Saturday, August 13, 2011

At your service

Today's economy is, by no hidden secret, driven by the service industry. It started gaining traction in the 1970's and made significant strides in the 1990's once the manufacturing industry successfully packed up and left the country.

As a society we depend on services more and more in our daily lives. We pay for cable and internet service. Cell phone plans, bank "products" (i still don't know what those are), insurance, etc. We pay someone else to do something for us. We used to buy a lawnmower and cut grass every Saturday morning. Now you pay a HOA fee for someone to do it. Child care was a bartering system where parents took turns watching each others kids. Now, few let their kids get more than twenty feet away from them and pay a premium to a day care center to teach their one year old quadratic equations so they can "get ahead".

The idea behind service is "don't do it yourself, pay me to do it".  From there competing services blossomed and you get where we are today. One drawback as a society from this is a service industry allows us to shift the blame. If our grass isn't cut, rather than do it ourselves, we call and complain that someone else didn't cut it. Instead of going for that evening walk after dinner, we pay for expensive gym memberships. When our waistlines bulge we still find a way to excuse ourselves from responsibility by either complaining that the machines are always taken or that I have no time to exercise, or the fitness classes are not offered when it fits my schedule.

Youth sports have taken to this as well. I have talked to parents who pay $150 for their three year old to play on a soccer team.  My first question is "what can they teach your three year old about soccer that you can't teach them?" An afternoon with the child's friends in a backyard or park accomplishes the same thing. However, by paying, the parent is no longer liable for their child's perceived failure as a soccer player (lest we forget they're three year olds).

With our daily lives surrounded by paying for someone else to take care of it, it shines a perspective on the education field that is misguided and dangerous for kids and the future of the country.

When we count on someone else to do the work we get lazy as people and as parents. Too many times in the past two years education has been attacked by this attitude. When parents remind teachers that "we pay your salary" and "you work for me" it releases the parent from making sure their kid is educated. If a child comes out of school or even college with limited academic skills, from a non impoverished environment, my question is, how did the parent let that happen? By paying taxes and college tuition, that doesn't mean your job is done. Quite the contrary, if a parent does the work necessary to see that their child is properly educated, it might lessen that bill (no tutor fees, SAT Prep classes, possibly receive scholarship money,etc).

I have a twenty month old little girl and my wife and I know that her learning her ABC's and how to read and write are not the sole responsibility of her teachers just because we pay taxes. If my child is not ready for the world when she is done with her education, that is a failure on my part, not the education system. The education system is responsible for facilitating learning for each child. The great teacher can motivate and inspire but that is above and beyond what they are called to do. It is my job as a parent to motivate my child to learn and behave correctly. It is my job as a parent to know the curriculum . If I only know how my child is doing by looking at her report card every quarter, then I have failed as a parent to educate my child. Her teacher will teach skills, units, or subjects and then report on progress. The teacher wants the children to learn and will do a tireless job until that happens. However, if my child fails at learning the material, that is on me. A child cannot fail if the parent is devout in making sure their child knows the material. If a child goes out into the world not knowing their multiplication facts, that is the parent's fault. If a child cannot write a coherent sentence, the parent has failed the child.

Granted I will not expect my child to have to write like Hemmingway or be a math whiz, but if they cannot write an essay for their college admissions, or cannot do basic consumer math, I have set them up for failure as an adult.

Many reformers want to make education a private service based industry. Parents need to know that by paying for an education doesn't mean its someone else's job.  It is a field that takes a collaboration of at least three people to achieve success (parent, teacher, child). In the service field, if something breaks or doesn't work, you call and someone fixes the broken product. Children are not broken products that you can reboot or recall. We cannot allow education to join the ranks of the service industry. If it does, we will just see kids as a commodity and mine their brains for that commodity and throw the rest away. I say as a parent, this is one job that is a do-it-yourself project!