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On Returning to School and Our Nation

Allan Schwartz, LCSW, Ph.D. was in private practice for more than thirty years. He is a Licensed Clinical Social Worker in the states ...Read More

In many communities across the nation August means children returning to school. This is what may have provoked David Brooks, columnist for the New York Times, to write his Op.Ed. commentary in the Tuesday, July 29, 2008 edition of the newspaper titled "The Biggest Issue.(page A19).

In the article Brooks discusses America’s declining educational achievement over the past 40 years. He states that the reason why this nation’s productivity has moved from first in 1950 has a lot to do with poor educational achievement. 

However, he is quick to point out and to site recent research, the reason for our diminished productivity and educational achievement has nothing to do with the quality of our school systems but with what is happening in our families. He cites research that pinpoints family environments that have deteriorated over the past 40 years as the reason why we are not keeping up with other nations in producing skilled workers who would help us remain highly productive.

While Brooks admits that IQ is important in terms of school achievement, traits such as motivation, emotional stability, self control and sociability, all of which must be nurtured by age 5 and then be further built upon, are not happening in many family environments.

It is his opinion that boosting educational attainment is the way to make America competitive once again.

My Opinion:

While there is a lot of merit to what Brooks states in this article, in many ways, the issue is over simplified. It is true that family environments have changed over the last century. We have gone from a very cohesive extended family way of living to a single parent family type of structure, in many cases, due to the high rate of divorce.

However, Mr. Brooks overlooks the fact that there are many other mitigating circumstances that have lead to lower educational achievement in this country relative to other nations. For example, we remain a nation of immigrants in which many youngsters across all of our school systems are learning English as their second language. Present day immigrants, as those in the past, take a long while to fully assimilate and be able to take advantage of business and work opportunities.

I must also point out that looking at School achievement in America as a whole distorts what is really happening. For example, children coming from inner city and immigrant backgrounds are not going to look very good in terms of statistics about how our schools and families are doing. Just as during the early 1900’s, waves of immigration bring a temporary type of poverty and crime until full assimilation takes place. In the meantime, if anyone bother to look at the facts, those schools made up of students and families that are fully assimilated and integrated, score quite high in numbers of High School Graduates and students continuing into colleges and universities.

Finally, there is a plain and simple fact that many scholars and journalists overlook when examining America’s economic and educational performance in the world today compared to the past. That plain and simple fact is that the world has caught up with us and that has a lot to do with America’s encouragement of economic competition around the world.

My suggestion:

Rather than fretting over what seem to be our problems today, I suggest that everyone read to their children every night, encourage them to learn, provide them with lots of help and encouragement with their school work and have the attitude that learning is fun. Also, be involved with the schools and teachers your children are involved with, but do this in a positive and encouraging way.

Those of you who read my writings on this site know that I firmly believe that "the glass is half full, rather than half empty" is a much better way to look at life. Otherwise, we are left feeling stressed and distressed.

Allan N. Schwartz, PhD

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