In this third segment of my series of videos on Inequality and education, which is the civil rights issue of our time, I answer the 2nd of the two most important questions in education:
Why do some kids succeed in spite of the tremendous disadvantages they face?
The first question was “Why do so many kids fail?
Today’s question is the most important of the two because as important as it is that we understand why kids fail, it is even more important to understand how some kids overcome their disadvantage and enjoy academic success.
When we begin to understand what works we can work to replicate that success.
The key to success of these wonderful exceptions is that the kids who break out of poverty to become successful, academically, and go on to lead productive lives is that these children were supported by a parent or guardian who was fiercely determined that an education would provide a way out of poverty for their child.
These parents, grandparents, or other guardians worked hard to instill a powerful motivation to learn in their son or daughter; they did everything they could to prepare their child for academic success; they make sure their child does their work; and, when their child struggles they work patiently with them to make sure they learn.
What they also do is show up at school and get to know their child’s teacher. They often initiate this contact out of suspicion and mistrust because they are fearful that the teacher will not be looking out for their child’s best interests. These parents and guardians are, after all, part of multiple generations of men and women who have always failed in school and have always been poor. Their experiences with their own teachers are often unhappy memories.
Once they get to know their child’s teachers and begin to witness the success that their child enjoys and hear how much their child loves that teacher, these parents or other family members become committed partners, sharing responsibility for the education of their kids.
This partnership is a powerful thing that not only preserves the child’s motivation to learn; it fuels that motivation. It is a crucial variable in the education equation.
It is the creation of such partnerships that we need to replicate. Such replication is easy if the parent is already engaged and committed but it becomes an extraordinary challenge when they are not so engaged. Very often, in addition to their suspicion, these parents and guardians are indifferent and have few positive expectations. How can they have positive expectations when their own experiences were disappointing and disillusioning?
In Part 4 of my series on education and inequality, we will talk about what it is that teachers must do to pull these parents in as partners. Inevitably, the answer depends on creating opportunities for the child to enjoy success.
It is such a sad thing that so many children are failing and the adverse consequences for both the children and society are incalculable. It doesn’t have to be that way but we cannot alter this reality until we change the way we task, structure, support, and resource the education process that is the milieu in which teachers live and work. This requires positive leadership from our principals, superintendents, college professors who train teachers, and policy makers who are in charge of the mission, vision, and values of public education; the people who have strategic responsibility.
What is frustrating is that it is so easy to change. All we need to do is refuse to let kids fail. Teachers, however, are unable to “refuse to let kids fail” when the education process is focused on failure than structured to focus on success.
More about this in my next post.