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When Parents No Longer Have a Say

Today's blog is written by an outstanding fifth grade teacher in upstate, N.Y. named Brian Rhode. I should know...because I'm his principal.

This research shows that some children exhibit reading and writing behaviors in the informal setting of home and community long before they start formal school instruction. -Patrick Finn

What happens when you do not fit in? What happens when assumptions made about people and professional teachers do not apply to you? What happens when you cannot afford to search for alternative options for your children's education? What are you supposed to do when you would not look for options anyway because you really believe in the importance of public education?

Patrick Finn's quotation above reminds me of what a powerfully educative place the family home can be. Unfortunately, at this time changes have been made to public education with the intent of controlling families' choices of how they want to raise their children. The intention is honorable, at least I am hoping it is, but right now for my profession and my family it feels stifling and a real limitation on our freedom as parents.

There is a wonderful book called Shop Class as Soulcraft by Matthew B. Crawford that discusses, among other things, the author's belief in the importance of remaining close in our relationships to our things and how they work. He believes that we lose something humanizing when we no longer know when, for instance, our car is low on oil and needs more. I am not talking about responding to the various lights that come on to tell a driver the car is low on oil or service to the engine is needed; rather, I am talking about understanding how your car runs well enough that you can tell when a certain noise, sputter, or overheating indicates a particular problem.

Simply stated, the loss of this knowledge opens the door for one to be taken advantage of. Have you ever questioned the person who programmed the light to turn on and indicate that service is required? Is service really required? Or, is it just recommended maintenance? I think that the current education reforms are, in one aspect, removing parents and teachers even further from the process of educating children, which is opening the door for people to be taken advantage of.

As a teacher and a father of two school aged children I feel like I am very well versed in the substance of the current education reforms. Behind all of the work being done I believe there are two assumptions that make up a foundation for these large scale efforts:

  1. Children's home environments do not nurture academic skills adequately.

  2. Teachers are not capable of producing adequate academic skills in students without being held directly accountable to a rigid structure of instructional standards and checkpoints.

Originally our homes were our classrooms, and the curriculum was quite simply built on the notion that parents were producing the future members of society. Current efforts are moving education completely away from this intimate form and simple goal.

Regarding assumption one, I have experienced as parent the resistance against my own role in nurturing my son and daughter's academic skills. As I write this, it is Saturday afternoon and my family and I have returned from an outdoor hike. My children are playing, imaginatively and not on an electronic device, my wife is reading and I am writing, because I want to, not because I need to. Yet, a message my wife and I are getting over and over again is that these natural practices are not valued by school as much as the measurable tasks they provide us with. They are not homework assignments that can be added to their body of data used to prove to some removed third party that my kids are "learning."

The second assumption is the primary culprit. When I began teaching eleven years ago there was a theme in education that parents and teachers are partners in designing the best education program for their shared kids/students. However, now teachers are no longer trusted to be the local authority on how students should be taught. That means they must be able to communicate student learning to some other faceless third party. That has left teachers no other option than to only accept the type of parental efforts and feedback that fits into this new rigid structure. Parents and teachers are no longer the partners of eleven years ago; especially if those parents do not fit into the system now being pushed in education.

I want to remind that the further we get from controlling our own notion of what is important about education the more we invite others to take advantage of us and our children. When divergence from a system is not valued how will we know if the system is taking advantage of people? We need to value teachers as authorities on how students learn, and what they should learn, and we need to value parents as authorities on the stamina and method for nurturing the learning habits of their own kids.

Instead of following this path we are being forced upon, have we stopped to ask where we are going?

Resources:
Crawford, Matthew B. (2009). Shop Class as Soulcraft. USA: Penguin Books.

Finn, P. J. (1999). Literacy with an attitude: Educating working-class children in their
own self-interest. Albany: State University of New York Press.

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