Monday, October 3, 2011

How the Public Education System Encourages Parents to Abdicate their Parenting Responsibilities

This is my opinion.
An overwhelming number of parents have abdicated their parenting responsibilities to the school system, and they think this is right, good and normal.

So let me clarify.

The school system has taken on the responsibility to 'teach' children the characteristics of being a good person such as honesty, kindness, helpfulness, patience, tolerance and trust. The system also takes responsibility for teaching basic life skills such as hygiene, nutrition, health, sexuality and lifestyle choices. In my opinion, these areas are fundamentally the responsibility of parents.

What has happened is that the school system caters to what I would describe the lowest-common-denominator of its community. In other words, since there are going to be children in the system who, sadly, come from circumstances where they will not learn basic life skills or where they will not see in adults the attributes of good citizenry, the school has taken on the responsibility to provide opportunities for these children to learn what they need, supposedly, to live successfully as adults.

But this so-called solution to a sociological problem (and let me point out that the problem rests with the parents, not with the children) has completely backfired. If the point was to educate the 'less advantaged' children about topics that their parents might not have the resources to teach about, what has actually happened is that most parents, even those with the means and background, have stopped teaching their children the fundamentals of growing up.

Here are a few examples:

For two years I taught Grade 6 in a predominantly white, English-speaking working/middle class neighbourhood, where most families had two incomes. I was responsible for teaching Health, which included the topic of puberty. I was STUNNED that not a single student in my class knew the difference between the uterus and urethra. I was also required to teach a unit on nutrition, and I gave my class a challenge to not eat any junk food for 48 hours. They accepted that they couldn't eat candy, chips or soda, but they were STUNNED that they also couldn't eat fries, pizza, hamburgers, hotdogs, donuts, ice cream, popsicles, pudding, cake or cookies. Their parents showed up to ask me "So what are they supposed to eat? Lettuce?" Uh, ......yes.

You see, the more the school takes on the role of parent, the more parenting can be avoided by the actual parents. The school system has made it easy for parents to avoid important but uncomfortable topics like puberty, sexual health and lifestyle choices. So even 'good' parents allow themselves to be relieved of some of their responsibilities. They even stop trying. I have seen for example, that parents don't have to put effort into learning about what the healthy eating habits of adolescents should look like, because the school will tell their children what to eat. And what if the children won't eat healthily? Well, it's the school's fault, of course.

And it's not just the teaching of certain topics that parents have left up to the school system. Parents have asked me tell their child what time to go to bed, what time to get up, to be nice to his little sister, to help her grandmother, to spend more time on homework, to spend less time on homework, to do more chores around the house. The list goes on and on. I had parents asking me to issue punishments to their children for 'offences' that had nothing to do with me or school. This, when I was only 22 years old and my students were 13 years old!


Another area that parents have left up to the school is to allow them to label children and then 'fix' them. If a child is even slightly behind her peers in literacy or mathematics, her teacher will inform the parents that she is at risk. The parents are thrown into a dither of disappointment and relief: disappointed that their child is not, apparently, going to be a brain surgeon and relieved that now the school will 'fix' her and make her problem go away. It's ridiculous. How could parents let a person who has known their child for a few months make such a big judgement? And the parents beg for the school to help their poor child, as if there is nothing that the parent can possibly do, because after all, isn't learning something that happens at school?

Honestly, and speaking as an insider, teachers are horrified when a parent refuses to have a child tested for a learning disability or removed from the regular program to a remedial program or put in a Special Education class. Now that I am a more removed from the world of public education, whenever I hear a parent talking about a child who 'needs' testing or a special class, I always tell them they should never let the child be removed from the regular class, and they should get a private tutor or do whatever else it takes to help the child keep up with her peers. Why? Because whatever academic benefit the child might get by being part of school-based remedial program will be completely nullified by the sledgehammer that destroys her self-esteem when everybody knows she's gone to the 'dumb class'. It's not worth it.

Yes, I acknowledge that there are some good parents who truly believe that they have a greater role in their child's life than any teacher or curriculum. Those parents deserve some laud and honour, because they are parenting against the mainstream and they are incredibly rare. The good parents don't care about homework, while the rest of the parents are begging the school for more homework--because they don't know what to do with their children in the evenings!!!

I just can't have my children around other children who come from a culture of hands-off parenting. Children whose parents figure very significantly in their values and actions do not know how to be around children whose parents are largely irrelevant. I don't even know how to be around these hands-off parents. I can't remember how many times I have heard a parent at the playground say "My kids never listen to me." I always want to suggest "Why don't you try saying something relevant?"

So really what I am rebelling against in this particular derisive commentary is the parenting culture that puts teachers and curriculum above the instincts, knowledge and responsibilities of parents. Teachers and principals may love the power they have achieved in society, but society does not benefit from unloading the job of parents onto teachers.

I have decided to raise my own children, not hand them over to the government at the age of 4 to be raised in a culture that I don't subscribe to.


  1. Hi all...

    This is the perfect blog for anyone who wants to know about this topic. Public education a system of institutions and measures that ensures the education and upbringing of a people in accordance with the interests and requirements of the society and the state. Thanks a lot.

  2. Love this!!! As a former teacher and present at home Mom, I could not agree with this more. I used to get dumped on by parents for everything their children did wrong.. even things unrelated to school. Where do we draw the line for parental responsibility!!! Parents want to accept responsibility for any good behavior their child has and blame anything else on the education system.