2005-11-18 / Columnists

The Progressive

The Progressive Readin N Riting
By John Paul Culotta

Readin N Riting

This Halloween Miss Andrea, my fourteen old daughter held a party in my house with ten of her schoolmates. As I chaperoned the soiree, I reminisced about my own childhood. I am a baby boomer nearing sixty years of age and there has been a radical change in how children are reared and educated. Youngsters at my daughter’s party had elaborate store-bought costumes. When I was their age we used discarded clothing as costumes. As a child I spent an enormous amount of time in unsupervised physical activity. Today, most youngsters are engaged in supervised sports with considerable parental activity. My daughter spends considerable amounts of time using our family computer and is sedentary for the most part. According to other parents, many teenagers are sedentary for the most part. Physical activity for all generations is important and as a nation we need to promote healthy habits in our youth. Many youngsters were working part time after school when I was a teenager. This responsibility helped our development. I worked as a stock clerk in a drugstore owned by local proprietors starting when I was thirteen. It is extremely difficult now for teenagers to have outside employment until they are sixteen.

Youngsters today have the Internet, I-pods, DVDs, cable TV, and many material possessions, but they are more likely to come from dysfunctional families and to have suffered traumas most middle class youngsters fifty years ago did not have to endure. We may not have had Ozzie and Harriet homes, but the goal for most Americans was to attempt to have a stable family life for the well being of the children. Although many children lived in squalor and poverty, society did not condone this and developed programs to alleviate and eliminate barriers that prevented people from achieving a decent standard of living. President Johnson called for a war on poverty in the sixties. It appears our present president, along with the right wing of both parties in Congress, have declared war on the poor. In order to pay for hurricane relief, proposals are being made to cut programs that the poor rely on. Many baby boomers remember the school we went to and recall the type of education we had. We recall memorizing multiplication tables, historical facts, poetry, rules regarding spelling. In schools today there is an emphasis on teaching the mechanics of multiplication, how to locate historical facts, how to understand literature and a reliance on creativity and not mechanics.

As I reminisced, questions arose in my mind as to whether America as a nation has developed an educational system that will develop citizens that will understand the world and be able to meet the challenges of the future. Politicians are claiming they will develop an educational system that will develop every child’s potential. There is a reliance on standardized testing to secure that goal. There has also been a movement against social promotion. These are positive signs. When baby boomers went to school our education was often tedious. Many youngsters did not do well and schools had a high rate of dropouts and academic failure. Our schools did an excellent job for many and yet there was not universal success. Our memories should not allow harsh facts and reality to color our view of education in the fifties and sixties. Youngsters who were dropouts or did not succeed academically were not barred from the American dream when we were young. There were car factories, steel mills, construction sites, and manual labor available that allowed a decent standard of living for those willing to work. Our economy needs educated minds, not physical or mechanical ability. As a nation we cannot neglect any of our children’s education. Blue-collar employment no longer guarantees a decent standard of living. General Motors and other corporations are reducing medical benefits and depressing wages. A democratic society will not survive class differences without strife and violence. We must evaluate how our schools can prepare our youth to face the challenges imposed by technology and globalization. We should also promote the values we commonly share despite our political, religious, ethnic, and economic differences.

It is imperative that this nation develops an educational system that stimulates our youth, challenges them to develop habits that will be useful in the workplace and does not bar any child from reaching their full potential. A few weeks ago the Progressive advocated for the return of classics of literature to the classroom. We need to develop programs where the classic memorizing of rules and tables and facts are reinforced with mechanics and creativity.

Programs should be developed and supported that break the barriers of poverty and prejudice. Poverty and social neglect are barriers to any successful development. Teachers cannot be miracle workers. They cannot undo the dysfunctional aspects of divorce, inadequate nutrition, violence in the family, poor health conditions, homelessness, slum lifestyles, and drug/alcohol addiction. Society needs to address these problems. Cutbacks in programs that combat social evils are counterproductive if we want to develop our youth. Our nation needs to address the problems of learning disabilities. Early detection, prevention and intervention will help many youngsters reach their full potential as individuals and citizens. On October 29, 2005 the New York Times reported, “One year after scientists discovered a gene whose flaw contributes to dyslexia, two more such genes have now been identified.” Many dyslexics in the past were deemed to be lazy or stupid. Our schools were not able to help them in overcome their disability. Society can no longer allow our schools not to teach these youngsters. It is a tragic waste of human potential. After military expenditure the largest expenditure of American tax dollars goes for education. As a nation we need to evaluate this expenditure of resources. Is this nation receiving enough bang for the buck? No child needs to be at risk because of a learning disability. Early detection and intervention is vital to the children at risk and our democratic society.

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