Twenty years ago Delanie Easton, an Oaklander who was running for the position of Superintendent of Schools for the State of California said to a room of a thousand people: “If someone asked me, ‘Delanie, which would you rather have: one million dollars or one hour of parent involvement?’ I would say ‘One hour of parent involvement!’”
Really, Delanie? Not me.
I mean, parent involvement is good, but in a school, teachers are responsible for what kids learn, how they treat one another, and whether or not they love to go to school. Come to think of it, who is responsible for creating the conditions in which a parent would want to get involved? Think what one could do with $1,000,000. Think of the teacher salaries. Think of the student/teacher ratio.
But it was 1991, and it was California.
Five months ago, educators, parents and community leaders gathered in Decatur to talk about education at a meeting that came to be called “Roundtable 1.” One educator said, “I am tired of hearing that the problem is parent involvement. Look, parents are giving us the best they can. It is our job to take the kids where we find them and give them the best that we can.” There was general agreement.
“For an educator to say, ‘What do you expect me to do considering the homes these children come from?’ is like a dentist saying: ‘I can’t fix these teeth given the nutrition they are getting.’”
Certainly, it’s true that teachers are dealing with children who are under-parented, over-parented, one-parented, and un-parented. Yesterday, one experienced teacher who has been teaching in the Decatur Public Schools since the 1970’s told me about the “class from hell” she had years ago. She finished her story with: “These days it does seem that the class from hell is more the rule than the exception.”
So What? Here’s the so what.
Our nation needs to learn the difference between fault and responsibility. In the school reform debates going on these days there is no distinction. Someone says, “We need to get better teachers in the schools, and we need to be able to get rid of bad teachers.” Well, duh. Right?
Nonetheless, someone says back, “Stop blaming the teachers. I know many devoted teachers who struggle courageously year after year under impossible conditions.” And so it goes: another silly fight in the sandbox because someone has decided to hear blame rather than take responsibility.
What’s the difference between finding fault and taking responsibility? Fault looks back, and responsibility looks forward.
An Educator takes responsibility for the parent-teacher partnership. It is an essential partnership, and if someone wants things to work out for the child, they take responsibility for it. Period.
Taking responsibility for a relationship means having the attitude: “Sure, it takes two to tango. Sure, our relationship is a 50-50 relationship, but I am going to make it work. I take responsibility—full responsibility—100%-zero. I may not have caused this problem, but it is my job to do something about it. I have seen situations where the teacher is the problem, and the parent took responsibility for the relationship.
Today, the village doesn’t raise the children. If there was a time when home, school, church and community spoke with one voice, there is no longer. The children raise themselves. Their brains are designed by nature to collect all the messages and signals of their environment, to make sense of them and thus to learn the ropes. Today, for school and home to shape a child’s brain is hopeless. Their world is just too complicated.
Moreover, this is not a bad thing. It is an opportunity to educate. Bemoaning the lost days of conformity and consistency leads us in the wrong direction. Increasingly our children are being raised by some global village much of which is virtual. They listen to one parent and say, “OK.” They listen to another relative and say, “OK?” They hear what a teacher says and say, “OK, but?” Then a friend tells them, “No. This is the way it is.” Thus they piece together their own, unique, somewhat accurate, somewhat erroneous construction of reality.
Children need to get good at sorting through all this information, and constructing it into knowledge. They need to get good at analyzing, synthesizing and evaluating information. This is where children can definitely use help from adults—any adult. This work is so important that it requires the work of a professional. That’s where schools come in. At least it is where schools should come in, and failure of parents to play their role properly does not absolve the school of its responsibility.
What’s a professional? Someone who takes responsibility and does whatever learning is necessary to deliver on that responsibility. Parents can do it. Many parents are doing it. Failure of schools to do it is what got home schooling started.
We parents and teachers have to stick together in all our imperfection. What if both parent and teacher took responsibility—there’s a concept! Children don’t need us to “See eye to eye.” They don’t need us to be “consistent.” They DO need us to talk to each other in such a way that we learn from each other. Children are designed to handle uncertainty, inconsistency and disagreement, and it helps them a lot if the adults, who may very well disagree about child-rearing practices, take responsibility for harmonizing their different points of view.
No more finger pointing, please. The children are at stake.