Blame and the Future of Education

teacher1I got lots of comments on my last post on the crisis in our schools. I was encouraged by the commitment and passion of so many people out there, those who are in the trenches as teachers and administrators in our schools. I sensed their own frustrations about what gets in the way of building better schools but a real determination to tackle the challenges.

One reader asked a question I have been pondering. While I didn’t like the statement behind the question, it was a fair question: Well, who are you blaming for the problems in our schools? At first I was surprised that I needed to try to blame anyone. On further thought, I realized this was a question prompted by anyone who is current on so many issues in our society. We need someone to blame, and for me to proclaim myself would give this reader a handle on where I really stood. Blame the teachers? Oh, OK, now I know where you are coming from. Blame the unions? Now the issue is intensely political. Blame the government, culture, failure in the home, racial attitudes — find your blame and perhaps we can get on with the conversation.

But really, would we set ourselves further down the road if we agreed on whom to blame? Doesn’t the blaming game just heighten the impasse and polarization? That was one of my big points in the earlier post — we’ve got to get beyond exactly this impasse. Leaders have got to figure this out. Clear out the distractions that focus on things other than children learning and developing and growing.

So, what if our first strategy was not trying to find out who to blame but who to praise? I know this is a bit naïve because certainly we must know what is not working. But what if we looked at the nation’s schools to find out what is working. What if we lifted up aggressively the successes — the things and values and strategies and philosophies and people — that work. That’s what every good leader does, shines the light on those who make it work, and that’s what leaders in our communities and our nation must do right now.

If the culture of blame defines our energy and focus and strategies, we will find ourselves trapped in this continuing paralysis. And the children will be left out. And our nation will indeed slip more deeply as a nation at risk.


Categories: Culture, Education

8 replies

  1. Dr. Eaton-

    Thank you for your call to action in this posting. I agree, and hope my previous comments did not come across in “blame game” fashion. Everyone has a part to play, our educational leaders assuredly. My intent was to highlight what should be a part of this plan – addressing education in the home and with the family.

    You have hit the nail directly on the head – positive affirmation. Very little is accomplished by simply pointing out where the problems lie and placing responsibility at the feet of others. Let’s find those champions, those that are blazing the trail towards reform with success, and learn from them.

    I have my own ideas for incentivizing stronger parental emphasis on early childhood education and development, some of which may be more controversial, but I have seen have a very positive impact. Whatever a persons perspectives on the action needed, this is an issue that no one should be laying down on.

    I appreciate and respect your stance on advocacy concerning this issue. I’ve only been reading your blog for a few months but I always find your words to be well thought out, reasoned, and from the heart. Thank you for your time.

    -Jae Webb

  2. I grew up in the home of a humble, servant-leader — my father. In the mid-80s, he retired early as an elementary school principal (for 33 years). His comments during that time can be roughly summarized that he had lost the ability to discipline, and he had lost the parents as allies. Parents had come to blame the school for the behavior problems they acted out in school in terms of disruption in class, vandalism, crime, etc. He retired as he felt his hands were tied and his support from the home was gone.

    We made the choice before becoming parents that we would home school, and we do. I stand with those that assert that public schools destroy Christian kids. There is no case that a child can be a missionary.

    I have no regrets. It has been a challenge, but the rewards are immense. Our test scores on standardized tests score well above grade level — 3-6 grades above in some areas. And the moral fiber of the child is not being compromised by a public school system bent on indoctrinating children in a view very contrary to Christian morals and values.

    Parents, not humanistic education systems, should be socializing and indoctrinating their children with solid values, solid knowledge and solid bonds. This cannot be accomplished in today’s pubic schools.

    We look forward to shining light that will come from the character and discipline that is very apparent in the teen years now. As this light moves into the world, with understanding, compassion and a full awareness of the darkness that it will dispel, we are confident that the effect on this world will be much greater because of the solid base instilled through home schooling.

    We are personally lifted, as well, by those ahead of us, whose children have been home schooled and are now adults — some of whom have families now and are continuing their role in home schooling with their own children — who are pillars of their world. There is no mistaking the contrast to their peers, who, while raised in Christian homes, have turned from God in their teens and early adulthood.

