.

What Children Can Do
✔ With your parents’ help, work out educational goals and ways to achieve them. Discuss these goals with your teachers.
✔ Choose your subjects carefully with the help of your teachers and parents. Optional courses that are easy are generally not the best.
✔ Try to build up a good relationship with your teachers. Find out what they expect of you. Discuss your progress and problems with them.
✔ Pay good attention in class. Don’t be drawn into disruptive behavior.
✔ Select your friends wisely. They can help or hinder your progress at school.
✔ Do your homework and assignments as well as you can. Give them quality time. Ask your parents or another mature adult for help if you need it.

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