February 21, 2013 | Vol. 116 -- No. 44

Build a better family for a better community

In our opinion

One of the Spokane’s most known and admired figures, Appeals Court Justice the late John Schultheis, once gave some advice to young lawyers in a 1999 Spokesman Review article to: “Spend more time in the raising of your kids.”

It’s good advice not just for lawyers, but also for anyone who has chosen to have a family, natural or adopted. It’s also good advice that if followed, might lead to something many people in and out of government are advocating for: education reform.

Federal, state and local spending on K-12 education has been steadily increasing, in many cases sharply, over the past 3-4 decades. Much of this money is spent on new teaching methods and associated materials, salaries and benefits to attract and retain teachers along with new (and improved?) assessment tests.

And yet, we still struggle in many areas with disappointing graduation rates often lower than other developed countries, and post graduation skills that are lacking what many colleges, or even employers, would like to see. Add in the fact that many school district teachers and administrators are beginning to feel as if they are surrogate parents, responsible for more than just instruction.

And, despite recent cutbacks in education funding in this and other states, we still desire to throw more and more money after these problems. We’re ignoring the real problem that Schultheis identified 14 years ago: spending time with our kids.

Not time shuttling them to this soccer game, that dance practice, or the other organizational meeting. It’s not that those are bad choices or pursuits, but how much time do you really put in with your child when yours and their schedules are crammed full of activities?

Time with our children is particularly important at an early age when most studies show their brains are the most malleable. Educators have recognized this for years, one of the reasons pre-school has been emphasized and a reason why Washington state is looking at a law requiring all children be enrolled in schools by age 6.

We recognize that some parents need school districts to step into a surrogate role to provide nutrition options, before and after school programs. They may be working odd hours, or working several jobs or very demanding jobs in order to provide for their children as best as possible. School districts, and the publics that support them, can help out.

There is also the fact that kids today have many more distractions than those of us rearing them did when we were their age. There are too many options for kids to stay inside, in front of a TV or computer screen, engaged in activities that shut out the world and waste the body. Even more, our culture pushes these activities, and many of us as parents or adult role models also spend huge amounts of time playing video games, watching TV, YouTube or other brainless activities.

We should be encouraging our kids to get outside and play, especially when the weather is nice; to read, talk, play games that involve others when the weather ain’t so good.

We also need to remember parenting isn’t always about being a friend. It’s often, as our parents understood from their parents, about being a disciplinarian. The phrase “This is going to hurt me more than it hurts you” is true, even if we don’t want to admit it.

It may be true that it takes a village to raise a child, but the village shouldn’t be supplanting the family, and we think sometimes that’s what’s happening. Rather the village should understand its role to support the child through the family. No amount of money tossed after education can replace this.

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