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Parental involvement is key to children’s education

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It seems we have been talking about improving education in this country for most of my adult life, yet we continue to lag behind too many countries in too many fields. It does not seem to be getting better.

I have noted many times that I believe I got a fine education in public schools in Manhattan, Brooklyn and Queens. The same for City College and Columbia and Fordham universities.

Now we are in a tizzy about Common Core, the SATs, charter schools, school vouchers, home schooling, full-time kindergarten, pre-kindergarten, pre-school, parental involvement, teacher training and paying for extra effort. You name it, we are talking about it.

Meanwhile, our kids do not seem to be getting the education to enable them to read, write, comprehend and compete in an increasingly smaller world.

I have no answers to this, of course. If I did, I would have cashed in my chips by now and gotten a tax shelter overseas.

The one thing, however, I think I know about, is parental involvement.

I have written that my mother, an immigrant from Poland, was illiterate. She managed to print her name on checks and documents. She learned to speak the language well, with no trace of an accent — except “New Yawk” — but she did not read or write. She listened to the news on radio and television.

My grandfather died when my father was 6. A native New Yorker, my father left school at 11 to go work to help his widowed mother and older sister. I never saw him read a book, but he read the Daily News and the Daily Mirror cover to cover every day. He knew what was going on in the world.

My mother and father encouraged my sister and me to get a good education. We made sure to get to school on time, respect teachers and do our homework. They hoped we got good marks, but they did not nag us.

To them, education was the American Dream come true.

But they taught us about life, too, especially how to treat other people. One example will serve:

When I was in elementary school in Borough Park, there was no auditorium but the top floor had four large classrooms and sliding walls, so you could put on events.

We had a talent show. Since my father had a good job in the city Sanitation Department, my sister and I were neat, clean and well-dressed.

Several of us sang our little hearts out at the show. At the end, the teacher in charge stood in turn behind each of us and waited for the applause. The one who got the most won; I did not win.

I came home upset. When my father came home from work, my mother told him what happened. He talked to me and learned that, perhaps more than anything, the kid who won was not even properly dressed or clean, according to me. That made me angry.

My father asked me one question: “Did he sing better than you?”

I did not answer. Of course he had.

Perhaps, after all, parental involvement should be at the head of any list of educational improvements. And working on that may take a great deal more than signing labor contracts.

Is our country prepared to undertake that problem or allow our children to slide into a world where no one will be able to say the United States is even near excellence in education for everyone?

Read my blog No Holds Barred at timesledger.com.

