Listening to the debate, the discussion, the struggles and the solutions to our education dilemma in this country I think it boils down to one thing. It has taken me a long time to really articulate this and I hope that you do not think that my solution is simple or too obvious.
I think that improving education is all about respect. This word is fraught with much emotion. If a community respects and reveres education, if a parent and student respect and value education and our government and legislators regard education with the respect that it should be given than most every problem in education would and could be solved. It is of course not that simple or easy but it is what is at the root of an education system that is fundamentally struggling.
If one thinks about what has happened in the recent past it is a fairly clear pattern of disregard for the education of our youth that has broken down. Yes the family unit has changed, our country has more impoverished, disenfranchised and downtrodden, and our leaders have failed us in important ways. Fundamentally though it comes down to whether we regard teachers, schools, children and the educational process. It seems clearer all the time to me that we are trying to fix a broken system without digging deeper into the issue. It would be much smarter to begin to think of ways in which we can start to change our society and put action into having respect and regard for others.
A classroom of students that are ready to learn, have parents and society that values learning and expects this from the school and the student is what is sorely lacking. Give a teacher a class of students of any background, any economic status, any level of ability and he/she do what she/he has been trained to do. We are asking our teachers to go at it alone- we have to be a social worker, disciplinarian, police officer, truant officer, cheerleader, parent...all in the hopes of trying to get our students to WANT TO LEARN. This is crazy. If all one had to do is teach, and teach well, then our jobs would be simple. You cannot expect that a teacher is going to be able to swim upstream with the behavior problems, disrespect and all of the other challenges and actually teach each and every student to their utmost potential. Respect is what is missing. In countries that are successfully educating their students the most common denominator is respect in the country for education.