Recently I attended a double graduation ceremony of two brothers. The older one was graduating from the University of South Florida in Tampa, with a bachelor's degree (summa cum laude) and entering USF Medical School. The younger one graduated from high school with honors and is joining a seven-year bachelor's and medical doctor's program at USF. I was very impressed with the achievements of these two youngsters from the same family.
I asked the proud father for the secret.
He answered humbly, "Oh, the kids work hard and we encourage them to study well, take advanced courses etc. Molly, my wife, goes through their homework and makes sure they do all their assignments and don't goof off. They still get enough time to pursue their passions like drums and tennis."
The reason these two kids have done well is hard work in conjunction with proper mentoring — the old-fashioned recipe for success. Indeed, they are off to a good start in life, something which every parent aspires for but many can't seem to achieve. During the last few weeks, we have heard all about the plummeting FCAT scores in Florida and the turmoil it has created in the minds of the public. Everybody is debating where the blame should fall.
Personally, I am also appalled why this should happen in the most advanced country in the world that has plenty of schools, teachers and advanced tools for training and learning. Many have written strongly about the school system, lack of skilled teachers and inadequate quality of education. Gov. Rick Scott has asked the Department of Education to review the results and recommended an action plan. And Education Commissioner Gerard Robinson proposed reducing the FCAT writing passing score from 4.0 to 3.5 and under that criteria, 48 percent of fourth-graders, 52 percent of eighth-graders and 60 percent of 10th-graders would pass the test.
"That is ridiculous!" said my friend Barbara Sweinberg, a former educator. "The point is we are dumbing down our educational system by reducing the passing scores. Doling out social promotions when they are not ready is a real disservice to them."
I couldn't agree with her more. Clearly, we need to give bigger emphasis on teaching the required subjects and making sure that they understood what is being taught. In other words, improving the standard and knowledge base of the student is of paramount importance and for that to happen, the student needs to work harder and his/ her mentors need to put in more effort in terms of supervision and guidance.
Are we doing that at the moment? No.
We have already heard reports that American students are lagging in mathematics and many other subjects, compared with those in many other nations.
We know skills are of critical importance for a freshly minted graduate looking for employment, especially in these economically troubled times. So we need to find ways to rectify the situation. America is still the No. 1 country in the world in its economic power, research capacity, inventive capability and many other things. We are counting on the young generation to maintain the status quo. They need to be nurtured, properly trained and made academically stronger.
A teacher at school can only do so much. Leaving them in a good school and hoping that is enough may not always work. Somebody needs to work with them, supervise them, challenge them and keep them interested as well as motivated, so they will stay on course till they achieve their goals. That means parents or their surrogates must pitch in.
The two elements needed for academic success is for the student to develop both a proper discipline and work ethic during the school and college years. The other is mentoring. In most cases, parents are the true mentors for the children. The teachers at school will help, but individual attention and guidance are most important; the role of parents or other mentors cannot be underestimated.
I do realize that many kids come from single-parent families and some others don't even have the benefit of any parental supervision. In such situations, one has to look for another mentor like a benevolent neighbor or the pastor in the local church or somebody who can act as a big brother.
Some kids are self-starters, others will need some prodding and stimulation, yet others need constant supervision and guidance. All these factors should be considered in the education of every child.
Remember, every child has the ability to become the next Bill Gates or Barack Obama.
Dr. M.P. Ravindra Nathan lives in Brooksville.