News from the Tennessee Valley Opinion
SUNDAY, MARCH 20, 2005


School must be about more than learning the alphabet

Old-timers usually tire younger people with tales from the past because they tend to embellish history.

They are not, however, imagining the old-time discipline in public schools. Good or bad, those in-school whippings were real and so were those that students received at home because the principal gave them licks at school.

Discipline continues to be an issue in schools, and many parents automatically take the side of their children in misbehaving incidents.

That is only a symptom of the changed relationship between schools, students and parents. Many students get no direction at home.

Many students grow up in unstable families where brothers and sisters have different fathers and where the family is in a constant battle with poverty.

Like it or not, public schools offer the only structure in these students' lives because parents don't do their job, sometimes because they, too, lacked proper leadership while growing up.

Students come to school with unresolved financial, emotional and psychological conflicts because there is no help at home.

It is against that changing role of public education that the Decatur school board is considering a program to put advocates in schools to help these students and their families. Sure, it sounds like another layer of bureaucracy, and probably is. Yet, school board members, administrators and teachers see the need for doing at school what parents are not doing at home.

"There are some things not even the most skilled teacher is trained to deal with," explained Superintendent Sam Houston. Teachers, he said, are not social workers.

The advocates' jobs would be to connect students and their families with agencies that already exist to help.

The school board would like to start a pilot program. Doing so sounds all too familiar, yet the potential success can outweigh the expense.

Schools have become the surrogate parents of many children out of necessity.

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