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Educational problems start at home
by Larry Wilson
Feb 28, 2011 | 681 views | 1 1 comments | 10 10 recommendations | email to a friend | print
To understand Nevada’s educational problems you need to first understand that the economy of Nevada is based in large part on the tourism industry. Tourism, by definition, presupposes that people come to our state to do and see things they can experience in no other place and do these things for very little cost. To keep the tourist experience cheap, workers are many and wages are low.

To provide this experience for our tourists, the industry needs to operate a 24/7. If our guests want to gamble and drink until dawn, we need to provide them the same amenities they would have available to them at any other time of the day. To do all of this puts a strain on several aspects of our own existence — namely, the family structure.

Because of our major industry and its demands on the work force, many moms and dads work odd shifts for low pay. Many of our workers are not very well educated, might not be in this country legally and often have kids of school age.

These kids come to our schools, which double as no-cost day care for the parents. These kids come before school and stay after school. They are fed breakfast, lunch and an afternoon snack at no cost to the parents.

If we were to not allow them to enroll in our schools, we would have hoards of hungry kids wandering the streets causing societal problems rather than struggling to get an education. The English language is often not the primary language of many of our minority students and this provides an additional roadblock to their education.

According to 2010 statistics, nearly half of Washoe County’s students are Hispanic, Asian, Native American, black or another minority. Another 7.5 percent or more are special education, according to the district. Many are both. Still more come from uneducated or poorly educated families. All are here to seek the American dream — whatever that is.

When compared to surrounding states in terms of graduation rates and reading ability, Nevada comes in dead last. Montana, Idaho and Utah all are comprised of fairly small towns. Moms and dads work 8 to 5 and are home on weekends. Their economy allows for that and they do so with a fairly livable wage. These parents acquired their ability to maintain a standard of living based on whatever their education brought their way. They, like their parents before them, valued the educational system, supported it and saw to it that their student worked to achieve what they had. Yes, these states have their problems too, but not as deep seeded as Nevada’s.

I’m not giving Nevada an excuse for why our state’s educational statistics are in the dumper, but rather I am saying there are differences in our state’s families that are not as rampant as in our neighboring states. I do believe in our neighboring states there is less child and spousal abuse, less alcohol and drug abuse, less graffiti and divorce and church attendance is higher. There is seemingly more respect for the foundations of our society in our neighboring states than in our own. Families are, overall, more important in our neighboring states than in our own.

Our neighboring states still admire apple pie, mom and the American flag. The parents are better educated and have learned the value of education in their lives. As a consequence, they are better able to impart that respect and admiration for education to their children rather than giving it lip service.

With the downturn in our economy, all the ills of Nevada’s society are magnified immensely as a result.

To say that our teachers are the reason for this lowering of statistics is ridiculous. Most legislators and other stone casters who live in glass houses don’t realize that the teacher’s domain ends at the front step of every student’s home.

Can teachers make a difference? Yes. Should they make a difference? Yes. Don’t throw your stones until they have a snowball’s chance at doing a better job once they are given the tools to work battle our tremendous societal problems. I do believe that our state’s educators can do it with less money if given the proper tools to do so.

Larry Wilson is a 50-year resident of Sparks and a retired elementary school teacher. He can be reached at
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March 02, 2011

The deterioration in our schools started in the 1960-70s when teachers were no longer allowed to discipline their students, and then it accelerated beginning in the 1980s when parents and school boards and the federal government insisted on controlling the curriculum rather than allowing teachers to do what they do best: teach.

Now everyone except our teachers controls the classroom. And those "in charge" (i.e., students, parents, principals, school boards, and the federal government) see our teachers as little more than babysitters who feed students pabulum for regurgitation on the year-end test.

Growing up in the 1960-70s, I believe that one of the best schools I ever attended was in a desperately poor coal mining town in Upper Peninsula Michigan, where most folks were on public assistance during part of the year. In my classroom, there were more than 50 students and three grade levels (K-2). The faster learners who finished their assignments early helped the slower learners and the younger children. Students teaching other students helped reinforce the material they'd learned while honing their social skills.

I attended that school and was in that classroom for 2.5 years. During that time, I had two different teachers, the first quitting shortly before she had her baby. Both teachers were nice but strict, and both were successful teachers because they were in control of the curriculum and the discipline of that very large, diverse classroom.

BTW, all of the kindergarteners learned cursive writing and to read--even though a number of the parents couldn't read. And I knew of no parents who read to their children or helped their children with homework. Most parents just weren't involved in the schools back then. Instead, they trusted teachers to teach and to discipline their children while in school. And that trust made all of the difference.
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