Education is in crisis in Australia today. The international ranking of our educational outcomes has been on the decline for decades. Our teachers seem to be more dissatisfied with their profession than they have ever been. And all this increasing educational dysfunction has come to be despite huge increases in expenditure on education.
No doubt the curriculum can be fairly blamed for some of this dysfunction. The pervasive influence of the left from our teachers’ unions and the universities that now are charged with the vocational education of our teachers has seen the focus on the basic skills of reading, writing and basic mathematics jettisoned to inculcate our children’s minds with a hatred of the Western tradition and a penchant for political correctness and the pursuit of the “woke” agenda. Among other things they have sought to idealise indigenous culture and popularised the discredited fantasies of Bruce Pascoe as the true history of indigenous people.
But leaving the curriculum aside for the time being (or if you want to learn more about the shortcomings of the curriculum I would recommend you read the work of Dr Kevin Donnelly, Senior Fellow at the Catholic University) there are other major shortcomings in the education process that are worth exploring. In this essay I want to examine the roles of both parents and teachers in the education process.
It is a rather simplistic notion to believe that a child’s education is exclusively provided by educational institutions. Now, I completed High School and went on to gain two university degrees, but I have always maintained that most of what I have learnt that is important to me, I learnt outside formal education processes. So let’s not discount experiential learning and the self-directed learning of those motivated to learn.
Neither my father nor my mother went to high school, yet they were both supportive of me and my siblings accessing whatever education we could.
People today seem to shy away from testing students avowing that it is too traumatic. When in primary school every Friday we had a test that interrogated our spelling, mathematics, comprehension and such. Every Friday afternoon when I was in primary school and I walked home from school, my mother would enquire, “How did you do in your test?”
My father read a lot. He was very competent at many things. He used to repair clocks. (That was in a day when clocks were worth repairing and not thrown away when they failed to keep the time to be replaced by another mass produced Chinese, plastic artifice worth ten dollars or so.) He was for a time a councillor on the local town council. I remember him buying a text book on hydraulics so he could argue a particular point with the council’s engineer. I recall him advising my three brothers and I to do a trade and suggesting that if we did we would have a “job for life”.
Thus it was that although my parents had little formal education themselves, they valued education and encouraged their children to make the most of their educational opportunities. So I don’t think it is the least controversial to posit that the attitudes of parents have an impact on a child’s engagement with education.
Most of us looking over our experiences of schooling can also point to key teachers who inspired us. I had a few who could make their subject matter engaging so that learning was enjoyable. I even had a couple of teachers who were not particularly pleasant people but had great expertise in their subjects that despite my personal dislike of them could engage me intellectually and stretch my eager mind. On the other hand I had some abysmal teachers. One, whom I remember, was a recent graduate from teacher’s training college and was given the difficult task of teaching senior physics. He was so inept that he would often give me the task of explaining to the class some of the more difficult precepts. Luckily I had a love of science and had read extensively about the history of science and was reasonably au fait with most of the physics syllabus.
So again it is not the least controversial to suggest the quality of our children’s education reflects the competence of our teachers.
Thus my thesis is that both parents and teachers are major contributors to the process of education of our children. In this regard it might be useful to take pause and deliberate on what our expectations should be of both parties.
Let us begin with the role of the parents who have the opportunity of guiding children through their most formative years.
Hopefully, like my own parents, they will pass on an understanding of the value of education. A good education obviously opens up a wider scope of vocational opportunities for the child, But beyond work, learning has its own rewards -stimulating our intellect, opening the door to the Arts, helping us to understand our world and our history and know who we are as human beings.
All my three children (even my autistic son) could read when they started school. They had basic number skills and so on. Now while this is no doubt useful other things are more important in preparing a child for school.
I suppose it should go without saying that the parents’ first responsibility is to ensure the child regularly attends school. (Unfortunately there are many dysfunctional families where this is not the case.) And when they do attend school, besides ensuring the child has the books, the bags, the uniform and whatever, that they attend school properly fed and rested. While that might seem obvious it is appalling that many children are not so supported by their parents.
Beyond this the two predominant issues seem to me to be:
- Child behaviour
- Respect for authority figures
Now one of the requirements of a school is to provide an environment that is conducive to learning. At first glance you might think that this is primarily the school’s responsibility; but in many respects a large part of this is related to the capability of parents to inculcate appropriate behavioural habits in their children.
Surely parents must prepare their children to sit still and listen when they go to school. If the parents don’t require this of their children at home, it is most unlikely they will do so at school. If they don’t require their children to show appropriate respect to their parents there is little likelihood they will show respect to other authority figures. When children start school, the authority figures they will need to engage with next (after their parents), will of course be their teachers.
