Schools vs. Parents

Valerie Strauss ("Putting Parents in their Place: Outside Class", Washington Post) writes,

They are needy, overanxious and sometimes plain pesky -- and schools at every level are trying to find ways to deal with them.

No, not students. Parents -- specifically parents of today's "millennial generation" who, many educators are discovering, can't let their kids go.


Teachers and principals in the early grades began noticing changes in parents in the 1990s. Parents began spending more time in classrooms. Then they began calling teachers frequently. Then came e-mails, text messages -- sometimes both at once. Today schools are trying to figure out how to take back a measure of control.

My first thought when reading this was, Take back control? You must be kidding. When I enter my 6-year-old son's school, they are in full charge. I have to push a buzzer by the locked door, wait for them to open the door, and then go directly to the main office to explain my business. Now, I appreciate that security for my son. I wouldn't have them change it. But what "measure of control" is left for them to take back?

My second thought was, Well, there are "abusive" and "intrusive" parents. At the exteme end are those parents who riot at sports games and assault and even shoot their children's coaches. And I can imagine at the less extreme end are others who interfere with the running of schools and the education of the children.

Even so, I get the feeling from this article that the schools and teachers (not all, mind you) are not receptive to parents coming to school unless asked, sort of a "closed door" policy. From NY's Channel 13: Concept to Education, we read advice for teachers to work with parents:

It is important for teachers involved in family and school partnerships to truly play the role of "partners"-- working with parents as equals rather than coming from a position of power and authority. It is also important for teachers, who may be working in very wealthy communities, to be able to work effectively with parents who may be very empowered, both economically and politically. Either way, teachers should come to see parents as resources rather than adversaries, which unfortunately happens in many schools. Teachers and families can improve outcomes for their students and children by working together on the common goals of improving the education of children. Through this process they will learn to understand differing communication styles prevalent in various classes and cultures.

Note that this excerpt assumes that some teachers, and I would include schools, see parents as "adversaries." That's a rather odd position for a school to take.

This adversarial position is found at the university level, too:

"Our aim is not to tell parents to let go completely because, of course, parents want to be an integral part of their children's entire lives," said Walter of Seton Hall, where orientation includes sessions for parents and students -- both separately and together. "Rather, it is to discuss how to be involved in their children's lives, while allowing their children to learn the life skills they will need to succeed in college and beyond."

Note that Walter says they don't want to "tell" parents, but that is exactly what the educational institutions in this article are doing. Most discussions like these occur between "experts" and "non-experts" with the implication, You should listen to us. We know what are are talking about while you don't.

Of course, I would hope that the schools know more about education than most parents do. That's their job. Yet, the amount of involvement of parents is related to cultural expectations, too. In some countries, children live with their parents until they marry. In fact, while in Turkey, I heard of some families who moved to the city where their teenager entered a university so they would be able to continue to live together. I've never noticed or heard that they didn't pick up "life skills." I'm not sure educational institutions are "experts" on what amount of family cohesiveness and interaction is suitable for "succeeding in life."

Someone who knows considerably more about the workings of public schools than I do said that districts generally want parents to become involved, although in some districts, "Parents are a pain in the neck." These tend to be districts with parents who are well off and accustomed to telling others, including school staff, what to do. She asks, "When do parents belong in schools? What's their proper function?" Those are good questions. Certainly better than beginning with the assumptions in "Putting Parents in their Place: Outside Class."