The Smallest School

A commentary from KERA:

The Smallest School
By Tom Dodge, KERA 90.1 Commentator
DALLAS, TX (2006-03-22)

Since Texas is at the bottom in educational funding, experts concentrate on money as the only solution, but money is only the manifest problem. The fundamental problem is philosophical and therefore thought to be too difficult to remedy, I guess, bec ause, being at the bottom in education, we can’t understand it. But it’s actually simple.
Children need to be loved at home.
It is the very lucky child, especially today, who has a loving family support system. Family provides children with the confidence they need to know who they are and where they came from, a sense of what Walt Whitman called their “Me, myself.” Children who don’t have this generational schematic are always looking outside themselves for identity and sense of self-worth.
We don’t talk about this but it’s the elephant in the room. It’s easier to talk about money than the fact that more children than ever, I think, suffer from the alienation of modern life. Divorce, work demands, or war may be beyond anyone’s control but they nevertheless interrupt family life. Paul Barton of the Educational Testing Service has called family the “smallest school.” Children with loving families, no matter how they’re constituted, statistically succeed more of ten than not. Even one doting parent or grandparent can make all the difference.
It’s imperative that children are taught at home that education is valuable. The most literate societies are the ones that reward education. In our own case it’s easy to see that instead of education we reward sports and show business. So we get great athletes and performers with a lot of money.
Since only a few achieve in this way the rest of us are relegated to the role of media addicts, shadow people, always eclipsed by celebrities. Athletes, even politicians and news “anchors,” are objects of this obsession. Fame is the dream of many, education the goal of few. Presidential candidates, if they are to be successful, must sublimate their intellect, if they have one. The ideal candidate today is apparently a genuine non-intellectual willing to play the role of the school bully.
With all due respect to Christianity, celebrities are our deities, movie theaters our cathedrals, and the market place our heaven. Elvis is not dead; he’s in syndication and still coming out with new songs for sale. Bogart, dust since 1957, sells khakis. Ernest Hemingway, America’s only literary celebrity, died in 1961, yet he still sells his own line of furniture. James Dean sells Hamilton watches, Lee Jeans, Franklin Mint, American Greeting Cards, and NASCAR. Someone once told me that she wanted to be so famous that she would have to wear a disguise to go out in public. In other words, she’s nuts.
Again, children who are loved at home and provided with a strong sense of who they are and where they came from wouldn’t trade places with any celebrity. They know their “Me, myself.” The more love children have at home the less they need from the world. Today almost anyone can attain notoriety momentarily. Do something outrageous to allay the ennui of the jaded multitude and the cameras will record it. Some of them even achieve fame by appearing so brainless that they make the gener al population feel intelligent.
But when discussing crisis in education, Texans should consider this: money can buy a Rose Bowl championship football team but an education has no price tag.
If you have opinions or rebuttals about this commentary, call (214) 740-9338 or email us (
© Copyright 2006, KERA

One Comment “The Smallest School”

  • brooks


    I re-discovered your blog while looking for something else for a friend expecting a kid.

    It’s funny that the first post is something that I couldn’t agree with it more. On the other hand, I also disagree with it. So….I felt compelled to comment.

    I really agree about parental involvment, and I think I have a unique perspective. You know us and where my daughter goes to school. They have amazing parental involvment. Amazingly active PTA, parents show up in droves for every volunteer opportunity, etc. And the result is a high-achieving school with over-achieving kids. On the other hand, my mom taught at Houston elementary in East Austin behind Sams/Walmart on I35. She had a hard time getting any involvment. In fact, she often had trouble getting parents to even show up for parent-teacher conferences, even when she volunteered to do them at their homes. Those kids never had a chance.

    All the kids go to the same school district and probably live less than 5 miles from one another (as the crow flies), yet they have totally distinct opportunities.

    I think one of the biggest issues facing the AISD is how to get the parental involvement, and when it doesn’t happen, how do you effectively respond so that everyone has the same opportunity?

    However, I also disagree with the article. There is no question that Texas is last in almost every measure of education. But I don’t think it’s because Texas parents love their kids less than parents in other states. And while I don’t think money spent per child is the major problem, I do think it is an issue. The big challenge is to find the issues and then see what solutions there are.

    Anyway, that’s my rambling for the day. See you and Lance in Sunday School.


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