My good friend and colleague, Tom Bechman, wrote an excellent blog earlier this week about education, which has been solidly on my mind since embarking on our February cover package on education (See here, here and here. And here.)
Tom even took time to share a sidebar for my story about what's happening in Indiana. Some folks in Illinois think Indiana was fairly progressive in encouraging/forcing consolidations a couple decades back, but from what Tom says, the verdict may still be out on that one.
What especially interested me in Tom's blog, though, was the comment at the bottom from Dave Nanda. Dave is a crop consultant in Indiana who's a veritable corn expert, and also a very nice guy. In questioning the Indiana school system, he made a huge point: we criticize the teachers, the students, the administrators, the school buildings and the school size…but where are the parents?
(Also, this is unrelated but I think not coincidental…a friend just posted on Facebook: "Did you know parents spent $1.6 million on thong underwear for 7-12 year olds? WHERE ARE THE PARENTS?" Strange. Frightening.)
Anyway, as I read Tom's blog and Dave's response, I realized how much more optimistic I was before my kids started school a couple years ago. Ignorance was bliss. However, on Monday, for example, I was at school to help with Valentine parties and was struck, once again, with how many kids aren't even dressed appropriately for the weather. It's February in Illinois, people.
And beyond that, what we don't see; how many kids are hungry, how many kids saw or heard atrociously awful things in their homes last night. And somehow we expect them to come to school and learn? And now – at least under consideration in Indiana – we're going to (essentially) dock the teacher's pay for tardy students?
One of the best quotes from one of the many school board members I talked to for my aforementioned cover story was fascinating. It didn't make it into the story as it was a whole other can of worms, but nonetheless, the school board member noted that rural areas are rapidly becoming a source of attraction for the socio-economically disadvantaged. And it's true. Well over 2/3 of this board member's school was on free/reduced lunches. This is a radical change from just a few years ago. Even further, some of these same children walk around with their own cell phones and Touch iPods. Not everyone, and I don't want to stereotype, but clearly some of our society has a problem with budgeting.
Regardless, Dave Nanda makes an excellent point. This is about parents taking responsibility for their children's education, for their well-being, for growing up themselves and encouraging excellence in every possible way.
Because here's the thing: we complain now about the state of our rural communities. Imagine what they'll look like in another 15 years if this doesn't turn around.