A Call to Arms for Education

By Laura Michaels

In yesterday’s State of the Union address, President Obama spoke to the need to revitalize the economy, to increase bipartisanship in Congress, to reorganize the government in order to decrease spending and chip away at the deficit. At the beginning of his speech, Obama spoke to the need to “out-innovate, out-educate, and out-build the rest of the world.”

Obama spoke of education as quintessential to the race to be competitive in our global economy. With the United States lagging behind in the percentage of students who possess high school and even college degrees, we no longer have the luxury of allowing education to simply continue in the same direction. Moving away from the “No Child Left Behind” policy, Obama’s rhetoric spoke to a new program entitled “Race to the Top” that hopefully will inspire schools to improve their standards. “If you show us the most innovative plans to improve teacher quality and student achievement, we’ll show you the money,” stated Obama.

More interestingly, Obama placed responsibility for success in education not on the kids, but on their parents and teachers. It’s our job to inspire the next generation in order to provide for a successful future for our country; as the adults in their lives, we need to set the example:

And so the question is whether all of us — as citizens and as parents — are willing to do what’s necessary to give every child a chance to succeed. That responsibility begins not in our classrooms, but in our homes and communities.

Parents are integral to aiding in the educational process—to creating an effective learning environment, to demonstrating the importance of education, and to promoting a rigorous approach to academics. They are the role models for their children, the ones that have the most opportunity to mold the character and success of the next generation. However, they are not in it alone; teachers are also responsible once a child enters school for his/her education. A good teacher can inspire a student’s curiosity and desire to learn, fostering a life-long relationship for that child to his/her intellect. By insuring that high expectations are maintained in the classroom, teachers can create an environment that constantly challenges students to push the limits of their understanding and to redefine what it means to do their best. In this sense, a teacher’s investment in their students is crucial to facilitating high performance and success in the classroom and in the future.

If we really want to create an effective education system, however, we need to create a partnership between teachers and parents. This doesn’t just mean progress reports and term grades; this means discussions about a student’s learning style, assuring that similar high expectations are being held at school and at home, and problem-solving difficult situations. Together, teachers and parents make an effective team—both want the student to find success, to excel in his/her education, and to develop a sense of confidence in his/her intellectual capabilities. Obama referred to the South Korean perception of teachers as “nation-builders;” that’s a perception that needs to be applied to the teacher-parent team.

In this emphasis on the “race” for education, there still needs to be a place for character. Education is not just about gleaning knowledge from books and lectures; it is about developing a sense of self through questioning ideas and pursuing answers. Teachers and parents need to model the importance of integrity, hard work, tolerance, and determination to the next generation. They need to help students understand their strengths and challenges, and how they can use the former to overcome the latter. Only then will we truly be able, as Obama entreats, to “stop expelling talented, responsible young people who could be…further enriching this nation.” To “out-educate” the world, America needs to partner its parents and teachers in pursuit of creating intellectual confidence and strong characters. If we can do that, we’ll be in good hands with the next generation.

Laura Michaels is a Spanish teacher and the media liaison at the Hyde School in Woodstock, CT. The Hyde Organization is a group of public and private schools that focus on leadership development through a character-based family education program.