Monday, 15 November 2010

Encouraging Kids Requires More Than Finger Pointing: It Means Rethinking Private Schools, Urban Living, and Income Policy

Quebec Premier Jean Charest got in some hot water last week when he opined that parents are partly to blame for the province's high school dropout rate. The French press generally blasted him for taking it out on families, although The Gazette played the story differently. According to the the English language daily, parents were "encouraged" to "encourage" their children's progress in school.

Certainly supporting childen in school work is very important, but other things are in play here. One is the fact that public schools are bearing far more than their share of the burden of "exceptional" children--any child who doesn't fit the usual mold. Private schools here--and most receive substantial provincial government subsidies--can pick and choose their students. Support for learning disabilities is practically non-existent, as any parent who has a child with an attention deficit will tell you. Even a bright child who has an very high energy level can be unwelcome in a private school: one exceedingly talented and imaginative girl of our acquaintance whose grades were very good was hounded from one school because of her energy.

At the same time, a combination of more opportunities for women and changes in pay for "ordinary" jobs requiring two incomes for a middle class standard of living have meant that even two-parent families usually do not have someone at home after school to encourage homework. Long commutes for many young families who have chosen to live in the suburbs only make matters worse.

So what do? Here's a short list:

1. Reinforce the public school system and require that private schools bear their share of the burden of difficult kids.

2. Recognize the fact that it takes two incomes to live comfortably these days, and plan social programs accordingly.

3. Encourage through zoning, recreational and banking policy the densification of cities. Promote of the advantages of city living for families, among them shorter commutes for all members of the family, established parks and schools nearby, a wider range of activities and all that.

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