This Week's View

by Deanna Lee Birkholm
December 12th, 2005

The Perfect Gift

Since my husband JC and I are card-carrying Christians, the perfect gift has already been given to both of us. The birth of Jesus, the reason of course for Christmas.

We can't top that, but there is one nearly perfect gift which does not cost any money at all.


I mentioned in my last column here, the results given in our local newspaper to the tests given to 10th grade students, and how badly the boys scored. The whole story is even worse. Across the whole country, test scores for boys lag considerably behind girls.

Girls do mature faster, and there are various theories on whether that is the reason girls are testing higher, or if perhaps girls learn differently than boys. As a parent who actually survived raising children, I'm not sure at all it makes much difference. It seems to me we have been in the 'education' business in this country long enough to have a handle of how to teach both boys and girls. Duh.

As a country we seem to grasp at whatever 'socially' correct teaching methods are being touted this year. Some schools systems go through total make-overs to gain a perceived advantage only to find the old basics really were better. In fact, in the aforementioned article the reading scores showed boys passing at a rate of 57%. Meaning nearly half of the 10th grade boys failed!

With more and more manufacturing jobs going overseas, the kids coming out of high school simply must be able to communicate better. That means reading and writing skills have to be good. Or perhaps I should say "gooder" so today's kids can understand? We must turn around the notion that "it's cool to be dumb!"

I wish I could remember the TV program where I saw this, or who the people were, but one of the things which just floored me was the claim that 75% of kids graduating high school today cannot fill out a job application or balance a checkbook. No snide remarks here on balancing checkbooks - but what that means in reality is those same kids are not going to get good jobs. Micky D better start building more places, fast. And you parents better plan on having those kids living at home for a very long time.

Getting a good education is a basic requirement. As a parent, I know full well all kids are not college material. But there are trade schools and apprenticeships which do allow those kids to make a very good living. I have one daughter who is a licensed Master Plumber.

Getting kids interested and willing to learn is not the job of the schools and teachers. They can help by tuning their classes to keep the kids interest, but the real job is yours.

Hey! Isn't that what I pay taxes for? To support the schools? Hire good teachers?


Surprise, the desire to learn and to grow starts at home. It begins with the parents, (you) taking a real interest in whatever your kids are doing. Being an involved parent. When the kids are young it is reading to them. Introducing them to books, later on, reading with them, then discussing what you had read. No, not the TV. And no, not the computer either.

Yes, there are good, fun, learning programs for the computer for kids. But they are only as good as the parent at their side explaining what is happening to the kid. Putting it into context.

Many years ago I pulled my three daughters out of public school when the school system decided it was not nice to give out grades. They certainly did not want the children to be competitive. What were they thinking? They just gave out a pass or needs work grade. The parents had no idea of how the kid was doing. Bizarre. And of course, it 'wasn't nice' to hold a kid back. That was the beginning of 'Social Promotion.' I wasn't the only parent to yank kids out of public school, but it took four years for the school to go back to grading. I suppose it was a lot more work to do the grading too, but that was about the beginning of the teacher's union there as well. You can see the handwriting on the wall, right?

Yes, it takes time to read to kids, or to spend time with them on the computer. Play stations and all may be fun, and some actually may inspire some creative thought - but it is not a substitute for parental involvement. Yes, it is harder to raise them then to just let them grow up. So what? It's your job.

Most schools have a Christmas break or vacation (sorry if you live somewhere which has buckled under the PC crap) - but the kids are going to be home. I know you have a job and responsibilities and probably not enough time to do everything you would like to, but make it a number one priority to set aside some time every day, (during a family sit-down evening meal would be ideal) to talk to your kid(s) about what they are doing. What are they interested in? Who is their favorite teacher? Favorite class? Least favorite? These are conversation starters. You might tell them about your favorite teacher and why that person made a difference in your life. Get a common frame of reference going.

If your kids are going to be home 'alone' during the break because both parents are working, how about making up a chore list. Give them jobs and rewards for the jobs well done. It doesn't have to be a financial reward, treats and extra privileges works too. What you want to avoid is those kids sitting in front of the TV or computer screen all day unsupervised.

Do your kids know you EXPECT them to do well? How have you conveyed that? Screaming and yelling when bad grades show up on report cards is not a positive influence.

Is this about fly fishing? No.

But in my mind, fly fishers are the very best group of folks I've ever had the privilege of being associated with. They are also more responsible. Nothing like trying to get a message through to a bunch of folks who couldn't care less. I believe fly fishers care.

As a parent, grandparent, aunt or uncle, you can do something now which will bear fruit for the rest of these kids lives. Anyone can just let a kid grow up. It takes a responsible person to care, and to put the TIME and effort into raising them.

It is about time, your time - the perfect gift. ~ DLB

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