“Don’t forget your lunch! No, not that one…that’s your sister’s. Did you get your history book off the couch? No—you can’t wear those shoes to school, they’re too small!”
When you’re whisking your kids off to the bus stop or the drop-off line early in the morning, it’s easy to forget what education is all about.
It can be the same for teachers, as they stand bleary-eyed at the classroom door counting heads as students file into the room.
In the hurry and routine, it’s easy for parents and teachers to lose sight of the end goal. You’re not just participating in a memorized routine. You’re building the foundation of that child’s potential and their future success as adults.
“We have a tendency to define things in the immediate [moment], [but you have to ask yourself] what do they need in 13 years? That’s pretty hard to predict,” says Jack Appleby, lifelong educator and author from Pennsylvania.
When you stop to think about the life-changing work you’re doing—whether you’re a mom, dad, or teacher—it can be sobering to remember that your work today directly shapes how prepared your student will be after their school days are over.
One increasingly problematic academic trend stands in the way of your child’s preparedness: studying too many “essentials.” Education is becoming, to borrow the old phrase, “a mile wide, but an inch deep.”
It’s impossible to teach your child how to face their future if they’re academically spread too thin.
The loss of focus
As American society has grown politically, culturally, and technologically, educators have found that they’re daily faced with the option to integrate new material into curricula. But this isn’t always best for students.
“Every time some new idea [comes] down the road, they want to implement it. But the issue is…when [they’d] implement something they’d never take anything away,” Jack Appleby shares.
And that’s a big problem. Because when teachers try to tackle too many ideas at once, the quality—and long-term purpose—of education is significantly diluted.
The schools’ desire to teach kids about many different things is a good one— that is, if the motive is to prepare students for the workforce and enable them to successfully compete in a global market.
“This is all resourceful thinking, but educators can’t keep stuffing new content into current curricula willy-nilly without thoughtful deliberation over what knowledge and skills to prioritize, how to organize them, and how legislatures, universities, and employers can validate them,” says EdWeek.
EdWeek continues, echoing Appleby’s comments, by stating “there seems to be little appetite for asking hard questions about what we need to let go of…”
Where’d the focus go?
As you’ve probably noticed over the last several decades, America’s schools are increasingly incorporating controversial ideologies into curricula. Political and societal issues surrounding race, gender, and economics are forcing their way into K-12 curricula with ferocity.
The classroom ought to be a place where children are equipped with skills and built up with shared values. But instead, the modern-day classroom has become a distorted, religious-like environment where questioning is often suppressed and debatable ideas are preached to young kids as fact.
The Heritage Foundation reports, “[In August of 2021] the U.S. Department of Education announced that officials are preparing to use taxpayer money for K-12 schools to advocate the idea that America is systemically racist, and anyone who thinks differently, children included, are part of the problem—whether students know it or not.”
Instead of instilling values in students, organizations like the Smithsonian’s National Museum of African American History and Culture would rather promote content that sends this message: “Students should not be taught to ‘work before play’ or ‘plan for the future’ because these ideas represent systems of power.” Because “‘white culture’ [is] oppressive, and… ideas such as ‘hard work’ and efforts to ‘be polite’ are evidence of systemic oppression.”
Can ideas like this be considered educational “essentials”—or even healthy—for our kids?
How can schools refocus?
Overstuffing curricula by grasping at all the shiny new (and often damaging) ideas is the result of the school system losing track of education’s purpose—which is “growing the individual,” as Appleby says.
If America wants positive, long-term change, schools have to focus on adding value to kids. Returning to that focus can be accomplished by building a child’s education on a fundamental foundation, historically known as “The Three R’s”. This is an idea that Appleby strongly recommends.
“If you teach a child to read, and to read well, they can overcome just about everything. Reading is a fundamental skill. You have to be able to absorb information, and reading is the way we do that in our society,” he advises.
In addition to reading and writing skills, students should be able to navigate math and modern technology—and use those tools to their advantage. The goal, according to Appleby, is to teach kids how to process everything that is going on around them.
“You have all this stuff forming around you. How do you think? How do you put it together? How do you discriminate between truth, what’s right, what’s wrong? It’s those kinds of things that have gotten lost, and the whole picture of education has become very cloudy.”
So, how do you prepare a student for life?
Parents and teachers should be asking themselves this question every day to stay focused on the present and aware of the future. This awareness will produce positive long-term outcomes in the lives of their children and students. True educational essentials will equip them with everything they need to learn and grow throughout their lives.
The goal is to “teach them how to think, how to look at things, how to evaluate, how to make decisions, how to go into an unknown and be able to put all the pieces together,” says Appleby.
Because at the end of the day, “It’s about relationships, it’s about connecting to your community, [and] helping kids find values.”
Click here to watch the entire click with Jack Appleby.
Visit the Noah Webster Educational Foundation for more resources on instruction, the role of faith and morality in education, and parental engagement.
If you want to have a more direct impact on your local school district’s policies, learn how to run for school board with our new online course Introduction to School Boards.