Most Not Too Busy to Help Make a Difference

In reviewing the manuscript for America’s Schools at a Turning Point, one of my colleagues brought up a great point regarding the thought of putting the future of our public schools solely into the hands of the American people.  Her concern was the squeaky-wheel problem.  She said that as communications liaison to parents and the community in two school districts and as a school board member in one district, she listened to many parents complain about their local school because “the work is too difficult, there is too much homework, their children should be able to graduate (even though they have a horrible attendance record and have failed one or two classes)” and on and on.  Then, when those parents would stand in front of their school board members and demand that the curriculum be “dumbed down,” in many instances those school boards would cave in to their demands.  She added that while she thinks parents and other community members should work more closely with their public schools and have greater influence over education policy, she also feels there is a need for national educational goals, standards, and accountability measures.  For her, the basic question is:  If the state and federal government don’t pressure our schools to improve, who will do it?  In addition to making an important and valid point, her question shines a spotlight on a widely accepted belief that lends energy and credibility to the education reform movement.  It is the belief that the American people are too busy managing their daily lives and too removed from the realities of today’s classroom to get involved in any meaningful way in education reform.  And when they do get involved, often it is because they are angry or want something.  The logical conclusion to this scenario is that the future of our schools is best served by placing it in the hands of educational experts.  All of this is true—to a point.  Most people are busy living their own lives.  They are uninformed about what works and what doesn’t work in the classroom, and they often get involved with their schools when they have an ax to grind.  However, they are in the minority.   The vast majority of Americans are not absorbed by their own needs and concerns.  To the contrary, when asked to help deal with a real crisis, they nearly always put their personal agendas aside, step up to the plate, and make a difference.

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