For years, it has been established that a significant number of Idaho high school graduates dont go to college. Even those who do go immediately after high school, a large number drop out before completing a four-year degree program.
Myriad factors have been associated with the low numbers. But since 1997, I have addressed hundreds of teachers and school principals in Idaho and eastern Oregon. At each teacher in-service program or other conference, I ask them to identify the main challenges they face in educating our children.
Educators concur that poverty and lack of parental involvement present major challenges. Equally challenging are their students lack of motivation to learn, identity, social skills and values, respect for teachers/authority, and language barriers.
1. That poverty exists and is growing is indicated by increasing numbers of students receiving free and discounted meals in Idaho schools. Yet, compared with other countries, American students are far better off. The problem is that young people might equate poverty with lacking a better house or some material possession their classmates have. I contend that poverty is not the lack of material things but the lack of dreams. When young people have a dream to pursue, lack of material resources becomes secondary.
2. Lack of motivation to learn is made more complex by distractions such as video games, TV, iPods and texting when compounded with no clear value for education by students and their parents. This calls for adults, parents or not, to be role models for students who lack learning motivation. Establish mutual trust and then challenge the students to set life goals. There is no motivation when one has nothing to live up to.
3. I come from a culture with rituals such as naming and other activities that imbue a sense of belonging and identity in young people. But I have noticed that American students who are involved in youth programs and who have adults who believe in them, encourage them and challenge them, feel they belong and have positive sense of who they are.
4. There has been debate on whether to have dual languages in schools or not. As a speaker of several languages, I cannot overstate the value of my rich heritage. Yet, we are not preparing our youth to remain in our village.
There is a world out there that expects us to speak the language that will get things done. Visiting with J.W. Marriott Jr. last year, he said that 50 percent of his workers cant speak English, yet Marriott promotes employees to managerial positions from within. Those who cant speak English are not promoted.
5. Lack of social skills, values and respect for teachers and authority are largely a reflection of our society. We cant expect young people to make moral decisions while immersed in diluted social values and to make tough choices concerning alcohol and illegal drugs while adults who live with them are partakers. Young people will have great social skills, values and respect for adults if they interact with adults who serve as positive role models in these aspects.
Numerous student-oriented programs have been tried to motivate them to pursue academic goals, stay away from distractive habits and become contributors in their communities. However, there are no programs that help or involve parents in preparing their children for bright future.
Equipping parents with the tools they need to be positive role models for their children and be involved in their academic and social development is cheaper and more promising than trying policies that depend on the politics of the day.
Vincent Muli Kituku is a motivational speaker, author and consultant.