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Encouraging Heroes. You can be one too.

Editor’s note: Please welcome again Dom Testa with a syndicated parenting column. Dom will be a regular contributor to Earnest Parenting.

There has been a perpetual buzz from politicians and activists over the last twenty years about “fixing education.” And yet almost everyone’s attention has been focused on solving our classroom woes from the top down.

The fix for what ails our students won’t come from Washington D.C., or even our state or local governments. It must come from the subjects themselves: the students.

Think about it. We have a nation full of very hard-working, dedicated teachers and librarians. There’s greater access to information than ever before. We’re practically swimming in a collection of outstanding books by authors devoted to children’s and young adult literature, while online tutorials/videos provide immediate help.

And yet, more and more kids struggle with reading, writing, and math.

The issue is with the students, not the materials. A negative attitude toward education has contributed to crippling test scores. Young people too often sit in a classroom with their arms folded, unwilling to participate in the process because it’s just not considered cool. And with students, perception and image is everything.

Rather than placing the blame on the educational system, it’s time we refocused on the students. That means preparing them properly for the classroom, and to that end we can take a cue from the art world.

If you’re an artist, you’re likely familiar with gesso. If not, let me quickly tell you about it. Gesso is a chalk-based substance that artists use to prepare a surface for painting, usually canvas or wood. Left untreated, the acrylic or oil paint will have a difficult time sticking to the surface. Gesso coats the canvas and essentially gives the paint something to grab on to.

I look at books and lessons as the paint in the educational community, while students are the canvas. Left untreated, those books will slide right off the student, because reading “isn’t cool.” At least, that’s what they’ve been told by some of their friends.

The solution is to shift the attitude of students, to provide a message – and an atmosphere – that learning is cool. For too long there’s been a movement to glorify stupidity, while at the same time demonizing intellectual achievement. Young people are determined to fit in with their peers, and if there’s even the slightest chance that they’ll be tagged as a “nerd” or “dork,” they’ll avoid their studies and try to fit in with the cool crowd. As a result, their education – and their future – takes a big hit.

The goal is to raise young people who are prepared – and enthusiastic – about receiving a terrific education. Simply throwing books at students who believe it’s uncool to read is a waste.

Examine your child’s attitude toward education, especially as they make the transition from elementary school to middle school – that’s where so many physical, emotional, and social changes take place. If you notice an air of “I’m too cool for this,” it’s time to analyze their exposure to pop culture’s prevailing Dumb-Is-Cool posturing, as well as their own social circle. Discover where the negative perception is generating its power and take steps to short-circuit it. (More on how to do this in next week’s column, Seeing The Future.)

And remember, young people are quite perceptive of your attitude toward reading, as well. How you approach books – and learning in general – plays an important part in their academic development. It’s a subtle element, yet so powerful.

I’m confident that today’s young people can achieve great things, but, as with any masterpiece, it’s important to prepare the canvas.

Dom Testa is an author, speaker, morning radio show host, and has kept a ficus tree alive for twenty one years. He’s also the founder and president of The Big Brain Club, a non-profit foundation that helps young people recognize that Smart Is Cool. More info at DomTesta.com

Earnest Parenting: help for parents who want their kids to have right attitudes in school.

Image courtesy of zabethanne via Creative Commons license, some rights reserved.