In a phone call, a former classroom teacher in Johnston wondered aloud whether our public schools face an impossible task. His point was, how can schools hope to help children perform at grade level when so many students have so many disadvantages?
The disadvantages are indeed many and often rooted in poverty. Some moms and dads cannot help their children learn because they are too busy putting roofs over their heads and food on their table. And after feeding and housing their kids, these parents don’t have the money to supplement what their children learn in the classroom. They cannot afford tutors, Internet access and other resources that affluent children enjoy.
Some parents, of course, had their own struggles in the classroom, so much so that the homework their older children bring home seems foreign to them.
And let’s not discount the harm a parent’s drug abuse can do to a child’s schooling. At best, drug-addled parents are indifferent to their kids’ education. At worst, they’re buying drugs with money they should be spending on their kids. Many Johnston children benefit from BackPack Buddies, the charitable program that sends food home with needy children on weekends. We’ve heard stories of children eating that food on the bus ride home on Fridays so their parents don’t take it and sell it.
An impossible task? Seemingly.
But nothing in our laws or expectations says the public schools only have to educate children from affluent, caring, educated families. The expectation, backed by this state’s constitution, is that the public schools will educate every child, because the cost of an uneducated population is too high.
This is not to say public schools should shoulder the responsibility alone. The community can and should help, a fact acknowledged recently by the Smithfield-Selma Chamber of Commerce in a statement calling on the business community to support local schools. And neither should we absolve parents of their responsibility to help their children.
But the schools cannot concede defeat – and we don’t believe they will – even in the face of seemingly overwhelming odds. Taxpayers – and society – rightly expect results, and more important, children deserve them.