Home life has the greatest influence on a child's success or failure in school. It shapes the behavior of the child. It is where values and attitudes are communicated. Home life can be intellectually stimulating or impoverished. Attempts to remedy educational disparities also need to focus on this neglected aspect:
When the time comes to talk about solutions, the conversation and the remedies always seem to focus on teachers. The line goes like this: Our students are not learning because our teachers are not smart enough, are lazy, don't care, get paid regardless of their effectiveness, and so on.
So, once again, out come the usual solutions to our nation's education problems: Incentivize teaching. End tenure. Adopt schemes for merit pay, performance pay, bonus pay. Pay teachers according to the test scores of their students. If student test scores go up, their teachers get more money. If student test scores don't go up, their teachers get extra professional development, and if need be, are fired.
After sitting through another day of discussion in which the teacher was identified as the chief cause of our nation's education woes, I felt that something was amiss. It's not as if there is a failure to weed out ineffective teachers — about 40% who enter the profession will leave within their first five years, frustrated by their students' lack of effort, their administrators' heavy hand, unpleasant physical conditions in their workplace, or their own inability to cope with the demands of the classroom.
I have not met all three million of our nation's teachers, but every one that I have met is hardworking, earnest, and deeply committed to their students. All of them talk about parental lack of support for children, about a popular culture that ridicules education and educators, and about the frustrations of trying to awaken a love of learning in children who care more about popular culture, their clothing, and their social life than mastering the wonders of science, history, and mathematics.
We will continue to misdiagnose our educational needs until we focus on the role of students and their families. If they don't give a hoot about education, if the students are unwilling to pay attention in class and do their homework after school, if they arrive in school with a closed and empty mind, don't blame their teachers.UPDATE; Judging by most of the responses to my post, the thesis is widely misunderstood. I'm concerned with the environment parents create simply by being, i.e.having or lacking certain attributes. These attributes can be any number of things, e.g. providing a loving and nurturing environment conducive to the healthy emotional development of the child; valuing respect for others and teaching good manners; attaching value to education; providing an intellectually stimulating environment even in incidental ways. Contrast this with dysfunction and psycho- and sociopathology as is so often the case, a pathology that poses nearly insurmountable obstacles to education and perpetuates stratification. The thesis does not concern itself with minutiae like school board relations.
In this respect the thesis seems unremarkable.