The Blog

As a newspaper columnist, Nancy Devlin, Ph.D. has written over 700 articles on subjects related to education and parenting. Welcome to her Classroom!

Problem Solving, Communication, Mediation

Before any citizen is sent out to make his way in the world,

he should have some expertise in the following areas: problem

solving which includes ability to communicate and mediate,

parenting and budgeting. Some people acquire expertise in these

areas by good modeling in the home. Most, however, will have to

depend on other resources one of which, by default, may have to

be the school. Learning these skills cannot be left to chance

because the future of our country depends on its citizens being

knowledgeable in these areas.


Let us start with problem solving. Recently there has been

a great deal said and done about teachers and citizens having

much more voice in what happens in their schools. In Chicago,

there now exists over 500 local school councils composed of

parents, local citizens, teachers and principals. The councils

can hire the principal, write the school goals and have a say in

budgetary decisions. The concept is wonderful and agrees with

everything that has been said in the research but in many cases,

it does not seem to be working. The main problem seems to be

that the members of the councils cannot work together. They

spend most of their time arguing. Perhaps if these adults had

been exposed to cooperative learning lessons while in school they

may have acquired the problem solving skills necessary to

function in a democratic society


Another example is the takeover of the schools in Chelsea,

Massachusetts by Boston University. In theory and according to

research, the innovations proposed should have worked. The

members of the University community and the school community did

not communicate well with each other, however. There are two

lawsuits pending against the project: one from the teachers and

one from the Hispanic community. The community feels that the

University is trying to run not only the schools but the city and

that while the university knows education, it does not know

public relations. Skills in negotiation and communication seem

crucial for change but there does not seem to be any provision

anywhere for students to learn and practice them.

Another necessary skill students need to learn is how to be

good parents. The most critical years for the developing child

are from birth to three. Unless new parents understand this and

know how to be their children’s first teacher, then these

children will have difficulty, especially in school, for a long,

long time. The best time to teach these skills is before the

students become parents.


Another problem area for our citizens is finances. Poor

financial understanding is probably one of the main causes for

dissension in families and leads to many broken homes. Students

need to be taught basic fundamentals. This seems to be a problem

that goes across all socio-economic levels. One jobless

executive laments the fact that she has no money even though she

was making $56,200 a year and her husband was making almost as

much. She is the mother of a 4 year old and a 10 year old. She

says she needed both of their salaries to pay the mortgage, car

payments and the necessities of life. The problem is, she

laments, since they were terrible savers, they now have no

cushion to live on.

Most of our citizens obviously do not have expertise in

these areas, so how can they teach their children. For better or

worse, I’m afraid the school system will again have to step in

and provide training for its students. Otherwise, no matter how

expert they are in academic subjects, our students and future

citizens will fail the game of life which is proving to be a

disaster for our country.


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