Driving around, I see lawns plastered with campaign signs. It’s that time of year again: Local elections are just around the corner. While I cherish our ability to vote and choose our leadership, I dread the mudslinging and adult bullying that accompanies it. And some of the most contentious elections in my Wisconsin city involve our local school board.
If you live in my state, you are likely aware that our public school system has taken the political center stage — maybe that’s the case in your state too. Buzz words like Common Core, teacher accountability, standardized testing and performance criteria stir emotions, soothe souls and make blood boil.
And they distract us. You see, I believe these high level, hot button topics give us parents a way to externalize our responsibility for our children. There, I said it. Are they important agenda items on the education agenda? Absolutely. But, we use them as an opportunity to shift our parenting jobs to teachers and the education system.
Somewhere along the line we’ve decided that schools should parent our kids. We’ve turned our power over to them and given them the responsibility of not only providing an academic education, but teaching children appropriate social behavior, manners, empathy, morals and values. And teachers have taken this on. Not because they wanted to, but because we parents stopped doing it.
Let me be clear. I know that every family has their own struggles and actively parenting our kids can take on different forms. I’m not talking about the extreme ends of the social economic spectrum. I’m talking about the typical family in the typical American town. I imagine I’m talking to folks who are most likely to read this: parents who work hard to provide and raise kids but maybe find themselves buying into this idea that if we send our kids off to school, those adults are responsible for the outcome.
And no wonder our teachers are struggling. Can you imagine only having seven hours a day to parent 25-30 kids? Where your job was to not only teach math, reading, science and social studies in a way that matched your children’s individual learning styles, but you also had to teach them how to feel and display empathy towards their peers, how to choose healthy foods and actions, how to internalize a sense of personal responsibility … the list goes on.
Imagine how much easier their job would be if they only had to teach academics — if the kids in their care came into the classroom with a solid foundation in those social, moral and life skills? My guess is that a lot more academic teaching and learning would be going on.
But because educators struggle to simultaneously teach and parent at the same time we’ve vilified teachers and turned educating our kids into a partisan political issue. It’s time to take back our power and do our jobs so teachers can do theirs. If we spend more energy parenting, teachers can spend more of theirs teaching.
Nix the Babysitters
But parenting means spending time with our kids. Not more time shuffling them to and from this practice and that. Coaches, like teachers, are not our kids’ parents. Nor are television, iPads, video games or the internet. Only when we really be with our kids can we pass along our values and train them to be the adults we hoped they’d become the minute we met them.
When we relinquish our parenting control to teachers, coaches and electronic babysitters, we allow others to shape our kids. And we gave up our power voluntarily, so when we don’t like the results, we only have ourselves to blame. Teachers are a convenient scapegoat. And it sure feels better to funnel our anger at them versus acknowledge our own accountability.
Turn Lemons Into Lemonade
And even if teachers would be allowed to only teach, we are not always going to agree with the content taught. How could we when the academic landscape is so vast and only getting broader and deeper as information becomes more widely available? But, if I harness my power as a parent, I realize that my kids aren’t doomed by the material taught or not taught in the classroom. I can make an impact in that regard.
The first week of my kids’ public education they were exposed to the concept of evolution. As a Christian family, we had issues with this. While at first I was frustrated and questioned my decision to send my kids to public school, I decided to see it an an opportunity.
I talked to my boys about what we believed and why others might not. I used it as an opportunity to teach critical thinking and see the world through others’ eyes. I want my kids to learn these important life lessons, and I believe that teaching them is part of my job.
While I know amazing parents who will disagree with me, I want my children to be exposed to diverse people and ways of thinking. And I want the opportunity to help them navigate confusing issues that contradict what we as a family believe. I want my children to see all people as valuable and worthy. If exposed to what is different late in life, different is scary and threatening. It’s my role to turn these experiences into lessons. If they are not taught these skills when young, how will they navigate the adult world without me by their side?
But I need to be checked in to realize these opportunities. I don’t expect every coach and teacher to have my belief system. But if I’m present, I can use those differences to my kids’ benefit. But, if I’m checked out, my knee jerk reaction will be to blame others and rationalize my helpless behavior.
And our power is not limited to value-laden issues. The other day we received our boys’ standardized test scores. Considering their grades and other feedback we’d received, the scores weren’t what we expected. If I followed popular opinion, I’d take the easy way out and blame their teachers. But what about me? Maybe I’m missing something. Maybe there is something I can be doing at home to support what the teachers are teaching. Maybe I can help fill a gap. Or what else could be impacting the scores that only a conversation with their teachers could help explain? So instead of getting angry and externalizing blame, I’m harnessing my power and seeking to be part of the solution.
Resist the Distractions & Take Control
So, I’m focusing on taking responsibility. Yes, I vote and involve myself in school board issues that are important to me — that’s my job too. But, I’m being careful not to get so distracted by the educational battles on the hill and in our local school board chambers that I let fear and slippery slope arguments convince me that I have no control.
I’m working hard to harness my parenting power. I’m convinced that teachers don’t want that job. Most teachers want to teach and do it because they care about our kids. Sure, there are bad teachers just like there are bad bosses and bad parents. But, just as I don’t assume you are a bad parent, lets not make that assumption about teachers.
Teachers are not divine nor are they evil. To think they are gives them way too much power. We must partner with them by doing our job. They can’t do theirs well if we don’t hold up our end of the bargain.