    Institutionalized learning has the innate tendency to be used by whoever has the most power over the function and substance of it. Christians have not taken stands to maintain solid bases on the public education institution, and likely cannot wrest it away from the powers that control it now.

    My ongoing prayer as that more Christian parents will take responsibility for their children’s upbringing, and be the big influence on them through home schooling. This allows them to fully imprint their beliefs, their values, their morals, their world view and their Godly view of history and its effect on present to those they are preparing for life.

    It is a mission God calls us all to.

    Class of ’90

  3. Whenever we turn a human being into a victim, we destroy them. Mentally, physically and spiritually.

  4. Dear Dr Eaton,

    Thank you so much for your well stated, hopeful assessement of what can be done to effect positive change in the public schools.
    I have the unique position of not only having been a public educator in a number of school districts in the greater Seattle area but a change agent. Over the 15 + years I worked in the education system my primary responsibility was to find new, creative & effective ways to help those K-12 pupils that would normally cause problems &/or drop out. I had to priviledge of seeing hundreds of children become productive students & parents & families transformed….in the public schools.
    I found that my colleages were individuals who worked hard to see that their students succeeded. Sometimes in some very difficult circumstances.
    For the last 15 years I have lived, taught & served as a missionary in Europe (Poland). During that time I have come to appreciate what a great system of grace & hope we have in the US. A place where all children have to opportunity to graduate with a diploma. Where regardless of age, background or past mistakes one can always return to school, college, university & get a meaningful degree. The US system provides an environment (though there will always be things that need to be improved) for children of all abilities to reach their potential. And where administrators, teachers, parents, & unions are generally pushing for a better education environment.
    I am grateful for the education I received in the public schools & SPU & the experiences that have given me a wider perspective.
    With that I am reminded that times will continue to change & the deteriation of the human condition worsens but we can impact this culture.

  5. Dr. Eaton,
    It is an exciting time that as a society we have begun to ask real questions about how we can enable all students to achieve academically and in the process open life’s doors for students irregardless of their background. My pastor made a statement in his sermon last week that has stuck with me, “Poverty is not a lack of wealth, but an inability to change one’s situation.” Simply stated poverty is powerlessness. That is what makes this dialogue so important. Eduation is the door to opportunity.

    The challenge I wrestle with in the current national dialogue is as you described a tendancy to focus blame, while some of it is justified, without solutions. Additionally, the criticisms generally fail to ask those in the trenches what is needed to make change. Most of the dialogue is based in a bias that accomplished people in other professions are better equipped to solve the problem of students not learning. Ironically, these exchanges are occuring without acknowledging the transformation that is presently occuring within education. Teachers are being expected to know the individual needs of their students. Principals are expected to change their school’s systems to ensure teachers have the skills and resources necessary to meet all students’ needs. Critical analysis in Washington State assessment scores over the past 10 years reflect a positive trend upward. Simply, the expectation that schools use data to identify individual student need and research based strategies to meet these needs is causing dramatic changes in both approach and results.

    The focus of the conversation upon shining lights aligns with this approach and will lead to dialogue based in mutual respect that will enable the healthy exchange of ideas rather than pointless criticism.

    Thank you for fostering this conversation from such a healthy starting point.

    Andrew Cain

  6. @K.J.S.

    I’d like to compliment you on your call to action.

    You didn’t blame anyone, no pointing fingers, you took up responsibility for yourself and your child.

    You’re setting an excellent model for the rest of the world to follow and I hope you continue to share your experience.

  7. The youth is considered to be the hope of our nation,so if our education fails to educate the youth of today,our nation will have no tomorrow.

  8. The tendency to assign blame and motives to others is a daily challenge in my work as a public school administrator. This year we added to our list of staff operating norms that we would focus on things within our control. We cannot control parents, legislature, funding gaps, etc. But for 180 days, 6 hours a day we can strive to provide the BEST darn education we can for our kids with the resources we have at hand, and we can be sure that kids are cared for, fed and safe while we are at it. Thanks for helping clarify that blame gets us nowhere.

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