While watching the local or national news over the past ten plus years, one cannot help but notice that school boards and administrators have been front and center dealing with a whole host of controversial issues. Those issues include:
- “How much sex / lifestyle choices / gender issues should be included in health class?”
- “Is the school district offering sufficient mental health support for children as the suicide rates continue to rise?”
- “Should BLM posters be hung in classrooms or is that supporting a political ideology?”
- “Will the local elementary school be providing the expanded federally-funded breakfast / lunch / dinner program?”
- “Should ‘school’ include full-day childcare for my three-year-old?”
- “Does forcing my child to urinate in a cup for mandatory drug tests infringe on her first amendment rights?”
- “Should we spend $60 million on the new high school building with a pool and an indoor workout facility, or just $55 million with no pool?”
As the education professionals will tell you, the list goes on and on and on.
All of these issues have one thing in common: they have nothing to do with the original mission of the public school system which is to assist parents in teaching our children reading, writing, arithmetic, and the ability to reason.
To say that the public school system in the United States has been forced into mission creep is the understatement of the past 150 years. The reason mission creep should be avoided at all costs is that as each new area of focus is added, organizations take their eyes off their primary purpose. The data is frighteningly clear that math and reading proficiency in the United States has been steadily declining and our young people will surely suffer as a result. Administrators, teachers, and parents can all agree that school system personnel are pulled in far too many directions and as a result are unable to do any of it well.
So who is responsible for this mission creep and how do we reclaim the lofty and unique calling of the public school system? As with most national problems, there is a complex matrix of causes and players, and many of those involved had the best of intentions in mind. Over the past 30 years, as various problems affecting our students have been identified, elected officials have defaulted to the school systems to fix all of these ills for the simple fact that the schools already had many of the kids in their buildings. But it does take two to tango, and the schools chose to dance. Because billions of federal, state, and local dollars chase all of these issues, school administrators, school boards, and teachers unions viewed these dollars as an easy way to pad budgets and increase salaries. In addition, some teachers who possibly should have chosen social work or community activism as their career choice prefer these causes to ‘just teaching’. Lastly, and probably most importantly, many parents are far too willing to place all of the responsibility of raising their children onto the schools and the professionals who work there.
We as parents have the primary responsibility to rectify this steadily worsening situation; firstly, we must take back and own our duty as parents as the primary educators and caretakers of our children.
The village can certainly provide a helping hand, but at the end of the day, the buck stops with the parent(s). We need to do better.
We need to re-learn algebra if necessary; we need to feed our kids a healthy breakfast before they leave in the morning and have them pack a healthy lunch to take with them; we need to shut off our electronic devices and talk with our children about their friends, their fears, their challenges and their dreams; we need to teach our children respect for and tolerance for all people and all opinions whether or not that view is popular or supported by the latest YouTube star or Hollywood actor; we need to choose schools based on the strength of their academic offerings and not on the number of state basketball championships.
Politicians and communities need to encourage (and fund) innovative solutions to the challenges young people are experiencing; this will allow new organizations (governmental, non-profit, and for-profit) with separate teams and targeted missions to be charged with those responsibilities. School administrators and teacher unions and school boards must also advocate for their teachers and refocus on their primary mission – education. They must have the courage to say ‘no’ to mission creep, even if that means sacrificing the dollars that come with the ask.
Certainly, collaboration and mutual support are critical to achieve success for our young people, but the days of placing all the world’s problems on the front mat of our local schools need to be behind us. This system is failing our kids.