Concerns and possible responses to the growing dysfunction among public school students expressed by local, state and national education officials are all focused on how schools should respond, but little attention or even interest is being given to the role families and parents must play if there is to be any meaningful solution.
Since students have returned to the traditional in-classroom school environment following a year and a half (more in certain regions of the country) of the COVID-19 quarantine, teachers and administrators have noted an increase in school violence, drug use, other mental health issues and an historic rise in dropouts.
The proposed response of adding more mental health counselors and social workers are all predicated on the schools being the key solution source, which ignores the role of parenting and families. This, unintentionally in many cases, is another example of the hubris that educators display when it comes time to address social dysfunction.
During the COVID-19 pandemic students were quarantined in their homes or local communities, attempting with only a smattering of success to remain current in their course work as they attended their classes remotely. The students, their teachers, and definitely the student’s parents, were not prepared for this massive disruption.
Now that the students are back in school trying to re-assimilate, teachers and administrators have taken note of troubling trends regarding violence, drug abuse, and other mental health issues, and a rising number of students are dropping out in comparison to similar numbers from previous years.
The national trends are comparing numbers of incidents of bad behavior in the 2019-2020 school year and the following school year of 2020-21. Those numbers are skewed since the quarantine was instituted in most school systems starting in March 2020, reducing that school year to little more than half before schools were closed.
The records for the following school year, 2020-21, are equally erroneous since most school systems across the country were either fully remote with students and teachers connecting through computer connections or, as in North Carolina, were conducted in a hybrid version with only half of the students attending school on a rotational basis, with each group having two days per week attending in-person instruction and the remaining three days attending remotely.
Despite its flaws, the data is a benchmark for comparisons with the current trends and it gives rise to issues that heretofore have been mostly ignored.
Violence, drug abuse and dropouts are not new in the public school system. That has been a normal experience in most the nation’s consolidated metropolitan school systems where student populations are comparable to small colleges. In these schools of four to five thousand students the marginal or at-risk student can easily and quickly be lost in the maze of hallways and social issues that often leads to a variety of bad choices, including gang membership resulting in violence, drug abuse and eventually dropping out of the system altogether.
The 1955 movie, Blackboard Jungle, starring Glenn Ford, Vic Morrow and Sydney Poitier, detailed these very themes. Because the film involved the troubles of an inner-city school the conclusion has been that this is endemic in inner city schools only, where the social environment creates two classes of students- the achievers and the losers.
That false conclusion has, for years, ignored the fact that this dysfunctional environment is not demographically or geographically unique- it has existed in all school systems, but not with the clarity now being reported.
The pandemic resulted in a universal experience as school systems across the nation. Now that students have returned there is greater scrutiny of the result of the social and academic interruption.
Addressing the need to be proactive, N.C. Superintendent Catherine Truitt has identified a variety of efforts to address discipline and mental health issues, including the hiring of more mental health counselors and social workers. But this effort will only go so far considering that most students spend approximately 20% of their time, 35 hours out of 168 hours of the week, in school. The rest of their time is either sleeping, 33% based on eight hours per day, with the remainder of their ‘free’ waking time involved with family and friends.
It is that 47% of students’ ‘free’ time when they are not being observed by educators that has the greatest influence on behavior and motivation, which is the time that can be most influenced by parents and guardians.
There is no question that the pandemic had a massive negative impact in the lives of the nation’s youth as it did for the country writ large. But it is only one of the many disrupters that have been developing over the past 20 years. Psychologists are still trying to understand and articulate the influence of social media, which is also impacting the lives and minds of these students, starting as young as three years old.
A 2021 Youth Risk Behavior Survey, jointly produced by the N.C. Division of Public Instruction and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, reported that one in four students statewide had seriously contemplated suicide, up from 16% in 2015. That report also noted that only 49% of the students surveyed that year had a positive outlook on life as compared to 80% in 2011.
These statistics and the current challenges facing the education system, particularly teachers, are indicative of a greater challenge that must be addressed in the hours and activities outside the classroom, while these students are with family and friends.
The education community must remove itself as the center of the social, cultural and educational universe and resolve to involve parents and the family by bringing them closer to the program and not push them away as has been the case in recent years. Otherwise the education system will continue in its current downward spiral, resulting in more dropouts and behavioral problems.
The numbers published do not show only a smattering of success during the pandemic, it showed a modest decrease in proficiency, and a slight increase in the dropout rate. Therefore the vast majority of students managed quite well through the trials and tribulations of the pandemic, at least in Carteret County.
I totally agree parent guardian involvement is critical to success, It does seem likely that the current numbers of involved vs uninvolved parents is unlikely to change. While it is currently in vogue to insist on parents rights and badmouth teachers and schools, " hubris" for instance. If you look at hrs in any given day, and the typical teenager It is likely teachers spend far more time with students then parents do. Engaged parents have engaged children, parents who put education second to peace in the house or are otherwise occupied with their own issues have children who are adrift, those children,luckily have dedicated caring and involved teachers, and school staff to help a small percentage of them succeed.
A study of 22 major industrialized nations conducted by the Educational Testing Service found that only two countries were worse than the US regarding literacy proficiency in public education. The US was dead last in math.
There have been little horrors in school for as long as I can remember. The big difference is nowadays… the majority of illiteracy and zero math skills are not anyones fault…not the parents, not the local government…blame is cast outwards to folks like me that have nothing to do with anything. Somehow me and my type are responsible for the dismissal failures of inner city schools in places I’ve never even came close to.
First in line to take responsibility for poor behavior and grades lies with the “student.” The second is technology. Kids should not have cell phones until they reach the age of majority.
Nyet! first in line is the parent guardian, then the student, then the teachers. Saying kids should not have cell phones till they are 21 is simply unrealistic. Cell phones come with a whole host of problems, they are also amazing tools. When my boy was in middle school there were some issues with grades, sleep and such, various tactics were employed, with limited success. I printed up a picture of a cricket phone ( the old folks phone with giant numbers and limited function) and said " if in 2 weeks there is not a vast improvement in the things we talked about, you can expect I will be purchasing this phone for you ,and that will be it for at least a yr" That was VERY effective.
Welcome to the discussion.
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