Monday, July 25, 2016

Parents vs. schools: who's in charge of kids

One of the things I’m going to have to do prepare my daughter for regular school next year is get her her own private laptop. While it’s understandable why schools—at least high schools--require this, it also represents one of many ways in which school policies end up weakening parenting prerogatives. Once your child’s face has a screen up in front of it, it becomes a lot harder to observe whether she’s focusing on what she should be—short of sitting down next to her and breathing down her neck. Computer use in the classroom is even worse: you’re not there, and the teacher can’t monitor everyone at once.

But required computer use is only one example of how today’s schools weaken parenting. There’s also:

--The vastly increased homework, including summer reading, writing and math; large amounts of busywork; and big projects that end up requiring heavy parental involvement (trips to art supply stores; organizational help; nagging). All this subtracts substantially from the time the child spends with family in family-chosen activities.

--All those “Dear Parent or Guardian” letters--a staple of Reform Math--that tell us how to, and how not to, teach our kids math. They sometimes require us to get actively involved in our child’s homework, but only on their own terms. They warn us not to teach our children how to “stack” numbers and use traditional algorithms. They sometimes ask us to teach our children their multiplication tables—claiming that there isn’t enough time to at school.

--All the time we’re expected to volunteer in classrooms and attend in-class events: expectations that, while exceeding those of a generation ago (my parents were never invited into any of my classrooms), assume a 1950s style household in which at least one parent is free of pressing professional responsibilities. The time we take off from work is time many of us must make up after hours when our kids are home.

--All the hours we must take out of quality family time to teach our kids things they’re no longer learning in school: not just the multiplication tables, but phonics, penmanship, and those traditional algorithms—which, for all the naysaying, are essential for more advanced math classes.


Anonymous said...

Katherine, you assume that all parents think exactly like you. Trust me, for every parent who complains that their child has too much homework, there is another parent complaining that the teacher does not give enough homework. I know of a parent who wanted a kindergarten teacher fired for not giving homework.

Last year I faced an angry parent who was upset that during the previous year his daughter had only had two projects instead of one project a month. Project mania has become so extreme at our school that we have had to institute a rule that students cannot bring in projects that are too big for the student to carry.

At my school, parents expect two musical programs, a class play, a mother's tea, and a teddy bear picnic. If I failed to invite parents to any of these activities, I would be tarred and feathered.

Believe it or not, there are actually parents who want to volunteer at their child's school. While I am thankful to anyone who is willing to help, I don't know of any teacher who "expects" parents to volunteer. Most parents can't, and teachers understand.

Katharine Beals said...

Given everything I've seen, it would be quite wrong of me to assume that all parents think exactly like me.

In this post, I didn't get into the reasons for these trends; but yes, ironically, pressure from certain highly vocal parents is behind at least one of them. In fact, one of the most maddening reasons for all the time-consuming homework that detracts from family-chosen activities are those homework/project-obsessed parents who want to inflict their choices on everyone!

Anonymous, I know a few parents like this, but your school sounds like it's full of them! Can you tell us something about the demographics of your school's families--i.e., their socio-economics, and whether the families generally involve two working parents?

There are indeed many parents, myself included, who from time to time (time permitting) have chosen to volunteer in schools. The issue, again, is on whose terms. It's one thing for parents to volunteer in ways that tap into their special talents--whether it's a mathematical parent tutoring kids in math, or a linguist tutoring kids in ESL, or a biologist teaching the class about micro-organisms. It's quite another matter when all you're doing is helping the teacher with his or her paper work, or acting as another warm body supervising group activities. Those are the things I've been asked to do, in my most recent experience, and they don't seem to me like the best use of anyone's time.

Anonymous said...

(another Anonymous): My mother's best friend had been a schoolteacher in a one-room school in rural Alberta in the 30's and 40's. There was no parent involvement because it was not possible. Raising her own children in suburban Connecticut in the 50's and 60's, she was baffled at the amount of 1) input from parents in school policy through the elected school board; and 2) level of parent involvement in volunteering, fundraising, homework, etc that you mention. She was not against all of this, but had a very healthy desire to first figure out what the goal was, and then decide if she bought in or not.