I am one of eight children and I have 9 children of my own. Most of my children were homeschooled for some part of their lives. In my family, not all of us valued education the same way. For some, it was something you did to qualify for a sport. For others, it was a serious endeavor. For me, it was all about proving to myself that I was as capable as anyone else. My brothers and sisters were very talented people. I discovered early that my gift was that I learned quickly and remembered everything in detail. My thought was that if anyone earned an A in a class, I could earn an A.
My desire to perform in school was not always about academic excellence. It was the one thing that connected me to my dad. He loved education and felt strongly that an education was the only way to build a better future. He did not emphasis money or power. He taught us that, through education, we would better know who we are and what we could achieve. And, given opportunity, we would be in the best position to take advantage of any chosen course.
My background gave me some advantages with my own kids, but it was also a hinderance. I was very self conscience about my academic success. I did not want to push too hard. At the same time, I never considered myself to be an overachiever, but that is what I was. Harvard College came to my high school to ask me to apply, flew me to Cambridge, and hosted a wonderful trip. I was hindered because my parents never told me to do my homework. I wanted to do my homework. My parents didn’t have to wake me up for school in the morning. My father was a minister, and my mother cleaned apartment buildings. They earned $18,000 between the two of them on a good year. When my dad died, my mom worked two jobs. There were times when I did not see her for weeks. We did our own laundry, made most of our own meals, and got ourselves to school and back. Needless to say, none of my children were like me. I had (have) to check homework, wake them up on time, and make sure they got off to school or start their home lessons. Inside I never understood why anyone needed to be told to learn. I had a total blind spot.
And that brings me to the dirty little secret. My kids taught me that kids get the education they want. Let me say that again. Kids get the education they want. All of the building remodeling, new textbooks, and new programs won’t change that. I have run with high achievers, and among that crowd, the quality of the teacher really did not matter that much. We realized early that teachers are a resource, but in the end, all learning is self learning. Teachers facilitate the self learning process. We understood that in life, we would get good bosses and bad bosses. Even bad teachers are part of an education. We knew there was always a way to get an A.
Don’t get me wrong. I had some great teachers from time to time who inspired me to learn more because they kept me interested and engaged. But, they were not the reason I worked so hard. I attended 13 different elementary schools all over the south and midwest before my dad died. I did well in all of them. It was my education and my responsibility.
I think we need to stop blaming teachers for poor performance. I had some horrible teachers and it did not effect my performance. My dad taught me that as long as I had my books, I could learn on my own. Teachers can enlighten. Teachers can inspire. Teachers can teach. But, in the end, a child will get the education they want.
The real obstacle to education reform is that we have forgotten how to make the child want an education. Interesting lessons will only work so much. Finding new ways to engage a child will always run dry with some children. Every teacher can tell you that the kid who inspires them is the kid that comes to class ready to learn. Teachers are inspired by children who own their education. A child will get the education they want. Now lets focus on ways to get them want it.
Paul K. Lott, Sr. is the CEO of osBLUE Corporation and creator of SchoolBoogy, an innovative learning management system that combines a world class learning management system with social media technology to get kids engaged in education and keep them engaged.