Friday, May 6

Rethinking Education: The Parental Role

studentsA few weeks ago, I wrote a trio of posts revolving around education. They focused on immersive education, student expectation, and system solutions. Never once did I mention parental obligation. And several people said I ought to have. But I didn't. And it was intentional.

That is not to say there isn't a parental role. But I have mixed feelings about the increasing role parents are "supposed" to play.

On one hand, there is a clear need for parents to insist — demand — a change. On the other, there doesn't seem to be much point in sending children to school if the obligation of educating them falls to the parent anyway.

From an idealistic standpoint, schools are the educators and parents provide oversight. From a practical and pragmatic standpoint, there is a need for parents to become more involved because a failing system means someone has to be accountable. And when it comes to our children, the buck stops with us as parents. So the question is answered in two ways.

The Role Of The Parent Reformer.

Whether you have children or not, take some time to watch Waiting For Superman. The film lags in places, but still provides a primer for what is being lost.

Visit StudentsFirst.org. General membership is free, but there are opportunities to make donations. If nothing else, StudentFirst.org will keep you apprised of what is happening in the school systems, including some of the less effective policies such as favoring seniority over effectiveness when schools have to cut back.

Become as involved in the school as possible. Depending on the school, it might be worthwhile to join the PTA. However, closer to home, we found the local PTA was less of a cooperative between parents and teachers and more of a cooperative between parents and teachers' unions. Even on the national level, the PTA has become politicized, saying it only supports charter schools if they accept the "positions and principles of the National PTA." Enough said.

As an alternative, parents can make direct connections with the teachers and principals of the school on their own. Many parents are sometimes concerned that if they critique an ineffective teacher, there will be retribution. However, it's simply not true. In a worst case scenario, you can demand that your child be moved.

SupermenAs a parental reformer, the time invested can make a difference while keeping the responsibility and accountability of education on the school. Educators and administrators do have a tendency to listen to squeaky wheels. Be squeaky. It's important for two reasons.

First, sooner or later, children outpace parents in terms of the subjects they study. Students won't be able to rely on their parents in college. Second, not every parent is capable of picking up the educational slack, e.g., educational success should not be dependent on whether or not a single parent has to work two jobs.

It would be worthwhile for parents to have a psychological shift in how they perceive education. Younger parents, especially first-time parents, tend to get too caught up in seeking teacher-school affirmation that their child or children are smart and well-behaved. Instead, the emphasis, even early on, ought to be on accountability because every child has the potential to be "smart " and socially responsible. It's the schools' and teachers' responsibility to ensure the potential isn't wasted.

The Role Of The Parent Educator.

While I maintain that the role of education ought to be the responsibility of the school, it would be dishonest not to recognize that parents are becoming more burdened with education. I had a conversation with my mother, who is raising my niece and nephew, about education. And she doesn't recall having to invest nearly the same amount of time in my education as theirs.

Specifically, unlike when I attended school, the children are being sent home with homework they are not prepared to do. In some cases, they mention that their teacher did not have time to cover it in class or, at least, enough for the students to fully grasp the problem.

Baloney. The steps in early education are straightforward. Give students some foreshadow of what they will learn (advanced material with practice problems), show them how to do it (in-class instruction), ask them to do it with oversight (in-class assignment), ask them to do it on their own (homework), and then go over those areas where a majority of the class struggles.

While the teachers ought to be following these steps, parents have to be more reactive if they do not. In terms of homework, parents do the most good if they ensure an environment for study (no television, distractions), review the work, make sure they understand the concept, and then check the work after the child completes it on their own, requiring them to find the solutions for any missed. (Never do their homework!) Of course, this only works if the parent can understand the homework.

Beyond providing oversight — making sure your children understand homework, are turning in assignments, and are maintaining acceptable grades — parents who want to be involved in their child's education need to find ways to augment their education. It's not easy, which I can illustrate by example.

My son started struggling with reading in the second and third grades not because of his skill level as much as the subject material he would choose. He couldn't connect with the books. And after I read a few, I could appreciate why. They sucked.

educationSo, I decided to guide him toward a better selection (only to find out most of the books I knew were not on the AR list). Undeterred, we scoured an online listing looking for high-rated books that touched upon some of his interests; about 20. From those 20, he chose five based on their summaries. His reading immediately improved, even though we had to prod the school to order the tests that coincided with the books. It seems they only order tests for some AR books.

Where the fiction selection paid off beyond meeting school requirements was in discovering related nonfiction interests. For example, his interest in Greek mythology (which in turn opened up history). While we didn't go further, that historical context could have easily opened up art and writing assignments. In short, it helped create an immersive education structure.

For my daughter, things will be a bit different. After considering our options, we decided to enroll her in a private school, starting in kindergarten. Two interesting facts about the school. First, they have an immersive educational format like the one I advocate. And second, while they encourage parental involvement, they accept full accountability for education without relying on parents to augment their education.

It makes me wonder. Why aren't public schools doing the same? But more importantly, despite the examples above, the primary areas of focus for parents are best placed in teaching children social skills (respect for others), the value of education (self-respect), and a love for learning (quest for knowledge).

That will be the foundation that propels them, more than any hands-on eduction. Does that make sense? Although parents are forced to be more hands on for pragmatism, the best thing we can teach our children is the desire to educate themselves. Because if we fail at that, then any educational prodding is merely a Band-Aid until they aren't ours to prod anymore.
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