A widely held belief in our culture is that more parent involvement in schools results in a better academic environment. Close teacher and parent contact should increase communication and trust. This bond between teacher and parent would supposedly facilitate the student's learning.
This idealized interaction between parents and teachers is based on too many assumptions that do not hold true in our current culture. Many parents today often have as much or more formal education than many teachers. Even those parent less formally educated have access to experts in education and child rearing in the media and on the Internet. This pop culture knowledge has fostered arrogance in many people in dealing with other professionals even if they are in a different field.
This easy information access has made everyone and anyone an educational expert. It is a striking contrast to the less formally educated parent a few generations ago. As a greater proportion of our population has graduated from college, the awe and respect once reserved for teachers has decreased accordingly. Teachers today are less involved in the community and they often do not share similar value systems with our more diverse population.
Modern parents are more suspicious than trusting of their child's teacher than in the past.
Teachers as well as other professionals have lost their ability to influence the parents to take certain actions without a long list of doubts and questions to be answered. Compliance to an educational strategy formulated by the teacher is usually resisted by both the parent and the student. Today everyone, including many students and parents have to be part of the educational planning to bring them on board. Even with this input and maybe because of it there are many unresolved debates with many school-involved parents concerning the correctness and execution of any plan.
Whenever there is a disagreement between the parent and teacher the respect the child has for the teacher is undermined. Without the teacher and parent being on the same page, the teacher's power is lessened. This is exactly the same psychological dynamic that surfaces when parents argue in front of their child.
Our teachers are no longer supported by parents the way they were in the past. Students complain about the teachers grading unfairness, excessive homework, or even social interaction with the teacher. Our present friend/parents usually take the side of the child and expect the teacher to respond to their child's allegation. The parent does not allow the teacher the professional respect to explain her policies on the issues that they are questioning.
The parent is the child's advocate. A teacher is no longer a trusted authority figure. According to the parent the teacher does not understand the child's unique abilities and brilliance he occasionally displays at home. Whenever a parent has the opportunity to give his child a leg up or protect him they feel they need to do so regardless or the unfairness to others. These parents fail to realize their child's performance can be very different in a group as compared to a one-on-one situation with a loved one. These parents do not fully support the teacher in the daily complex position of dealing with the instruction of a group of children. Rather, the teacher is the one who is guilty until proven innocent.
Even in more innocuous settings, such as volunteering in the child's classroom or on a field trip, the parent's allegiance is quite clear and startling. Modern parents are not there to be objective assistants in the classroom or on trips but have a specific agenda to give their own child an advantage over their classmates, which was unheard of in the past.
These parents often take an aggressive role to advance their child's interest over other students. The parent more often than not will not follow proper decorum. The volunteers want their children to receive preferential treatment from the teachers. These benefits the child should receive vary from being chosen first on line and being allowed to skip certain rules the parent disagrees with. According to the parents, the teacher owes them for their volunteering in the school by giving the child special consideration.
Our schools should reevaluate the benefit/cost aspects of parent volunteers in the school. These volunteers provide teachers with an extra set of eyes and hands in the classroom. Although parent volunteers can come with a significant price tag.
When a parent volunteer believes her time in school should entitle her child to special treatment, it is time for the school to provide clear policy guidelines. These guidelines should state it is never the case to treat one child better than others even if it is their own child.
Anyone, including a parent, providing favors to his or her own child impacts the integrity of the entire school. School districts and their administrators should make it quite clear that parental favoritism will not be tolerated. All American students deserve a level playing field to fairly earn their grades to compete in a meritocracy society.
Domenick Maglio is a columnist carried by various newspapers, an author of several books and owner/director of Wider Horizons School, a college prep program in Spring Hill. To see more from him, visit www.drmaglio.blogspot.com.