Question: You’ve been somewhat critical of America’s public schools in recent years. Who do you hold accountable for what has gone wrong?
Answer: I share the concern of many others about falling test scores, increasing violence on campuses, and the high illiteracy rate, among other serious problems with today’s schools.
But I am not quick to blame educators for everything that has gone wrong.
The teachers and school administrators who guide our children have been among the most maligned and underappreciated people in our society.
They are an easy target for abuse.
They are asked to do a terribly difficult job, and yet they are criticized almost daily for circumstances beyond their control. Some of their critics act as though educators are deliberately failing our kids.
I strongly disagree. We would still be having serious difficulties in our schools if the professionals did everything right.
Because what goes on in the classroom cannot be separated from the problems occurring in culture at large.
Educators are not responsible for the condition our kids are in when they arrive at school each day.
It’s not the teachers’ fault that families are unraveling and that large numbers of their students have been sexually and/or physically abused, neglected and undernourished.
They can’t keep kids from watching mindless television or R-rated DVDs until midnight, or from using illegal substances or alcohol.
In essence, when the culture begins to crumble, the schools will also look bad. That’s why even though I disagree with many of the trends in modern education, I sympathize with the dedicated teachers and principals out there who are doing their best on behalf of our youngsters.
They are discouraged today, and they need our support.
Question: You’ve said that schools need to have enough structure and discipline to require certain behavior from children whether or not they have a natural interest in the subject being taught.
Then you must favor a very structured, teacher-led program, where student behavior is rather tightly controlled. Why?
Answer: One of the purposes of education is to prepare a young person for later life.
To survive as an adult in this society, one needs to know how to work, how to get there on time, how to get along with others, how to stay with a task until it’s completed, and, yes, how to submit to authority.
In short, it takes a good measure of self-discipline and control to cope with the demands of modern living.
Maybe one of the greatest gifts a loving teacher can contribute to an immature child, therefore, is to help her learn to sit when she feels like running, to raise her hand when she feels like talking, to be polite to her neighbor, to stand in line without smacking the kid in front, and to do English when she feels like doing soccer.
I would also like to see our schools readopt reasonable dress codes, eliminating suggestive clothing, T-shirts with profanity, etc. Guidelines concerning good grooming and cleanliness should also be enforced.
I know! I know! These notions are so alien to us now that we can hardly imagine such a thing.
But the benefits would be apparent immediately. Admittedly, hairstyles and matters of momentary fashion are of no particular significance, but adherence to a standard is an important element of discipline.
The military has understood that for five thousand years! If one examines the secret behind a championship football team, a magnificent orchestra or a successful business, the principal ingredient is invariably discipline. Preparation for this disciplinary lifestyle should begin in childhood.
That’s why I think it’s a mistake to require nothing of children — to place no demands on their behavior — to allow them to giggle, fight, talk and play in the classroom.
We all need to adhere to reasonable rules, and school is a good place to get acquainted with how that is done.
James Dobson is founder and Chairman Emeritus of the nonprofit organization Focus on the Family, Colorado Springs, Colo. 80995 (www.focusonthefamily.org).