A Successful School is Third in Education – NOT FIRST

I once watched an episode of a popular daytime talk show.  This particular episode featured two young black male school administrators.  They were being applauded for their efforts and successes in operating an inner city school.

At their school, the school provides all students with school supplies, uniforms, and meals.  They stated “We don’t want parents to be concerned with these things. All we want them to do is bring their children to school and we will handle the rest.”

 While those sentiments are well intentioned and may sound good to most, it did not sit well with me. If a parent is not concerned with school supplies, clothing and feeding their children —— what is it exactly that a parent should be concerned about?

Parents should be more than concerned about these things; they should be expected to provide them. After all, raising children is the ultimate responsibility. If a community and society is to operate at its highest and healthiest capacity, parents must be able to function in their roles—as primary providers and educators.

 Parents are a child’s first teacher. The household is a child’s first school.  Therefore, parents should be first in education. The extended family and community backs up the parents and should be second. The school reinforces the teachings of the parents and community; and thus should be third.

Take a look at our local school system.  A 2017 study reflected that more than half of students that graduate from Shelby County schools require remedial courses in college. Some schools had more than 90 percent of their students in need of remedial courses before beginning college.

Some attack the school system as inadequate.  The school system fires back citing underfunding and the reality that they serve a lot of students facing multiple “adverse childhood experiences (ACE).  I point to the school system as well, but not for the same reasons as most.

The purpose of schools is to educate and teach.  Yes, the school has a responsibility. But, the student has a responsibility too. We don’t spend a lot of time talking about the responsibility of the student.

The job of a student is to come to school prepared to learn. Parents are supposed to work to make sure they deliver a child to the school that is ready and able to learn.

The 2019 Memphis Poverty Fact Sheet ( a study conducted by the University of Memphis)  reported  a 44 percent child poverty rate for Memphis. Child poverty rates in Memphis have been an ongoing challenge even before the recent studies. As a result, the Shelby County Schools system has evolved to provide several “in- school services” to meet the needs of those students.

In addition to meals, modern day schools are also equipped with counselors and nurses. Commissioned police officers provide security. Teachers provide school supplies and clothing. I have even seen some schools take up donations from the community to supply female students with feminine hygiene items. I support having some hygiene products on hand for when a student is in need “ here and there” – but to have a full supply on demand for the multitude – no.

Nutrition, mental and emotional wellbeing, discipline, morals/values, school supplies and personal hygiene items are parental responsibilities. For goodness sakes, schools are providing internet and computers—for use at home.  Will there be anything left for parents to contribute?

I am not at all ignorant to the fact that some parents have totally abdicated their responsibilities as providers.  All I am saying is that when a parent disregards their responsibilities, those tasks should NOT fall to the school system.

In those instances we need to explore how we can structure a coordinated response from places of worship and community based organizations.

It is my opinion that no matter how much money taxpayers “invest” in the school system; as long as the school system allows society to place demands and responsibilities on them—expectations that are not their responsibility—the system will continue to deliver results that are not favorable.

You can build wings, add them to a car and call it an airplane. It still will not fly. Cars are meant to be driven on the road and are designed accordingly.  Airplanes are meant to be flown in the sky and are built for flying.

Schools are meant to educate and build upon the efforts of parents. Schools are not supposed to build up children from scratch—which is what they are being asked to do today.

To drive the point home, I will leave you with a story.

I know a teacher (Hey Valarie J.) who once told me a story from her childhood. When she was about seven, her father randomly asked her the question, “what was half an odd number (a particular odd number)?   She thought about it and said she didn’t know. She knew how to divide even numbers but not odd numbers.  This interaction took place during the summer.   What followed this interaction is what has stayed with me.  She said that after that, every day before her father went to work, he made her complete math worksheets.  She said she hated getting up in the morning working on math, but he made her do it every day that summer.

Notice he didn’t blame the school. He didn’t call the teacher and complain that she wasn’t teaching the children adequately. He understood his role as primary educator and made sure that Valarie learned what he thought was important for her to know.

Parents: If you identify a gap or shortcoming in your child’s education – look first to see what you can do to fill it. You may enlist the school for assistance- but you need to be the driver of the change.

Schools:  Return to the basics.  Focus on providing the best reading, writing, math and well-rounded curriculum possible. Stop asking teachers to be therapists, nurtures and tutors in addition to the lesson plans they have to prepare. It is not your responsibility to ensure a child has school supplies, clothes and behavioral therapy.  Don’t be afraid to push back.  Parents are supposed to support the schools. Schools are NOT supposed to support the parents. -EM

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