Lowest Common Denominator

May 21, 2008

My family enjoys talking and spending time together. Part of this is because we avoid cable and satellite TV. We avoid video game platforms. We eat together at an actual dinner table. Besides, my kids are 9 and 6 and have yet to enter the surly, grumpy world of the teen years.

A few nights ago, I was sitting and visiting with my daughter. She just received her standardized tests in the mail. These tests are given near the end of each school year. She was above average in many places, but her reading scores were rather impressive. According to the state education board, my 9 year old has the reading level expected of a college freshman. And if you are wondering…yes I am bragging – A LOT!

My six year old son took a different set of tests. This exams given to K-2nd grade show results based upon a comparison with the rest of the 5, 6, and 7 year olds in the state. His reading level placed him in the top 2% in reading and the top 4% overall. And if you are wondering…yes I am bragging – A LOT!

The conversation turned from discussing the kids’ results to their concern for the other kids in their grades. Some of the kids they know fell far below average. Many kids were barely tested as literate, let alone proficient.

During the same conversation, my daughter shared her concern that her teacher spent far less time with her than with the kids that do poor work on average. She felt that this was unfair. She was especially concerned as she was not certain what to do with her homework, as the teacher spent so much time with the other students, she was not taught how to do the problems on her worksheets.

I spent some 20 minutes with her and explained the problems. My style is to keep asking questions and leading her to the answers rather than giving them. The homework in question dealt with the lowest common denominator.

After finishing her homework, I decided to explain how the lowest common denominator was at work in her classroom. Teachers have only so much time and energy in any given day. They can often only teach the class as much as the most troubled student is capable of learning. And while the law of the land declares that all men are equal, in some ways that is a bold lie.

Some people are more intelligent than others on average. Some people may be brilliant scientists and yet fail socially. Everyone has strengths and weaknesses, but often the one in a group that has the least potential ultimately controls the pace of the group.

This is where parents can be the heroes. Why should we allow the sum of our children’s education come from the school alone? Our local teachers are wonderful, gifted, and dedicated educators. But they only have so much time in a school day. Sometimes, the slowest student controls the pace.

This is not to cry foul. The slower student may become a wonderfully competent student if the time is invested. Even if that student remains a slow learner, they should receive additional help so that they can push for whatever potential is within them.

Rather, this is to cry – “Parents, Get Off Your Backside!” I have my daughter more hours a week than her teacher. I can turn any outing, conversation, or activity toward further education. This goes for my son too. They are my responsibility before God.

Instead of parents or teachers, I propose a joint effort. Working closely with our kid’s teachers, we strive to complement their classroom activities and encourage them to self-educate and to learn reasoning skills. We have them for such a short time, we need to cherish them and educate them. Our ultimate goal is to unleash a fully functional adult on the world. This will not as likely happen if we wash our hands of our own flesh and blood and leave them solely in the hands of the schools.

I have heard it said that anyone can raise a child, but it takes parents to raise an adult. My challenge to myself and to anyone that crosses the electrons that make this blog appear on the net – Invest your time in your kids. Seeing them grow and learn and eventually take their place in this world is worth more than seeing the latest episode of American Idol. Your children are worth more than the “quality time” lie. Take some real time out of your schedule this week – and spend it laviously on your children.

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