Education: A Three Legged Stool


During the pioneer days, farmers would use a sturdy 3 legged stool to sit on and milk the cows for their milk. If that stool had one leg that was weaker than the other two then it would collapse and the farmer would fall on the ground.

If we look at education as a three-legged stool: one leg would be the teacher, one leg would be the student and one leg would be the parent.

The focus of most education reformers has been on the teachers, which is a good place to start but we cannot forget or ignore the other two legs. When the only leg that is improved is the teacher, then the result is a lopsided stool with one leg longer or stronger than the other two, therefore the other two legs are shorter or weaker and can’t support anyone sitting on it.

Until we focus equal amount attention on the other two legs then there will be minimal progress in the overall education system in the United States. Students must take an active role in their education. Yes, there are an increasing number of students that live in poverty, that have bad home lives or parents that are too busy to help them, but those are not reasons for not trying in school. In fact they are the very reasons that they should be trying harder in school. No matter how great the teacher is at reaching those students, there must still be active participation by the student. Students are not simply mason jars that you open their head and pour the information in them. They must be active participants.

According to in 2013 there were 24, 647,000 or 35% of all children were from single parent homes. Here is the data table of the breakdown of single parent families by race. When you have single parent families, then typically that parent is working more than one job to make ends meet. Yes, there are many single parents that are doing an excellent job, but most are not.

The student must do their part also. When they are given an assignment then they must complete it. Far too many of students fail to complete their homework or just plain refuse. The teacher did not give the assignment just to give the assignment but rather it was meant to be an extension of the classroom by providing more time to practice and master the objective of the day. There are some that have legitimate reasons for not completing their homework such as needing to babysit their younger siblings so their single parent can work a second or third job but mostly not completing homework is a choice.

The parents must also take an active part in their child’s education. Many times when I have called to discuss an issue with a parent I have gotten the response “I send him/her up there for eight hours a day for you to deal with. Don’t call me back!” The parents do not have any expectations of their children. Many parents have the attitude that, “I’ve been government assistance forever and it will be there for you when you get older, so you don’t have to work for anything in your life, including your education.”

Parents need to be parents and hold their children accountable for their performance. If they are the weak leg, then the stool will collapse and be dysfunctional.

There is an alarming trend of only holding the teacher responsible for the student’s behavior or academic success. The cartoon below sums up the directions that the expectations coming from our parents are going.

Another example of this disturbing trend occurred in a recent incident in Spring, TX when a student and a teacher had a physical altercation. With a minimal investigation the district jumped right to the conclusion that the teacher was the only one at fault and announced in the press that they would be seeking termination. The teacher is claiming self defense which means there is more to the story and the student had some partial responsibility. The teacher also packed his personal belongs, submitted his resignation and left the building. At this point only part of the story is being told. This situation is likely to linger on for a long time.

Life may have been a little slow and some would consider it to be boring in the 1950’s but the parents had the right attitude about their children’s education. Work hard in school, go to college and get a degree and then be assured of a job for life. This country has drifted away from this philosophy towards an attitude of mediocrity. Mediocre is the acceptable standard. There is very little pride in work, craftsmanship and effort.

Until we build a better, more balanced 3 legged stool there will be little improvement in the education system and the quality of student’s that it produces in this country.

David R Taylor
27-Year Teacher, Coach and Principal

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8 Responses to Education: A Three Legged Stool

  1. I have preached this same message for my entire 41 year career in public education. It was true when I began and it is still true today.

    • drext727 says:

      Thank you for confirming I’m not off out in left field. 41 years….It’s sad that nothing has changed for the better. If anything it is worse than when I started 27 years ago.

      Be sure to read the article from the link at the bottom.


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  4. speduktr
    2old2tch says:

    I would add a fourth leg: the community. We need to support those struggling students and their families. Education can be a way out, but there are few role models for the poorest of our students to show that success will come if only they would try harder. Make sure those kids have an adequate diet, medical care, and a place to call home. Give their parents job training, parenting classes and child care, so they have a chance of being positive role models to their children. It takes extraordinary individuals to succeed in the face of overwhelming odds. I’m not sure what makes us think we would be any different if we had been raised under the same conditions. By all means expect some effort from students and their parents, but expect it from the community as well. It’s a whole lot cheaper to support a child and his/her family now than it is to support that child and his/her family for life. Help our children become responsible citizens rather than daring them to. Life is already providing them with more than enough challenges.

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  6. Jeffrey L "Jeff" Salisbury – Wayland, Michigan USA – As a 1967 Howell (Michigan) High School graduate and 1980 Michigan State University graduate, I retired in 2009 after almost 30 years in education with the final 24 years being at Wayland Union Schools in Wayland, MI. My primary high school classroom assignments included Journalism I – Intro to News English Writing along with Journalism II – Desktop Publishing. In Journalism II my students designed and produced print and online versions of three scholastic publications: the high school school newspaper (Paw Prints), yearbook (Cats Tales) and literary/arts magazine (Masters). Additionally, I often taught one or more sections of such courses as Current Issues, Technical Writing, Creative Writing, College Writing and Drama as Literature. No matter the fleeting trends in Education, I preferred to think of my content area as being teen-agers who deserved the right to interact with a generally-decent, mostly-stable, reliable classroom teacher on a daily basis. Anything academic or administrative that got in the way of working with parents to help their students become better people in June than they were in September, I’d happily shortcut or bypass altogether. As you might imagine my interests lie in all-things-education – the state of public schools – and mass media. But since I took a rather non-traditional, circuitous route from high school to college graduation – worked a variety of jobs and near-careers and I’m the father of two adult children, have four grandchildren and I've been married to my high school sweetheart since 1968 – well, like all good journalists, I often find myself having “a little to say about a lot of things.” Just ask my family! ​- Jeffrey L "​Jeff" Salisbury
    jeffsalisbury says:

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