Now we come to that third rail of education - parents. I have said this a lot in person but naturally, it's a dangerous subject. Just like the first rule of Fight Club is not talking about Fight Club, the first rule of parenting is you don't criticize others' parenting. Everyone has their own ideas about what is "good" parenting.
What might really help the education conversation - is for districts to express to parents what would help teachers/schools to do a better job. This is NOT telling parents "here's what a 'good' parent does" but "here's what would help your teacher/district."
(I know that there are documents out there but I'm not sure there has been a widespread effort to help parents - especially immigrant parents who may come from a different kind of educational system - understand what teachers/districts would find helpful.)
I will note that maybe there should be a letter from the PTA to the school/district saying what would be helpful for parents as well. What would make your life easier as the parent of an SPS student?
And what's an over-involved parent? I know from past experience that teachers/principals can both love and dislike AL parents. On the one hand, those parents will work very hard for their child's school and, on the other hand, they get very much into the weeds of education. But is that better or worse than a parent who isn't involved at all?
Into this tough discussion, comes the Times' Lynne Varner with her latest education editorial. She references an article by teacher Ron Clark at the CNN website about what would help. He has some good thoughts. But he does get into something of a pickle when he says this:
Trust us. At times when I tell parents that their child has been a
behavior problem, I can almost see the hairs rise on their backs. They
are ready to fight and defend their child, and it is exhausting. One of
my biggest pet peeves is when I tell a mom something her son did and she
turns, looks at him and asks, "Is that true?" Well, of course it's
true. I just told you. And please don't ask whether a classmate can
confirm what happened or whether another teacher might have been
present. It only demeans teachers and weakens the partnership between
teacher and parent.
With all due respect to Mr. Clark, I WOULD ask my child - away from the teacher - for his/her side of the story. I would ask the teacher for the context of the problem. Because if Clark worries about the weakening of the partnership between teacher and parent, then the reverse is also true. If you take the word of every adult over your child, without context or asking your child for their side of the story, you will weaken your relationship with your child. Guaranteed. And, your child will be less likely to come to you for help if he/she gets in trouble.
You shouldn't say, "My kid, right or wrong." But you also shouldn't say, "Well, if the teacher says it's true, it must be true." I would need to hear my child's side and listen to all the evidence before I would pass any judgment on my own child.
He also said this:
And please, be a partner instead of a prosecutor. I had a child cheat on
a test, and his parents threatened to call a lawyer because I was
labeling him a criminal. I know that sounds crazy, but principals all
across the country are telling me that more and more lawyers are
accompanying parents for school meetings dealing with their children.
Absolutely true, but as I have warned parents (and I'm telling you again), my experience is that in today's schools you will almost never have a meeting alone with a teacher. If you are asked to meet with your child's teacher, take a spouse or friend because you are going to walk into a room that has the teacher and at least one other administrator/counselor. Those extra staff are there to protect the teacher so you need someone who will be YOUR witness. I don't think anyone should be threatening anyone else but if the teacher gets backup, you should have it as well.
Going back to Varner's piece, it's not particularly coherent and, for some reason, she decides to take a shot early on at activist parents.
I still recall Kate Martin, a former Seattle School Board candidate and recent candidate for Seattle mayor,
behaving so threateningly at her son’s school that she was escorted out by police.
As Charlie has pointed out, Ms. Varner cannot possibly "recall" this incident because she wasn't there. Someone told her this story (which seems to have taken on mythic status). I wasn't there but our kids were at Roosevelt at the same time and there were issues with several teachers on performance grounds. Kate told me that she stood her ground in the office and was refusing to leave until someone talked to her about her son's teacher. When she wouldn't leave, they called the police. There was no "threat" to it; it was civil disobedience. I believe her mainly because if she had been threatening anyone, they would have arrested her and they didn't. Nor were any charges filed.
Varner finishes that paragraph with this (which I believe to be a shot at all activist parents/community members but likely aimed at this blog):
And then there are the parents who have made a second career, or their
only career, out of the Sturm und Drang of public schooling, whether it
involved their children or not.
As I said in the comments, "Why the Times thinks citizens should turn their backs on children or supporting Seattle public education is beyond me." Who gets to decide who is involved in public education? Only people who are employed in public education?
I'm hoping the district will come up with some new ideas about how to help parents from elementary to high school. I think no matter the frustration, parents should make every attempt to show their concern for their child's education. As Varner does point out, every parent also has to learn when to back off and let their child advocate for his/herself.
What is the best way to create a partnership between school and parents? That's the challenge and it has to be met by both sides.