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Reader Feedback

anon from queens says:
Well this is what happens to the education system when all you have are illegals and low class foreigners in the city. Our border jumpers claim that they come here for a "better life for their children", meanwhile, their kids are out on the streets doing drugs and having babies when they are teenagers instead of going to school and doing something useful with their lives. Also how can you teach a child if you don't want to teach yourself? Most foreigners these days not only refuse to speak English-they absolutely refuse to learn it. They expect everyone to just bend over backward to speak their languages. How do you even help your child with homework if you, yourself, can not speak English? As a parent, I have to help my daughter all the time with homework and projects. One can not always afford a tutor or even have a tutor looking over your child's shoulder 24/7.
May 20, 2014, 5:58 am
Kenneth Kowald from I Sit and Look Out says:
You will excuse me, but those arguments could have been used more than a century ago against Germans, Italians, Poles, Jews--you name it--all recent emigrants. I believe that we must get past the rhetoric on these matters and see how other nations have handled some of these problems. Unfortunately, although many of us were brought up to agree with it, the United States does not have the answers for all problems at all times. And, you know what? I think we never did, but it was good to think so.
Your daughter is fortunate to have you helping her. Would that all kids could get that.
Kenneth Kowald
May 20, 2014, 4:03 pm
Kenneth Kowald from I Sit and Look Out says:
You will excuse me, but those arguments could have been used more than a century ago against Germans, Italians, Poles, Jews--you name it--all recent emigrants. I believe that we must get past the rhetoric on these matters and see how other nations have handled some of these problems. Unfortunately, although many of us were brought up to agree with it, the United States does not have the answers for all problems at all times. And, you know what? I think we never did, but it was good to think so.
Your daughter is fortunate to have you helping her. Would that all kids could get that.
Kenneth Kowald
May 20, 2014, 4:03 pm
Linda from Long Island City says:
Thank you, Kenneth, for succinctly stating what has been happening over the past 40 years. My father came from Austria and taught himself English. My mother, though born in Pennsylvania, was taught in Czechoslovakian. Neither wrote "perfect English", but both read the newspapers daily, listened to radio shows and watched all genre of television. They wrote my notes and helped me with homework and were always there to support me throughout my school years. "Back then (in the 50s & 60s)", a child had to answer to the teacher and then their parents. Nowadays, the teachers are on the defensive from the parents and children. We have so much money to spend on education, yet we spend our time testing and not teaching. I don't know what the answer is either, but we are no where near #1 in the world in education....and that is a sad commentary. By the way, though I went to NY schools, I now live in Florida and things seem to be the same all across the USA. We need to change our priorities or we will lag behind, instead of lead, the rest of the world.
May 20, 2014, 4:06 pm
that is the point from queens says:
The point is that all students whether born here or in a foreign country should be expected to learn to read and write proper English. No bilingual paid for by tax payers. My great grandparents did not have that yet they learned English as did the children they brought here. Also, kids today think LOL and # are part of the English language but they are not. The constant abbreviations teach kids nothing. Veggies is not a word - yes you can actually say the word vegetables.
May 20, 2014, 4:31 pm
Kenneth Kowald from I Sit and Look Out says:
Thank you both. There was no English As a Second Language until the mid-20th Century. You had to--and still do--have to pass a test in English to become a citizen. Learning a second language is fine, but English is the linqua franca of the world and if you cannot read, write and speak it at least fairly well, the future is not good.
Yes, Linda, this is not a New York problem. It is an American problem. But, New York, in so many ways in its history, has led this country that perhaps the basic reforms could--truly--start here.
If we can go to Sweden to learn how to cut down on traffic deaths, can't we go to Finland, for example, to learn how their kids are taught/
And, please, don't let the politicians, teachers, union leaders, etc., off the hook, just because some of us believe that parental guidance is so important.
Again, thank you.
By the way, I hope to have a column about "speaking the speech" sometime soon. Also, a Blog is at the TimesLedger Newspapers, waiting to be posted. It is about the dumbing down of education and political discourse.
Kenneth Kowald
May 20, 2014, 4:54 pm
helton from Flushing says:
"Thank you both. There was no English As a Second Language until the mid-20th Century. You had to--and still do--have to pass a test in English to become a citizen. Learning a second language is fine, but English is the linqua franca of the world and if you cannot read, write and speak it at least fairly well, the future is not good. "

Ken - I agree with your basic concepts, as my family came from Russia in the 1920s. But, there is massive waste in NYC and the rest of country.

As you say, you have to pass an English test to become a citizen. If this is true, then why does NYC spend gazillions of $$ to...
1) translate the voting guides into who knows how many languages

2) have translators at the voting places

3) offer the written driving test in 20 or so languages, when this is now a safety issue since all road signs are still written in English

My Republican party has done its share of foolish things, but the above items are all Democratic creations, and they should be called to task for supporting/implementing them.

THAT's why my taxes keep increasing - to support garbage like this.

As you point out, our grandparents had no crutches. You adapted to the English language and your new country's cultures or you died or took the next boat back to Europe.

Too many people have too many crutches, gladly supplied by liberal Democrats who have created an entire society of "me first" entitlement beneficiaries. This entitlement has also trickled into education, where parents don't do what's necessary to help their kids succeed.

