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Blame Game: Who's Responsible for Failing Schools?

Updated on June 7, 2011

The finger-pointing over whose fault it is that schools are failing is getting us nowhere. Some say it's the parents' fault for not being as involved in their children's education, some say it's the teachers' fault for not being good at their jobs, and then the point is rendered moot by politicians cutting funding for schools and libraries so that everybody loses except greedy corporations. The question of who is at fault may fall to an individual basis, but in the end I think you'll find that the answer is truly that it's everybody's fault and nobody's fault.

Several factors contribute to any individual person's education, and nobody has the exact same experience for their whole academic lives. This emodies the typical nature versus nurture argument, after all - factors both inside and outside a person's control dictate how he or she lives. Individual students are just as responsible for their education as their teachers and parents, and all three groups are at the mercy of what elected officials decide to do. The better funded your district is, the more successful you are likely to become, but it is not acceptable if it's at the expense of vital necessities for poorer districts, programs, or families. The social wellbeing of a student is just as important as his or her physical health, as those often overlap and effect academic performance. You can only blame a person for his or her choices but not for being a product of his or her environment.

It takes a village to raise a child, as the saying goes. Today's media provides us with a global village that has different influences on everybody as we try to navigate a vast field of varying opinions that are often at odds with each other. With so many voices out there, it becomes difficult sometimes to decide for ourselves what is right and what is wrong. Unfortunately, there are instances in which students and sometimes teachers or parents have no choice in the matter, as school or political districts dictate what can and cannot be done in area schools. Depending on what district you find yourself in, one group may have more power over another, such as school districts that forbid parents from sending their kids to school with bag lunches or districts that are strict about what certain subject matters are covered and how. Strapped for cash, some districts cut funding for this or that program or have to make drastic changes to the faculty or rearrange the division of the schools themselves to save a little money (in some cases very little money for changes that are more inconvenient or nonsensical than they were previously). Some districts must choose between either keeping tenured teachers thus delaying the careers of college graduates or hiring newly-accredited teachers who have been trained in the latest methods of teaching while ushering tenured teachers into early retirement. In this situation, there are always going to be losers; however, old versus new should not be the issue. If the tenured teachers are good, keep them for as long as they want to be around; if not, hire new ones who seem like they have a promising career ahead of them. Making this kind of judgment can be difficult, but that doesn't seem to have impeded the union-busting politicians out there who place confidence above the actual decisions they make.

There is also another explanation - that there is no explanation and no one to blame. Not everyone is capable of learning everything, and some lessons just don't stick no matter how hard you try to memorize it all. It's nothing to be ashamed of. Sometimes it isn't an issue of good versus bad but rather a match or mismatch of teaching and learning styles with a smattering of outside help be it from concerned caregivers or educational television. In some cases, material is forgotten after testing if it is never relevant or used again other than as a sign of what hard work and commitment can accomplish (high test scores). Life is not a video game or a quiz show; if it were, you would often hear a message to the tune of "Your princess is in another castle" or "The cake is a lie." Unless a princess or a cake is a metaphor for your life goals that aren't being realized because of hard times or a broken academic system, life is whatever you can make of it at any given point in time. If anything, improv comedy is the best metaphor for life - a crapshoot.

In short, there is no need for education to get bogged down in politics - or rather, no need for politics to mire education. If the system is truly broken, then it is likely that it has been that way for a long time and no type of action brought down from an action committee on the Hill or local school board is going to fix it overnight. In all probability, any so-called solution that politicians try to implement will only make matters worse. Listen to the students who know what they need; listen to the teachers and librarians who know what can be accomplished; listen to the parents who know what their limits are. Do not listen to snarky news anchors and out-of-touch politicians who comment on every little issue and believe they are always right about everything no matter what.


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