To the Editor:
In his Commentary “Good Families Make Good Schools” (Jan. 24, 2007), Saul Cooperman argues that responsibility for student success should be shared equally by schools and families. He describes a number of efforts in New Jersey to address low student achievement and concludes that the reason academic performance continues to flag must be families’ failure to instill a strong work ethic in their children.
While I agree that individuals should take responsibility for their and their children’s future, I take issue with the view that individual resolve is the missing piece in the school reform puzzle. Self-determination does not exist in a bubble, and we would be foolish to ignore the impact that lack of health care, transportation, and affordable housing has on an individual’s capacity to progress in life.
Across the country, uninsured families must make a choice between paying for their children’s medicines and buying groceries for the week. This situation is exacerbated by the fact that children living in substandard housing are more prone to illness. For families without access to a car or public transportation, attending a school-based event means paying precious dollars to cover the cost of cab fare.
For all of us to see meaningful improvements in education, we must commit to supporting individual resolve and promoting social reforms.
Amy Aparicio Clark
Center for Family, School, and Community
Education Development Center Inc.
To the Editor:
Saul Cooperman is correct in his assertion that ignoring conditions outside the schools when trying to solve educational problems is done “at our peril.” The problem, however, is that these social factors, particularly those involving the family, have defied solutions for many years. Mr. Cooperman’s complaints echo those of the past, most notably Daniel Patrick Moynihan’s 1965 report “The Negro Family: The Case for National Action,” which pointed out the significance of the family in dealing with various aspects of poverty, including lack of educational attainment.
The Moynihan Report resulted in some action, but it contained problems that could not be overcome readily. As Martin Luther King Jr. wrote, emphasis on the breakdown of the family had both “dangers and opportunities.” The opportunities lay in the ability to look at a problem as a whole, not just piecemeal. The danger, however, was that “problems will be attributed to innate Negro weaknesses and will be used to justify neglect and rationalize oppression.”
Politicians and researchers have always kept this warning in mind. The danger is real. Moreover, an individual’s lack of ulterior motivation is no protection against charges of racism by critics, many of whom see only the risks that Martin Luther King Jr. noted. Further, a reformer faces a major hazard in the strong self-interest of many groups within and outside the educational establishment that find an exclusive focus on the schools to be politically, professionally, and financially productive.
An individual interested in educational attainment must have considerable courage in investigating or proposing reform extending deeply into family structure. Such courage does exist for a few, such as those named by Mr. Cooperman, but it is in short supply in our society. The perils Mr. Cooperman warns against may not be avoided.
Professor Emeritus of Educational Administration
Winona State University
A version of this article appeared in the February 14, 2007 edition of Education Week as Good Schools Need Both Family Resolve, Reform