Thursday, February 23, 2012

essential things...

Last night my wife and I watched American Teacher, a documentary film narrated by movie star Matt Damon. Damon's mother is a teacher and he has become an advocate for teachers and the value they present to American culture and economy. We would be a very sorry land without them, and for some reason, teachers in our country do not receive the respect offered them in places like Finland where the top 30% of college graduates become teachers and teaching is the most highly respected profession. In any case, the movie builds a strong case for treating our teachers with greater respect, paying them better salaries to keep them long term, investing in their continuing education, and thus assuring greater success for our kids.

And so there is a bit of shame related to the American system of education where high salaries are paid to administrators, and too little money and respect is offered to those entrusted with the education of our kids. That is a difficult problem to fix, but is not impossible. It requires a change in focus and a fresh look at priorities.

The second part of all this is that we must also address the relationship between home and school. Parents and grandparents are the front line in education. Student success in school is founded on the relationship of support offered from home to school. If you were to do a study on the relationship between student success and the level of involvement of those student's parents in booster clubs, attendance of school functions, conferences, athletic events, and parent teacher organizations, you would find the positive relationship between home and school to be particularly predictive of student success. Developing a supportive relationship between home and school was important to Otto Salomon and Uno Cygnaeus, founders of Educational Sloyd. Children were to make things that were useful in home and family, thus cementing this essential relationship.

A third point that must be addressed is poverty. Can people not see that teachers struggling to make certain that their children do well, are handicapped when their students arrive at class poorly fed and troubled by trying to cope with circumstances beyond their control? There is a direct correlation between living in poverty and failure in school that must be addressed.

There will need to be a political battle to bring our educational system back to the right path. That battle is far greater than what we can manage alone. But I am reminded of a scene I witnessed that the Detroit Maker's Faire last year. In a tent sitting at a long table was a grandmother with her grandson. Each was soldering something for the first time. It takes vision and a bit of courage to do new things.

For many adults, the idea of teaching their child to do things that they themselves have not done, can be daunting. Fortunately, taking things into our own hands can be a simple thing. We need not be particularly skilled ourselves to put tools in the hands of our children and to learn right alongside. This has always been one of those important points I've tried to make in the blog.

My first inclination to teach kids came from having my daughter Lucy working at her own bench in my wood shop. It was that experience that led me to understand the values we can offer as parents and grandparents to our children's development and success in school. And the potential for that understanding to grow in depth resides within each pair of hands, young or old.

In other words, there are things we cannot change yet. But there are matters we can take into our own hands...

Make, fix and create...


  1. Anonymous5:21 AM

    When the culture seems to glorify ignorance, as it is currently, teaching isn't going to be valued.

  2. I agree that teachers are one of our greatest resources. But all of the problems that you listed still exist. There is no concrete formula for success. I do agree that all of those challenges exist, but I wonder if there is a self-gratification for the teachers, especially in extenuating circumstances. For example, there are many students in those poor situations who make something positive from their situation, because of the positive guidance and reinforcement for the teacher. Many of the teachers likely enter the field because they wish to help individuals, not because they wish to be monetarily compensated, although they should. Thank you for your thoughtful accounts.