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Are Parents to Blame for Failures in Education?

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We all want kids who are strong and well-educated and ready to take on the world, but things don’t always work out like that.  In our educational reality, there are failures and dropouts and kids who graduate without ever really achieving their potential.  We want changes and we want answers.  So we start doing the most unproductive thing possible – looking around for someone to blame.

A recent piece in the New York Times by Lisa Belkin talked about the shifting centers of blame in education policy and reform.  For a while it seemed we were blaming teachers for all of the problems in education.  Now there’s a trend towards putting the responsibility back on parents.  Some states are even legislating this in the form of grading parental involvement and fining parents when their children are truant.  You can read the article at the link above or read about it on Today if you're not registered with the NYT website.  I'm concerned less about who gets blamed for failing grades and more with the fact that we're obsessed with finding someone to blame at all.

Here’s the way I see it, placing blame breeds contention and defensiveness and takes us away from working for the children we purport to care about.  We could say that we’re all to blame for the shortcomings in our school system.  Some parents aren’t doing enough.  Some administrators aren’t acting as strong leaders.  Some kids are lazy.  Some teachers could be more dedicated and better trained.  What this all tells me is not who to blame, but just how many people have the ability to make a positive difference in the lives of children.  We should see this as a good thing.

Parents have a huge impact on their children.  This is a blessing, an opportunity to build lives, educate the next generation and help develop character.  And it doesn’t just have to be with our own kids.  As parents, we have an influence on all of the children we come in contact with, in the schools, in our communities, and in our churches.  We need to support each other, build each other up and emphasize the important role we play.  When we see another parent struggling, we should offer help, rather than judgment.

I’ve blogged about this before, but I think the idea of grading parents is a lose-lose situation.  This will never build productive relationships with teachers and I can’t imagine it helping parents improve.

Administrators create the culture of the school.  They have the opportunity to aggressively build an amazing team of teachers, to craft an environment where learning is fun and where children feel safe and engaged.  I’m not saying it’s easy or that I would ever want that job, but that’s their opportunity if they accept the challenge.

There’s been so much blame hurled at teachers lately that you can’t say, “Teachers have a huge influence on children,” without the risk of meeting a defensive backlash.  “I can’t do everything.  Parents are responsible too.  Teachers cannot wave a magic wand and solve all the problems of a broken society.”  Saying that teachers have a huge impact on our kids can be heard as an insult, as if they are the only influencers and all negative educational outcomes are a result of their negligence.  This is so far from the truth.

However, if teachers didn’t think they had the chance of helping children grow and learn, how could they get up every morning and do what they do?  They’re sure not doing it for the money.  At their core, I think most good teachers crave the opportunity to make a difference in the lives of children.  They want to teach and nourish young minds but they certainly can’t do it alone.  We need to support and develop our teachers because, yes, their influence is huge.  I mean that as a compliment.

As unfair as life is for many of our kids, they still get to make the choice each day of whether they will rise up and do the best with what they’ve been given.  I think placing the blame fully on the parents denies kids of the important opportunity to feel some sense of responsibility for their own destinies, especially as they get older.  Now, I refer back to the quote from Mark Shriver, “Three-year-old kids don’t have bootstraps to pull themselves up with,” as a reminder that adults really do have the greatest opportunity to provide children with the tools they need to succeed.

Could we all do better?  Yes.  Would our children benefit if we all did more, worked well together, and focused on solutions?  Yes.  So we have an opportunity here.  Let’s make the most of it.

Kathryn Thompson is a mom to two school-aged kids, a toddler, and a deceased betta fish. She can also be found at The Parenting Post, DaringYoungMom.com and occasionally the gym.

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