Like you, I'm a product of NYC schools. I fear that our city, and our country, may be too far gone to save.
May 21, 2014, 6 pm
Kenneth Kowald from I Sit and Look Out says:
Helton: Many thanks. I think this is an American problem and not a political one. ESL is not, in my opinion, what has confounded education in our country. It is a general malaise, it seems to me.
You may remember--I assume you are a devoted reader!--my experience of leading a State Grand Jury a few years ago. One of those called tried to get out of serving, because he thought he could not deal with the language. But, he had been called because he was a citizen, who must have passed those tests. The judge did not let him off the hook. He was not in my group, however, once the full set up was made.
Again, I think it best not to point fingers at indivuals or groups, but rather point fingers at the problems and try to solve them, together.
What's the alternative, after all?
Kenneth Kowald
May 23, 2014, 6 pm
helton from Flushing says:
Ken - I'll respectfully disagree with you, and here's why...

...You can't solve problems without identifying their causes. In this particular case that I specified, the problem was caused by NYS Democratic politicians. THEY passed those laws, not Republicans.

...You say it's an American problem and not a political one. That's like asking which came first - the chicken or the egg.

To me, it's a political problem because politicians provided a crutch for people who want the easy way out. Human nature being what it is, there's always some folks who want to get something for nothing, give an inch but take a mile, etc.

These problems were not problems 50 years ago. They became problems because politicians (mostly Democrats) decided it would be good to provide dis-incentives for people who wanted the easy way out.

Prior to this time, if you didn't pull your weight, you lived with the consequences - homelessness, poverty. You had no choice but to bust your butt and not slack off.

Now look at the country - out of wedlock births have skyrocketed because many mothers see the govt. as a daddy substitute: providing $$ to them - in lieu of the actual fathers taking care of their kids. Govt. is no substitute for a man taking care of his family.

How about my hard earned tax $$ being given to illegals and folks who haven't paid into the system, at the expense of American citizens? How many seniors from other countries come to the USA and somehow are on Medicaid in 5 minutes? I don't blame them. I blame the politicians who created loopholes wide enough to drive a truck through, which is what these non-Americans have done. Once again, human nature.

This system is shameful, disgraceful, and a slap in the face to every decent American citizen like myself who gets played for a fool by playing by the rules - rules that were changed by politicians in the middle of the game.

In my original example of voting guides and the written driving test, those are 2 perfect examples of my beliefs. Voting and driving are 2 of the most cherished privileges in this nation. Prior to politicians changing the rules in the middle of the game, there were no substitutes - learn English or else you can't vote or drive. No exceptions.

Now, because of politicians pandering to human nature and providing a needless crutch, many folks don't learn English because they don't have to - our government has given them a way to enjoy these sacred privileges without having to do the work.

With rights come responsibilities. Too many politicians have bestowed rights/privileges upon people without requiring them to act responsibly to earn them. Human nature tells millions to take advantage of this gravy train.

Do you honestly think that (mostly) Democrats (and some Republicans) will bite the hand that feeds them by cutting off these benefits, when these benefits will keep the politicians in office? Look at the few politicians who've suggested getting our budget back into balance. Look at the names they've been called, and their media crucifixation - all for trying to be fiscally responsible and acting like an adult - not living beyond their means.

Our country is in debt for trillions of dollars. Try doing that with your own family's budget and see how long you'll survive. I'm sick and tired of being taxed to the gills to support programs that waste money and/or reward laziness and irresponsible behavior. How much more of my paycheck can I afford to give up?

I think that most Americans wouldn't mind paying their taxes if we saw that the $$ were used responsibly. But, that's obviously not the case, and all I see now is good money being thrown after bad - at the city, state, and federal levels.

So, I'll lay the blame for the problems where they most deserve to be placed - at the door of our politicians.
May 24, 2014, 10:41 am
helton from Flushing says:
Ken - I forgot to add that I enjoy reading your columns very much!
May 24, 2014, 12:09 pm
Kenneth Kowald from I Sit and Look Out says:
Helton: Many thanks. I hope you will continue to enjoy my stuff, both the columns and the blogs.
I think we are in agreement that things must change. We need political leaders, corporate leaders, ordinary citizens (including teachers and unions) to try to solve this matter, if it can be solved.
I've been a Pollyanna all my life and I am hoping for the best, while, realistically, fearing more damage.
Again, thank you for your comments. This is the kind of civil discourse we need more of these days.
Kenneth Kowald
May 24, 2014, 5:55 pm

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