By Kenneth Kowald
It seems we have been talking about improving education in this country for most of my adult life, yet we continue to lag behind too many countries in too many fields. It does not seem to be getting better.
I have noted many times that I believe I got a fine education in public schools in Manhattan, Brooklyn and Queens. The same for City College and Columbia and Fordham universities.
Now we are in a tizzy about Common Core, the SATs, charter schools, school vouchers, home schooling, full-time kindergarten, pre-kindergarten, pre-school, parental involvement, teacher training and paying for extra effort. You name it, we are talking about it.
Meanwhile, our kids do not seem to be getting the education to enable them to read, write, comprehend and compete in an increasingly smaller world.
I have no answers to this, of course. If I did, I would have cashed in my chips by now and gotten a tax shelter overseas.
The one thing, however, I think I know about, is parental involvement.
I have written that my mother, an immigrant from Poland, was illiterate. She managed to print her name on checks and documents. She learned to speak the language well, with no trace of an accent — except “New Yawk” — but she did not read or write. She listened to the news on radio and television.
My grandfather died when my father was 6. A native New Yorker, my father left school at 11 to go work to help his widowed mother and older sister. I never saw him read a book, but he read the Daily News and the Daily Mirror cover to cover every day. He knew what was going on in the world.
My mother and father encouraged my sister and me to get a good education. We made sure to get to school on time, respect teachers and do our homework. They hoped we got good marks, but they did not nag us.
To them, education was the American Dream come true.
But they taught us about life, too, especially how to treat other people. One example will serve:
When I was in elementary school in Borough Park, there was no auditorium but the top floor had four large classrooms and sliding walls, so you could put on events.
We had a talent show. Since my father had a good job in the city Sanitation Department, my sister and I were neat, clean and well-dressed.
Several of us sang our little hearts out at the show. At the end, the teacher in charge stood in turn behind each of us and waited for the applause. The one who got the most won; I did not win.
I came home upset. When my father came home from work, my mother told him what happened. He talked to me and learned that, perhaps more than anything, the kid who won was not even properly dressed or clean, according to me. That made me angry.
My father asked me one question: “Did he sing better than you?”
I did not answer. Of course he had.
Perhaps, after all, parental involvement should be at the head of any list of educational improvements. And working on that may take a great deal more than signing labor contracts.
Is our country prepared to undertake that problem or allow our children to slide into a world where no one will be able to say the United States is even near excellence in education for everyone?
Read my blog No Holds Barred at timesledger.com.