It is appalling that so many children enter school without the ability (and perhaps the parental expectation) to behave in this way. Mind you the problem is exacerbated by teachers who don’t have the skills to engage the children. Symptomatic of the problem is the number of children, particularly boys, being diagnosed with ADHD. One can’t help believe that these behavioural problems are more a function of poor parenting than psychological or neurological malfunction. Of course such a diagnosis often then provides a convenient excuse for the parents not to try to teach the child more appropriate behaviours.
Many parents have not come to realise that education is a compact between the child, the teacher and the parents. Teachers that I know stress the value of parental support. It is not surprising that many of the countries performing well in the education stakes are countries where the family is very important and parental expectations of children are high. I am not suggesting that we emulate all the cultural characteristics of such countries, but I am sure the education of our children would benefit from more parental support in the teaching process.
And of course when it comes to the time when schools hold parent/ teacher nights, inevitably the parents that turn up are not the ones that have problem children. Those that do turn up are generally good parents wanting to work on strategies to have their children do even better!
Let me then summarise the parental obligations in sending a child to school:
- Parents need to ensure the child’s regular attendance at school.
- The child needs to be taught appropriate behaviour so that they are capable of sitting and paying attention and not incur on the right of other children to learn. As well they should be expected to show respect towards their teachers.
- Parents need to support the initiatives of the school to implement appropriate behavioural management strategies.
- The child needs to come to the classroom appropriately attired and with required equipment. But perhaps more importantly, they should be fed and rested.
- Parents need to ensure that the child appreciates the benefit of learning and its lifelong impact.
It is easy to blame all our educational ills on inappropriate teacher training, inadequate curricula and poor school management, but as parents we must acknowledge we have a role to play as well. The biggest concern here is behaviour management. It is unfair of us to throw the burden of remediating our children’s behaviour on teaching staff.
But we can’t on the other hand lay all the blame for poor educational outcomes on poor parenting. Our schools and our teachers have got to be better as well.
Unfortunately, teaching is not an overly respected profession in Australia which is a shame because teaching is hugely important to the well-being of our society. It might not be so much the case today but in my youth many young people went into teaching because they couldn’t get into the university courses that they aspired to. We want people to become teachers not as a second choice but because they are dedicated to the noble cause of teaching!
In overseas countries where educational outcomes are superior to those in Australia, teachers are often revered. Consequently teaching is a sought after profession.
It is important for the educational outcomes of our children that our teachers are dedicated to their profession and have a genuine desire to help children learn and mature towards being competent adults.
Good teachers certainly need to be experts in the subject matter they have to teach. But this is not nearly enough. They need to be competent at transferring such knowledge to their students. This became apparent to me, particularly at University. I was often lectured by undoubted experts in their field but who had little teaching skills at all. That was very frustrating.
But aside from agreeing what we would like from our teachers there are also some things that we don’t want from them. There is growing concern, particularly from more conservative parents, that many teachers are indoctrinating our children into left wing ideals and “woke” politics This is of course another example of the inexorable extension of the left’s hold on our institutions
You would think from the activities of the left’s ideological warriors in our schools (and universities) that they somehow believe they “own” our children’s minds. We have seen recently teachers blatantly in support of the Voice referendum unashamedly trying to indoctrinate children in their classrooms to do likewise, After the Hamas incursion into Israel some teachers have been exhorting children in their classes to leave the classroom and demonstrate in support of Palestine.
In some classes teachers have been indoctrinating their students in “woke” gender theory and even worse they have been counselling the children not to tell their parents when promoting the notion that some of the students might be unknowingly transgender and might want to assume a different name or pronouns.
Such tactics have been used in the past to embed hateful ideologies into the minds of children. Capturing the young was the strategy of the Hitler Youth Camps and Mao’s Cultural Revolution.
Surely in a liberal democracy parents should have the right to guide the upbringing of their children including the belief systems they are willing to expose them to. By and large it is generally accepted that parents determine what religious instruction a child is exposed to so surely it seems logical that they get to choose what ideological influences they might be subjected to.
In general the classroom needs to be a place where children are exposed to ideas and that is fine. But I think most parents would want teachers to play the role of educators in this regard and not advocates.
Overall we want schools to be open about what they teach and nothing should be hidden from parents.
So in summary it is obvious that our education system would produce better outcomes if parents, teachers and schools acted more collegially.
Parents need to take responsibility in preparing their children for school including having their children meet behavioural expectations. They need also to inculcate in their children a respect for teachers.
Teachers on the other hand should be given more respect. But they need to earn that respect by being role models in children’s formative years, having real expertise in their subject matter and be competent in the management of young people. If they could achieve these ends I’m sure parents at large would be happy to see them paid more. But again, unlike the Teachers Unions we want them to be rewarded for their competence and not their time served.
Beyond this we want our schools to be real places of learning and not places for ideological indoctrination. We want schools to honour the rights of parents to guide the upbringing of their children. Moreover we want the educational processes of a school and particularly its curriculum, to be transparent to the parents and to reflect the traditional values of our society.