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Olson: Kids should be schooled many ways

Published: Saturday, July 6, 2013 5:30 a.m. CDT

Our story this week about families who choose to home-school their children generated a lot of comments online at Daily-Chronicle.com.

There were some who saw the story as an opportunity to complain about all the things they think are wrong with public schools: They don’t let you pray; the schools are subject to more government testing mandates; some no longer say the Pledge of Allegiance every day; and children grow up and have deficiencies in areas they ought to have mastered in grade school.

“The public schools are broken,” say the indignant.

Piffle, says I.

Is the public school system perfect? No. School board members, administrators and teachers face many challenges, including trying to keep up with the breakneck progress of the 21st century technological revolution, which dictates that students should do all their learning on laptop and tablet computers rather than out of books, the way they did for the past 200 years.

Standardized testing data released last year showed a gap in achievement between low-income students and their peers at local schools, and indeed our schools have a duty to educate everyone, not just those from comfortable circumstances.

One flaw I see that often is unaddressed is that many students – in fact, many Americans in general – have a limited grasp of financial matters, particularly in how mortgages and the stock market work, two things that many people must confront in their adult lives.

Schools also face continuing uncertainty surrounding the aid they receive from the state, and the stagnant property value growth that has many running budget deficits.

But it’s probably not fair to say public schools are broken. In my experience, I have found the public school system in Sycamore where my daughters attend to be superior to the one in the somewhat more affluent community we lived in before we moved here.

Class sizes are smaller, the buildings are more modern, with more resources and a greater sense of community spirit.

Students from our communities study at respected institutions around the country or here in their backyard at Northern Illinois University.

Certainly, when people have negative experiences, it colors their view. But we’re not raising a generation of knuckleheads – with the wealth of information at its fingertips, the newest generation will probably be the smartest in human history. Computers and their applications are second nature to most children.

Yet even if we were building a brood of American idiots, it wouldn’t be fair to blame the schools.

It’s on us: I salute families such as that of George Jaros, whose two children learn at home. In a story this week by reporter Felix Sarver, Jaros said his family wanted his older son, Michael, to learn at a more accelerated pace than he could in the public school system.

The family also has started the DeKalb County Home Educators, a group for families whose children are home-schooled. Sometimes the families work together to make opportunities available for their children. Since it was formed last year, the group has grown from two families to more than 20, Jaros said.

As you’ve probably heard a few times this week, God Bless America. People should be free to educate their children at home if they can show the children are learning.

Even in families whose children attend school outside the home, parents are supposed to home-school children. Parents are a child’s first teacher; their homes are their first classrooms.

It’s within parents’ power to help their children succeed in school, sports, or whatever pursuit interests them. It’s also within parents’ power to teach children values including honesty, respect, humility and whatever faith it is you follow.

It’s on them, too: Saying that parents are accountable for their children’s education doesn’t mean that teachers and schools are not. These are public institutions whose employees by and large are highly educated and paid well.

Schools that fail to reach students ought to be closed, or those students should have the option to attend a school elsewhere even if they can’t afford private-school tuition or home schooling.

As public institutions, school district employees and the school board members who oversee them should always be accountable to the public they serve, both in how they spend public funds and in how they educate the community’s children, regardless of their ethnicity or income level.

It’s a difficult and important job.

If it were easy, we’d all home-school our children full-time.

Was it so great?: In his column online and in Tuesday’s Daily Chronicle sports section, my friend and accomplished colleague Tom Musick wrote that fans of Chicago’s pro sports teams have led a charmed existence since 2000 because the city’s teams have won three championships in that time, more than most cities.

Musick is probably right – it’s the nature of sports that every team but one ends the season short of their goal – but outside of hockey, it hasn’t seemed like all that triumphant an era so far.

Exhibit A: The Cubs of 2003, ’08 and ’09 ... also the other 10 years. Poor Steve Bartman didn’t deserve the blame for the Cubs’ choke job in Game 6 of the NLCS in 2003.

Exhibit B: The NFC Championship game in 2011. As if the indignity of losing to the Packers at Soldier Field wasn’t enough, Jay Cutler was trashed by players, fans and media for leaving the game, even though an injury to his knee clearly left him unable to plant his leg and throw.

Exhibit C: Rex Grossman. Never have I heard a Bears quarterback booed with such vigor by the home fans. After that Super Bowl runner-up season, he was either injured or bad most of the time.

Exhibit D: Derrick Rose’s lost season this year. One of the most frustrating Chicago sports storylines this side of Wrigley Field. Maybe it won’t sour the rest of his time here.

Exhibit E: The White Sox won the World Series in 2005. Their fans gleefully remind unfortunate Cubs fans that it’s one more than the Cubbies have managed in more than 100 years. Yes, I have been on the receiving end of a few of those reminders.

But it was awesome to see the Blackhawks win the Stanley Cup again in thrilling fashion. Musick is probably right – its better to take the wins you get than focus on those that got away.

Sometimes that’s easier said than done, though.

A fine fourth: The fireworks display in Hopkins Park was well done this year. My family and I were among the thousands who enjoyed it.

Sycamore Road really has a different feel when it’s as alive with people as it normally is with vehicle traffic.

It was a good show and a good showing. Hope everyone enjoyed the holiday.

• Eric Olson is the editor of the Daily Chronicle. Reach him at 815-756-4841 ext. 2257, email eolson@shawmedia.com, and follow him on Twitter @DC_Editor.

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