“The healthiest competition occurs when average people win by putting in above-average effort.” – Colin Powell
What motivates a child to succeed? That is the central question that should be asked on matters of education. Since at least the inception of the Department of Education in 1980, the emphasis on education is always placed on socializing the components that go into the quality of instruction. Whether it’s the instructor, the classroom size, demographic makeup, funds allocated, resources available, etc.; government tends to focus on those things that are tangible and within its purview. But when all funds have been exhausted and we find that our education system fails to keep pace with the rest of the world, our only solution is to look for ways to throw more money at the problem.
It comes as no surprise that the lagging trajectory in the educational performance of American students follows a misallocation of motivators. Motivation most often comes from outside the walls of the school, and that is one area that is not historically within the scope of government responsibility. Of late, the government has been overrun with activists who have attempted to fold the greater culture into academia, and as a result, we’ve begun to impart activist ideology that not only doesn’t motivate students, it disincentivizes excellence and de-motivates them.
Adopting ideology like Critical Theory that tells children that they are inherently inferior because of their race or sex is child abuse, and the abusers should be called out for what they are doing. On one end of the spectrum, you’re tearing down children for inherent traits that they get no say in and creating self-imposed ceilings in the name of equality. On the other end of the spectrum, you’re tearing down children by telling them that their peers are the reason that life will throw adversity at them, and creating those same self-imposed ceilings.
Trade race for gender, and we can see the effects of decades of throwing boys under the proverbial bus in the name of gender equality. They’re lagging in nearly every facet of society behind their female counterparts. Activists are aware of this and the successful playbook that they have utilized to tear down the patriarchy is being deployed in the name of tearing down white supremacy. These of course are boogeymen of their own creation.
Outside the walls of the schools, the world is telling students that the stressors of academics are unhealthy and the important thing is that they’re comfortable. It’s telling them that their performance is a result of the circumstances surrounding them and not a result of the effort that they put in themselves. It’s also teaching them that their reaction should be to look outward for impediments to their own success and laying blame, instead of looking for alternate avenues around those impediments.
It has been shown that the most determinant factor in a child’s educational performance is parental involvement, and those instances where parents are most engaged produce the best educational outcomes. Unfortunately, this is one area that is not specifically within a government’s purview. Government policy often promotes or discourages the nuclear family, but even the presence of a two-parent household does not guarantee parental educational involvement. Despite a school’s best effort, there is only so much home involvement that an educator has influence over. This was certainly the case in my own educational path.
I grew up in the 1980s, which was the decade of divorce. I was no exception to the rule, and my parents divorced somewhere around the time that I started school. A quick review of my school pictures and academic performance, and it’s clear that there is a definitive correlation between home life and academic performance. Around the time of my parent’s divorce, I began wearing oversized plain white t-shirts and sweatpants to school and didn’t bother combing my hair. (Sorry for the school pictures, Mom.) In the second grade, I was placed in math tutoring after I stole another student’s homework and put my own name on it to avoid the scrutiny of not completing it. Then something changed.
Though there was no cognizant de-motivating moment in my school performance, there was a definitive change somewhere around the third grade that motivated me to do better. Around this time we began to compete in math competitions where the teacher would call out a problem and I would be pitted against my peers to see who could answer the quickest. Something from within motivated me to outperform my peers, and the rest is history. In most instances when my peers were recognized for academic performance, I set out to match or better them. I didn’t graduate at the top of my class, but I was never far behind.
Parental involvement will continue to be the greatest determining factor in educational performance. Not all kids will have access to the same resources, teachers, etc. Not all kids will have the same home life outside of the school’s confines. And not all kids will produce the same results, given the same inputs. There is no such thing as equality in educational outcomes. Just as some have athletic abilities that will open doors for them that remain closed to others, some will have intellectual abilities that will open doors as well.
Though the government attempts to equalize opportunities in education, the one place that they should not exert influence is outside the doors of its schools. In the absence of parents pushing students from behind, it is the school’s job to encourage peers to pull them up from ahead by fostering a healthy environment of competition.