When I was growing up, the education of children was trusted to the schools. My parents would help out with tough homework questions, but that was about as far as it went. To my knowledge, they never questioned what we were being taught. We were expected to pay attention in class, do the homework, and pass our tests in order to ultimately bring home a passing grade. That's it.

When my own children were in school, I had reason to question, to a degree, the content of their lessons. Absent, it seemed, were phonics. I found that odd at the time but it didn't really hit home until I realized they were really familiar only with familiar words. Without knowing phonics, how can one sound out unfamiliar words? While some children can extrapolate through experience that sort of thing, others cannot. It got my attention and I addressed it. I also had to address some math issues, based mainly on alternative approaches to the subject. But what I did not scrutinize, and should have, are the other subjects. What were my children being taught about history? Were important events being left out? How about science? Were theories being passed off as fact? Etc. It's shocking, but I discovered that some test material was factually false. I'm sure this type of error (intentional or not) is not commonplace, but it certainly does exist.

The point of my rambling is this: Had I to do it over again, I would have been much more involved in my children's studies. I would have not only put their text books and lessons under a microscope, but I would have supplemented their learning with outside sources via the library. Without a parent's inspection, errors in our children's educational materials can go undetected.

There are parents out there so committed to their children's education that they shoulder the entire responsibility themselves, choosing to home-school their kids. This is admirable. I have utmost respect for parents who home-school and think, in most cases, it is the best, most effective approach.

However, not everyone can make that choice, for economic or other reasons. But, parents can still have an enormous impact on learning. I would encourage parents everywhere to take an active role in the education of their children. Find out what they are being taught. Make sure, through your own research, that their lessons are accurate and complete. Be especially vigilant with regard to science and history. These two subjects seem to be the ones with the most room for spin, inaccuracies, omissions, and misrepresentations. Even if you are not able to home-school your children, you can still influence their learning. If they are studying a figure from history, for instance, check out some books on that person and add interesting details to the lesson, information not included in the textbook.

Most people, kids included, don't respond to long dry lists of dates and data. Whenever possible, tell the stories of history. They're interesting! So is science. In the case of theories passed off as fact, a parent can point out that they are just theories, and present to the child ALL the theories on any particular subject. One thing is certain: parents can help their children develop critical thinking skills, to dig beneath the surface, and to question and verify information thrown at them. It's a mistake to blindly believe everything one is told, even in an academic setting. Children need to know that. They need a healthy skepticism and the ability to ferret out truths.

There will be time involved in this approach. Parents will have to read and study, in addition to spending time one-on-one with their children. Our lives are busy and it's not easy to find the time to do the bare minimum sometimes, but this is a pursuit well worth the time and effort. On the positive side, not only will children be better scholars and more independent thinkers, they will also have more time with their parents. And everyone in the family will be learning.

Even with good intentions, standardized education cannot possibly cover everything parents would like their children to know, taught in the way it should be taught. It is truly up to the parents to supplement and sometimes make adjustments to the material being presented in school. The education a child receives will set him or her up for life. It's every bit as important as a stable home life, healthy food, and a safe environment.