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What about the parents? Or the grandparents. Or the aunts or uncles or “guardians.” What’s their responsibility? What about a report card for the supposed “role models”?

Like most educators I’m sick of being blitzed by the barrage of anti-teacher propaganda. CNN’s documentary, IVORY TOWER, hints at it with references to incoming students requiring remedial work. Underprepared first-years? Got to be the teachers’ fault.

Marshall Tuck’s push to unseat California’s Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Torlakson failed, but not before Tuck turned much of the public against teachers, blaming them for “underperforming schools.” (By the way, how can a SCHOOL underperform? Students underperform. Not schools. Underperforming SCHOOLS. How does that even make sense?)

And TIME magazine famously ripped teachers with its “Rotten Apples” cover story. The notion that teachers are what’s wrong with education is ludicrous. Yes, there are bad teachers. But there are bad doctors, lawyers, engineers, mechanics and garbage collectors. Any reasonable person would agree that the worst teachers should be more easily dismissed from class. Still, blaming poor student performance on a few rotten apples is like blaming a bad-tasting meal on the silverware. There’s just so much more to it.

I’ve been teaching for three decades. I’ve seen great teachers, good teachers and mediocre teachers. But I’ve never known a terrible teacher. And I’ve never met a teacher who prevented a student from achieving.

I don’t doubt bad teachers are out there. Who hasn’t heard the horror stories? But I’m saying they’re rare – much rarer than guys like “engineer and businessman,” David Welch, (which somehow qualifies him – in his mind – as an “educational reformer”) think they are.

What no one is talking about, what should be on the cover of TIME, is the ridiculously obvious – to teachers, anyway – reason why some students achieve while others fail: leadership at home. If any of the non-professional, “I’m rich, so I know everything” “reformers” actually sat in a classroom for a few weeks, they’d know the truth: In the SAME classroom with the SAME teacher – great, good or average – some kids shine while others struggle.


I was reminded again when I met Mr. and Mrs. Kakalia, Sanaea’s parents (pictured), at our annual parent-teacher conference. Sanaea shines. She listens. She thinks. She works hard. She contributes to class by sharing stories relevant to government and economics. She’ll be a huge success because she has leadership at home.

Her father and mother attended their senior daughter’s conference. They, like their daughter, listen, think and work hard. Sohrab, Sanaea’s father, is the founder of Thrive Solar. It’s mission? “To find and inspire large companies, high net worth individuals, institutional donors and even software giants to look at the impact of how a $3 light can change the life of a child and it’s family. With such a low per capita investment, a donor’s million dollars would suffice to lift all families out of darkness in an entire small African country.”

Gee, I wonder why Sanaea gets A’s on her report card! It’s no mystery why she’s excellent. Conversely, there are terrible stories about terrible students and their terrible parents. However, What-It-Takes focuses on teaching what it takes to live well and succeed, not live poorly and fail. So I won’t share the dark side here. Understand the point, though, OK?

Want better schools? Want better students. Start insisting on leadership from home. To get that, schools must provide more and better PARENTING education. May I suggest that Mr. and Mrs. Kakalia should help write the curriculum?

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