Friday Rant: While Spending on Education, Don’t Forget Time

Everyone seems to agree that the U.S. must do better when it comes to preparing its future generations. Even Douglas Holtz-Eakin, a Republican economist who advised Sen. John McCain's presidential campaign is quoted in this morning's WSJ saying "he would radically improve the American education system, which is "failing to a remarkable degree in delivering to the labor force people with the skills needed to compete." I've also been struck with how often this topic arose at summer social gatherings among all age groups. It's a top-of-mind matter with parents, grandparents and those contemplating having children -- all of whom predominantly focus upon how to improve the system and whether to opt out via private schools and in some cases, home schooling. The latter options are a personal fix that few can afford either monetarily or time wise. But they do contain elements that need to be incorporated with any systemic solution.

Private and home schooling provide a substantial educational advantage when it comes to the quality and quantity of time spent with individual students -- an obvious key element when it comes to student/teacher accountability and nurturing individual learning styles. When looked at together, they offer two optimal extractions for improving the system at large: Small class size and home involvement. Both of which will require significant investments of both money and time.

It may sound a bit obvious and old-fashioned, but this issue of spending significant and consistent time involved in our children's education -- regardless of our personal means -- is paramount. Whether or not the U.S. is successful at on-shoring more manufacturing jobs is irrelevant -- enhancing a dumbed down job market is not a long-term solution. Three primary areas of educational default are thinking, reading and writing. We must ensure that students learn these basics if they're to have control over their futures. They're not high-tech, and as such require intense role modeling and adult involvement.

By example, Mark Taylor, author of the recently published book Crisis on Campus (reviewed here) had his children "write a three-page paper once a week each summer between sixth grade and college. It could be on any subject they chose, and the only requirement was that the essay had to be discursive, that is to say, they had to formulate a thesis, develop an argument, defend it, and draw a conclusion ... I am so committed to teaching young people to write clearly and effectively that I decided this would be the inheritance I would leave my children."

Upon reading the above a quotation, a close friend of mine related an event when her daughter was in 10th grade at private school in Manhattan: "She came home with an A on an essay. I looked at it and said this isn't an A paper, and explained why. I said I'm going to talk to your teacher and did, much to my daughter's acute distress -- but she learned to write, and write well." What are your suggestions and styles of involvement that will foster thinking, communicative and successful future generations?

William Busch

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