January 20, 1996 in City

Parents, Teachers Must Cooperate

Mona Charen Creators Syndicate
 

Here’s another entry for Bill Bennett’s Index of Leading Cultural Indicators: The 26th annual survey of high-achieving teenagers - those listed in Who’s Who Among American High School Students - reveals that cheating is common in their schools, whereas studying hard is not.

These kids are not members of minority groups, nor are they disadvantaged - arguably, they are too advantaged. The vast majority are suburban, white kids who attend public schools, reports The Washington Times. Eighty-nine percent said cheating is common at their schools, and 76 percent admit to cheating on tests themselves.

If this is true of the highest achieving high school students, what does this tell us about the average kid?

There’s more bad news in this survey. The kids paint a picture of home life that is, if not quite Sodom and Gomorrah, certainly a very, very long way from “Father Knows Best.” Three out of five teenagers who said they had sex did so at home when their parents were away. And one out of three said their parents were aware that they had “guests” at home in their parents’ absence. One out of five said they drink at the homes of friends with their parents’ knowledge.

In other words, parents are willfully looking the other way as their children cheat on tests, have sex in their bedrooms and drink. Only 13 percent of these high-achieving high school students said his or her parents were “very strict.”

The lenience they are familiar with at home extends to the classroom as well. “Too many teachers are afraid to call kids on cheating because they’re afraid they’ll be sued,” Paul Krause, publisher of Who’s Who, told The Washington Times.

Apparently, they’re also afraid of demanding serious work from their charges. Fifty-four percent of those surveyed said they spend seven hours a week or less studying. Contrast that with reports from the A.C. Nielsen company, showing that the average teen spends 21 hours a week watching television.

As much as I blame teachers unions and school bureaucrats for dumbing down the curriculum in the past 30 to 40 years, it is clear that they would not have been able to get away with this theft from the young without the tacit collaboration of parents.

When teachers are afraid to punish cheaters for fear of being sued by irate parents, the tacit compact between adults in the community - the agreement to socialize the young together - has broken down. The image of American schools that emerges from this survey is of warehouses for understimulated and underchallenged kids, kids who are not learning right from wrong but are probably internalizing all the wrong lessons about their “rights.”

A few years ago, The Washington Post ran a story about my neighborhood school system in Fairfax County, Va. Teachers are forced to endure ugly profanity from their students on a regular basis, the story said, because parents decline to support the teachers when complaints are raised. The kids in Fairfax County schools are from all over the globe and represent many races and religions, but it is fair to say that a majority are white and upper middle class. Fairfax, with its huge complement of federal workers as well as lawyers, consultants and lobbyists feeding off nearby Washington, D.C., is one of the wealthier counties in the nation.

Are we raising a generation of spoiled brats? Would you want your children to attend a school where some kids get away with using the f-word to their teachers?

Parents seem all too eager to turn over the job of civilizing their children to the schools. But unless there is true cooperation between parents and teachers - unless teachers know that they will be supported by parents if they must discipline a child - the job of inculcating basic values like honesty cannot go forward.

Still, the news from the Who’s Who survey is not all bad. Asked to name the things that are “out” among high schoolers, the respondents listed “O.J. Simpson, cocaine, and Bill and Hillary.” OK, they also listed “Newt,” but that just lends more credence to the idea that they’ve been neglecting their studies.

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