COLUMBIA — Educator Okpara Nosakhere outlined on Thursday what he described as some of the problems in today's educational system, calling for change not only within the schools, but at home.
"We're at a time when the educational system across the country is floundering," said Nosakhere, who spoke to about 30 parents and educators at St. Luke United Methodist Church for a meeting sponsored by the newly formed Black Parents Association of Columbia Public Schools.
Nosakhere has more than 25 years of experience as an educator. He has worked as a principal at both elementary and high schools and is now a senior consultant for Educational Management Associates, a Kansas City-based firm that helps schools develop strategies for success.
Nosakhere said special education is a growing problem in schools. Children who get labeled as needing special education classes early in school develop such low self-esteem that by high school, "they don't want to be in an environment that's conducive to destruction" and drop out, he said.
"Now, we're seeing special education (classes) grow and grow just like we're seeing prisons grow and grow," he said.
Nosakhere said that teachers who don't know what to do with disruptive students often wash their hands of them by sending them to the office.
"If there's no discipline in the school, education is out the window," Nosakhere said.
This could potentially start a cycle of dysfunction in which these children are viewed as unimportant. They could slip through the cracks, but if they got the attention they needed, whether at home or at school, they could have the potential to succeed, Nosakhere said.
Nosakhere said one reason that children might have trouble in school is that while learning styles have changed over the years, teaching styles have remained the same.
"We know that children don't learn the same," Nosakhere said. "These children are very, very bright. They're exposed to a lot more information than we were when we were children."
Nosakhere said that teachers and parents collectively have become disconnected from children's progress in school and, in some cases, lost sight of what is best for each child.
Nosakhere called for parents and teachers to work together to ensure the success of all children. He said parents must hold those in charge of the schools accountable. Additionally, teachers and school board members should know parental expectations, and parents should take responsibility at home to help teachers meet those expectations, he said.
In the discussion that followed his lecture, Nosakhere said everyone should take responsibility for that change.
"The change doesn't start with (President Obama) — it starts with each and every one of us," Nosakhere said. "We're all in this same boat together. We either paddle in the same direction or we spin in circles."
Audience member Vincent St. Omer, who was an educator before retiring in 2004, called for a return to more traditional levels of involvement within the community.
"We have to get back to the village concept," St. Omer said. "If teachers know the expectations of the parents, and the parents hold them accountable, it is less likely for (them) to misbehave."