Many teachers today will tell you that all these reforms are a waste of time because it’s really the parents who are responsible for their students’ poor efforts. They will give you a litany of negative experiences involving angry, recalcitrant, and aggressive parents, many of whom seem to have little interest in their children, and who don’t follow school guidelines or read to their kids.
“I’m a teacher with 30 years of classroom experience at the seventh grade level,” says Coleman Pont, “without the culture encompassing parental support, even the best teacher can fail. Principals tend to back parents when confronted with the fear of a parent going over their head to an even more scared administrator at the district office who is fearful of losing his job,” Pont says. Letters to the Editor, The Wall Street Journal, September 27, 2010.
I agree with teachers such as Ponte. It’s almost impossible to teach children when their parents are uncooperative and aggressive. But the teachers with negative views about parents usually work at schools where some of the best students –– and their parents –– have gone elsewhere –– creamed off to a “better world.” Once again, we are confronted with the elephant in the room, and some teachers are dealing with the academic coffee grounds after the cream has been siphoned off through the selective process.
But when you speak to teachers in one of the “Lake Woebegone Schools,” where everyone is above average, whether it is a charter school, a magnet school, or a fundamental school, they will tell you how great and supportive parents are.
In one killing field school only 3% of surveyed staff agreed that “parent support for this school is strong.” Meanwhile, over at a selective (Fundamental) school, 100% of respondents said parents supported the school. Lisa Gartner, “Survey Shows School Woes,” Tampa Bay Times, March 17, 2014. We find many cooperative parents in all schools. But the preponderance of limited parental cooperation is found in the non-selective schools.
We need to keep rying to educate uncooperative parents, and some good has come from this, but trying to change the ingrained personalities and lifestyles of adults is not easy, even when they seek help. How do I know? I know because children, families, and adults came to my private practice for psychotherapy and were willing to shell out big bucks to change their personalities.
But even in intensive one-on-one counseling, with a well-trained professional, they almost always resisted change and wanted to cling to old, safe, but ineffective patterns of behavior. It’s normal to want to maintain safe and comfortable personality patterns. Change is scary, especially when someone wants to tinker with who we are –– or who we think we are.
Unfortunately, programs designed to help parents with their parenting skills seem to draw those who are already motivated, not the parents who are least cooperative. As a result, these programs end up “teaching to the choir.”
Yes, disgruntled parents in a killing field’s environment can be a huge problem, but a head-on assault to alter suspicious and negative attitudes just isn’t feasible. The answer is to provide advanced academic studies and especially advanced career programs that will engage and inspire students. When that happens, the cooperative parents will remain with their neighborhood schools. When they do, they will have a more positive effect on the negative parents than any seminars or courses provided by the school system.
This is excerpted from The Elephant in the Classroom, (How our fear of the truth hurts kids and how every student can succeed.)