The degree to which we value education determines teacher quality and the emphasis students place on academic achievement. We talk of the importance of education, but we shortchange it in numerous ways. Our teachers are often overworked, underpaid, and poorly equipped. We reduce school budgets and demand they teach classes and subjects for which they have no training. Teaching is not recognized as the profession it is, either in respect or compensation. Reports of a teacher quality problem are a reflection of how we value teachers and how we value education. We blame teachers for poor student performance even as we distract students from their studies and give them incentives to focus on other activities.
Parents and schools encourage students to participate in competitive sports with demanding schedules that leave little time for homework. Support and accolades for sports far exceed those for academic achievement. For communities, sports events are social events that often produce revenue; for working parents they replace day care. Communities may finance elaborate sports facilities, yet balk at increasing teacher salary and training. Local newspapers print lengthy articles and pictures of sports events in each edition, whereas academic accomplishment warrants only an occasional brief note.
Parents condone the use of the latest electronic devices, which may serve as learning tools, but too often are used for video games and social activities. The devices are not merely distracting. According to Lathrop and Foss in A Wake-Up Call, uncontrolled use of devices facilitates plagiarism and cheating, and too much time connected has been associated with OCD, ADHD, and symptoms similar to those of drug and alcohol addiction.
These distractions easily become a priority for students if parents and communities do not impose constraints and do not challenge poor student performance. Immigrants, who cherish education as an opportunity not available in their country, often outperform native students. Children in charter and private schools often perform better than those in public school, in part because their parents place higher value on education. Parents and communities establish the priorities, whether knowingly or by default. Compromising education compromises everyone’s future. If education is important, shouldn’t we rethink our values?