Tell me if you've heard this argument: the principal or administrator says social skills/character/values education shouldn't be part of school curriculum because it shoul be taught in the home. "It's not the school's place." Okay...then what about...
- In this country, we have a policy that children will be taught in the English language. But, what if they can't speak English because their parents are from another culture or country? School: " Well, we HAVE to teach them English because without it, they'll be behind academically and socially. Besides, if we don't teach them, where else will they learn it?"
- Too many children are overweight and unfit -- because of poor diet, lack of exercise, other unhealthy habits and behaviors. Teaching them about nutrition and the value of healthy living should be the parents' jobs, right? School: "But so much of their learning and being a successful student depends on making good food choices, watching their weight, and getting appropriate levels of exercise. If the parents don't practice good nutrition, where else will they learn it?"
- Food programs -- why is it the schools' responsibility to offer meals at free and reduced costs to kids? Isn't it the parent's job to make sure their children are fed? School: "Well, if the parents are unable to feed their kids, we have to provide meals because so much of the child's abilities to pay attention and function in school is hampered if they haven't eaten. If parent's don't provide for their kids, where else will they get it?"
These are just a few examples of other "non-academic" programs that are offered daily in our nation's schools, yet technically should not be the responsibility of the school system. Yet, we do it...because, in essence we MUST. The health and success of the child academically, phyically, socially DEPENDS on it.
Yet I get this "it's not the school's job" argument regularly about social skills and character ed. Hey, I am the FIRST person who would agree that it SHOULDN'T have to fall on the school's shoulders to teach these "life skills" but the reality is that the schools suffer in all areas because kids lack appropriate school-readiness skills.
Social skills are the #1 factor in our children's personal and professional success. Kids that come into school without adequate school-readiness skills start off behind their more socialized peers academically,socially, and emotionally. Without effective intervention or education, they are likely to remain behind, and will exit the school system inadquately prepared for either college or the job market.
More significantly, poor social skills affects not just one individual learner or subject, but every aspect of the student's learning and the educational environment as a whole. A student isn't more likely to fail academically just because he or she is overweight. A teacher isn't likely to quit her job if a few of her students aren't proficient in English. A student won't start a smackdown with his peers if he doesn't know the components of the FDA Food Pyramid. But, all these things are direct or indirect results of appropriate social skills.
Schools have so much to lose (and ARE losing) if this area isn't addressed. Taxpayer dollars are wasted, teachers are demoralized, school violence continues to be at epidemic levels, students underachieve and the achievement gap for low-income and minority students remains high. Yes, teaching social skills and character HAS become the school's job because we can no longer depend on students coming to school ready to learn and participate in a classroom environment. As one teacher recently said, "with all the interruptions and disruptions in the classroom that stem from students who aren't respectful of teachers and peers, don't appreciate their educational opportunities and can't get along with others, when is the real teaching supposed to happen?"
School's necessary response: "If the kids don't learn good social skills outside of school, where else will they learn?"