Friday, March 02, 2007

Where Does Learning Begin?

I've long felt that parental involvement (or lack thereof) is the single most accurate predictor of academic performance. Teachers, vital though I think they are, are a distant second. Still, good teachers are probably the best things we can give kids with indifferent parents.

I was very surprised to see how much I agreed with right-wing stalwart David Brooks. Brooks says a bold presidential candidate will take a new approach to education, and will publicly proclaim that education does not actually begin ($)when the first bell rings and end when kids grab their things and make a mad dash for the doorway.

The bold candidate will admit that kids who don't learn social skills at home don't carry them to school. Kids with caring parents become better students.

Children do have inborn temperaments and intelligence. Nevertheless, students make the most of their natural dispositions when they have a secure emotional base from which to explore, and even the brightest children stumble when there is chaos inside.

Research over the past few decades impressively shows that children who emerge from attentive, attuned parental relationships do better in school and beyond. They tend to choose friends wisely. They handle frustration better. They’re more resilient in the face of setbacks. They grow up to become more productive workers.

Doesn't that make perfect sense? And doesn't it also make sense that if I teach a group of kids with proactive, caring parents and get great results, it doesn't necessarily make me a better teacher than Mr. X., who teaches kids with parents largely absent from their lives?

Now I'm not saying teachers have no responsibility. Of course we need to do the best we can for all kids, no matter what their backgrounds may be. But there's more than test scores that show whether or not I'm a good teacher. What can we do about this? Here's what Mr. Brooks suggests:

...there are programs that do work to help young and stressed mothers establish healthier attachments. These programs usually involve having nurses or mature women make a series of home visits to give young mothers the sort of cajoling and practical wisdom that in other times would have been delivered by grandmothers or elders.

It makes perfect sense to me. What do you think? Will we leave fewer kids behind if we help their moms early on?

Would a serious candidate really say such things? Which party would the candidate come from? Could that candidate win?

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