Dimon Kendrick-Holmes: The battle between two worlds

dkholmes@ledger-enquirer.comMay 3, 2013 

Whenever I write about low-performing schools, somebody always responds that the only solution is better parenting.

I get it.

Undoubtedly, a child with good parents -- or one good parent -- has a better shot at getting a good education and having a successful life than a child with no good parents or no parents at all.

And undoubtedly, teachers would have more time and energy to teach if they didn't have to provide for physical, emotional and material needs that could have been taken care of at home by competent parents.

Yes, good parents would fix everything, especially if those good parents had college degrees, professional jobs and an extensive collection of Mozart CDs.

Until then, it's going to be a battle. A lot of parents in low-performing schools love their children and want the best for them, and they understand the importance of a good education and things like reading to them at an early age.

But these parents are also working multiple jobs, or trying to keep the one they have, and many of them have made some bad decisions and every now and then make another one.

Poverty is a vicious cycle, and the people living in it often don't know how to get out of it and so they just do what it takes to survive, and they pass that survival instinct along to their children.

Mary Avery, principal of Muscogee Elementary School, tries to show her students that they need a different set of skills to survive and thrive in the classroom -- and ultimately in the job market and in society -- from the skills they use to survive on the streets.

"They are two different worlds," she says. "And you have to teach them how to operate in the world of school."

For these students, buying into the rules and rhythms of this new world can lead to a love of learning and a ticket out of poverty.

For that to happen, Avery says, children also need somebody to make a difference in their lives and to believe in them.

This could be a teacher or a coach. It could also be a volunteer with an organization like Big Brothers Big Sisters or the Literary Alliance.

But it needs to be somebody, and even if a child has a loving parent, it often needs to be somebody else who can pass along a love of learning and the assurance that the child has what it takes to be a winner in life.

Yes, better parenting can help break the cycle of poverty and improve low-performing schools.

Maybe it's me, but when I hear people say it's solely the responsibility of the parents, what I'm hearing them really say is they don't believe these parents will ever amount to anything and don't deserve any help, and that their children are going to grow up to be just like them anyway.

I'm hearing them say we should just give up, or only help the people who deserve it.

If we wait for parents to get better, nothing's going to get better.

All children deserve a chance, and the earlier they get it the better. You can make a big difference if you believe that.

Dimon Kendrick-Holmes, executive editor, can be reached at dkholmes@ledger-enquirer.com.

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