The Treasure Hunter

A blog by Joanne Yatvin

American Education is Off the Track in Some Places

on July 15, 2019

In today’s piece I’m not going to reveal the name of the town I’ve written about because it was only one of several others I could have described. Also, I don’t feel that any of those towns are evil. They are just normal representations of the long existing cultures in many American small towns..

A few days ago our newspaper,”The Oregonian”, posted an article about poor school attendance that was very different from the one reported by government officials. Although the leaders of the”Common Core Standards” and state officials are still calling for more rigor in K-12 grades and post-high school training, their message is falling on deaf ears in many small, isolated, towns. For lots of kids, and their parents, school is just not that important.

The place featured in the article is a rural town with a high rate of human illness and poverty. Last year 40 percent of the schools’ first graders were often absent, and 70 per cent of high schoolers missed enough days to equal five weeks of classes. When school officials were questioned about what caused so many absences they came up with some strange answers: family hunting trips, business needs, or the local scarcity of doctors and dentists for children who needed them. But the answer most often given by teachers was that most parents didn’t care whether or not their kids went to school regularly.

Strangely enough, the majority of adults in those towns have no college education or not even a high school diploma, yet they are working at jobs they like, earning good wages, and living lives that satisfy them and their families.  One mother who was questioned about her son’s absence from school for a hunting trip by citing family values. She told a reporter that “What they are getting from that experience outweighs three days of school–the bonding, the experience—what it takes to deal with a dead animal–is not something that will change for families like ours”. According to teachers and school officials that explanation was more reasonable than the ones they usually hear when parents are told that their children are missing too much school. Those responses boil down to “So what?”

Without comparing the student absentee numbers with those of other small towns all over the country, I’m convinced that every community has it’s own culture, customs, and beliefs that influence behavior more strongly than any government message. Take for example, a high poverty area in a big city where most adults have limited education, low paying jobs, and no savings. Typically, they don’t expect their kids to live differently than they did when they were growing up. On top of that, the local schools are crowded, rundown, and tough on student’s misbehavior and truancy. But when a couple of kids decide to take a day off they don’t hesitate and their friends figure they should join them.  It’ would be a lot more fun than going to school.  Although some parents might object, the kids will do it anyway. Other parents ether don’t know what’s going on or figure that it’s just normal kid behavior. So goes the culture of many small towns and it’s hard to argue against it.

In fact, high poverty communities are not the only places where such behaviors rule. There are whole states that cling to traditions of the past and see the world in terms of their own environments and customs. For most local families, school is okay as long as it fits with their personal values.

At present I don’t see much hope of changing local cultures. America will have to evolve into more of a melting pot than it is today.  But I feel it is still possible to have schools become more appealing to kids and their parents without diminishing their quality. Almost always there are some similarities between a local culture and the national vision of educational excellence that would lure students and their families back to school. Below I will suggest a just a few things that would have a small cost and bring large benefits to children

For example, high schools could provide more electives, especially courses related to available local jobs, but also courses in arts and crafts. At the same time they could stop requiring students to take multiple courses in math, science, and a foreign language. For many young people those courses don’t serve their present interests or their future aspirations. One of such a basic course is enough for them.

In addition I would like to see schools open their buildings to parents more often by holding events that would make them aware of the value of children’s learning, such as music, drama, and intelligence performances. I believe those events would persuade parents of the value of high quality education and get them to support it.

To some readers the changes I’m proposing may look like a return to a worn-out past. But what I hope for instead is to open doors that have been closed by powerful government forces that misunderstand the different situations and needs in many parts of our vast country. Wounded government pride, much more than a concern for our place in the global economy, has brought a number of ineffective changes in public education and produced a vast chasm between government policy and the true needs of children in many places where there may be great poverty or lack of parent education.

After some 20 years under a barrage of school reforms, we are left with nothing more than failed government policies, stagnant test scores, a growing body of opt-out parents, dis-enfranchised and demoralized teachers, and a serious lack of high school graduates prepared for good jobs or further education.  Ask yourselves, is what we now have truly democracy or just the wrong education for many of America’s children?”

2 responses to “American Education is Off the Track in Some Places

  1. That is a bonzer visuals against your team.


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