Sunday, September 23, 2012

The Importance of Parents

Parents are getting a lot of play in recent news and current sentiment around education reform. More and more, the parents' role in their children's educations is being debated, lamented, or suggested. Not so much praised, though. There isn't much celebration of parental involvement, and that's probably because there's so little of the right kind, and too much of the wrong kind.

A few years ago, growing media criticism of helicopter parents turned a bright spotlight on those parents whose extraordinarily protective and preventative behaviors, experts and laypeople alike thought, were detrimental to kids. For forever, teachers have worried about the other kids, too: those whose parents, let's say, are stealth drones. We don't see them. We don't hear from them. They're invisible. And while the helicopters are over-involved and over-participatory while over-doing it, the stealth drones are there, we know, but absent, and can be just as dangerous. I couldn't pick either as better than the other. Neither is any good.

This is true, too, for another type of parent. Let's call them the bombers. The one who, years ago, upon seeing my Halloween costume (I was dressed as a student who sported a rather unique style: tank-top, overalls, fleece vest, hair in a ponytail on top of her head, chewed up pen cap in mouth), told me that I "did [his daughter] better than she did." Or the one who sneered at parent conferences that I would soon see how less interesting this one was than his other brothers, whom I'd also had as students. Or the one who accosted a colleague in the grocery to complain about her child's poor academic performance, his choice of after-school sport, and even, his weight. These parents worry us just as much...maybe even more. Hovering is bad. Disengaging is bad. But I firmly believe that dogging your child is really, really bad.

Maybe that's because of our roles in these parenting scenarios. With helicopters, we are often on the receiving end of criticism. We defend ourselves, our practices, our colleagues. With stealth drones, when our attempts at engagement are rebuffed, we either redouble our efforts or eventually submit to a sad truth we know all too frequently. But with bombers, we get our backs up on behalf of our students. We counter the bomber's accusations with our advocacy. We defend those defenseless kids. We praise, we support, we suggest, we praise some more.

We believe in the power and potential of every one of our students, every day. We want our students' parents to feel the same way. Our kids deserve that, from all of us.

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