Every now and then I'll hear something on the news that makes me want to take to my soap box. Tonight, I heard about a young man who finished a four year degree in physics and math at the University of Virginia in just one year. That's an amazing feat. Even when you take into consideration that he finished half his requirements through Advanced Placement courses in high school, he still completed approximately 60 semester hours in one year. The maximum course load when I was in school (way back in the dark ages), was 21 semester hours a semester, with a lighter load of 10-12 hours in the summer.
This young man is of Asian heritage. I don't think it's a coincidence that so many Asian students are the best students in their schools. I believe that Asian families teach their children that doing the absolute best they can in the class room is their responsibility.
I think we have made an error in letting our young people believe that socializing and extracurricular activities are the reason for attending school. Somewhere along the line in the past few decades, we have slipped away from the idea of serious study being our child's job. Instead, we spoon feed them in the class room, and try to find ways to "motivate" them to learn, and hope that they will take the bait. It's not happening. Tests used to measure the success of our teaching across the nation show the students are mastering less material every year, and I'm very concerned about the trend toward "dumbing down" subject matter.
Perhaps a decade ago, in a Chicago school, the principal announced that if the 8th graders could not pass 70% of the material on a final test in the school year, they would not be promoted to high school. There was a HUGE hue and cry. The principal was reviled, but she held her ground. Those students who were not able to pass the test arranged for summer school and retested. Oddly, they managed to learn 70% of what they had been taught over the previous 8 years, in just 8 weeks of summer school, when they buckled down and applied themselves. Most of them were allowed to pass on to high school that fall.
Some parents will cite the number of pages of homework their children bring home, and will complain about the difficulty of the subject matter for kids in third, fourth and fifth grade. I suspect that the schools are hoping to teach them as much as possible before socializing interrupts their education.
There are several ways we could change the situation. We could ditch the idea of co-ed classrooms. Separate schools for boys and for girls might be a partial solution. Or, we could give a final test for each school year. To pass to then next grade, you'd have to master 70% of the material. Or, we could ban participation in any extracurricular activity if your grades dip below a "C" or 80% of the material.
But more than that, we need to work with students at home. We need to have them sit with us at the dinner table and talk about their day at school. We need to establish study times, and study places. We need to create daily habits for them to follow: feed the dog, pick up the toys, finish today's homework. We need to give our children "jobs," and establish penalties when the jobs are not done right, or well. Not every child is going to be a genius, but every child should know from the start that they are expected to do the absolute best they can do.
There's one other thing we can do. We can limit their use of electronic toys. We can establish early on that there will only be (for example) one hour of Nintendo, or TV or DVD or telephone a day, and those things will only be allowed after homework is completed. Two days in a row of poor showing on homework, and those toys will be set aside until grades rise once more.
It's a shame that these values are considered old-fashioned. It's too bad that so many parents today have lost control of their children, and don't understand that THEY are responsible for teaching good habits, morals and ethics to their children. Schools are no longer allowed to teach ethics, morals or religion, so parents need to step up the plate, and resume their responsibilities.