Today I had a nice visit with two friends; one is a mom, one is not; both are university teachers of entry level courses. Because of our backgrounds, the conversation touched on many topics relating to education and parenting.
K, the mom, and I talked about preschool and when we’d be enrolling our sons. Of course, first of all we said we couldn’t believe our boys are old enough that preschool is even on the horizon, but we also talked about timing and readiness. The other big question was how to approach education when they achieve school-age status. Enroll them in public school, private school, home-school? For both of us, home-school seems like the best choice on some levels, but thankfully we are years away from having to make that decision.
We also talked about future education and how it seems like schools are failing the nation’s children in so many ways. Since we all teach (or have taught) college freshman, we often see the failure of high schools in the work of our students. On many levels, college freshmen are coming into the classroom completely unprepared for the challenges that a college curriculum presents. This lack of preparation extends beyond academic standards. These kids aren’t prepared mentally to do the work before them, and they often consider their own failures to be the teacher’s fault.
Each of us had stories about students who failed to show up for class, failed to turn in assignments or failed to properly do the work. When their grades reflected that failure, the student often turned it around and said, “You didn’t tell me I was missing class/when the due date was/that I did it wrong.” As teachers of adult students, this is infuriating. It is the student’s responsibly to read and understand the syllabus. If they don’t understand something, it is their responsibility to approach the teacher and say, “I’m confused, can you explain this?” If they don’t do that, they absolutely cannot blame the teacher. Teachers at any level are not mind readers and if students don’t speak up and ask questions, then there is little the teacher can do to help them.
I’ve always wondered where that disconnect comes from. Are these students being let off the hook in their high school classrooms and that’s why they think they’ll achieve the same result in college? Are their parents fighting their battles for them or, worse, doing their work for them? What is it about Freshman Composition that turns so many students into surly balls of apathy?
K thinks the root problem is lack of parental involvement in education before the college level. If the parents aren’t taking an active role in the kids’ education then the kids feel less engaged in their academic community, a feeling that will bleed over into the college years. Personally, I don’t know what the problem is. I’ve always assumed that there is some fundamental lack of responsibility in the generation of young adults that I’ve taught. I don’t know if the two things are linked, but perhaps, if more parents do take initiative to help improve their kids’ schools, more kids will feel like their education matters and make a solid effort at not just learning the basics, but really using their education as a tool to enrich their lives.
A recent article on SheKnows/Parenting discussed the initiatives in California that help parents take back a little bit of control in their children’s education. Not all states have the same organized efforts as California, so barring that, here are four recommendations from SheKnows to help parents get more involved and engaged in their children’s schools.
While Parent Revolution has assisted in “triggering” efforts throughout California, parents all over the country can certainly take action without the backing of a well-funded organization. If you are concerned about your child’s school, there are several steps you can take to instigate change:
- Identify the problem(s). Is the district mismanaging funds? Are teachers pushing kids through without truly teaching them? Is administrative drama distracting from educating? Try to pinpoint the problem, from your perspective, so that you can articulate your concerns.
- Talk to other parents. Reach out to friends and other moms to see if they share your concerns.
- Organize. Don’t just talk about your concerns, activate! Gather with concerned moms and brainstorm ideas. How can you instigate positive change that is in the best interest of your children? Go to the administration first, but be prepared to go beyond the school office.
- Participate in school board meetings. Your school board works for you and their meetings are a platform for parents to share their thoughts — or even vent. Don’t expect board members to embrace change immediately, but plant the seed and then be ready to work, work, work. It may seem daunting, but your child’s education is surely worth it.