Mamapundit raises objection to a proposed Florida law grading parents as well as the kids. She comments thusly:

Parental involvement in children’s education is important, yes. However, the expectations of parents (read: mothers) in this regard have become increasingly burdensome in recent decades. When I was a third grader, my parents helped me with big projects, and they occasionally attended a school function. Today, however, “good” parents are expected to make involvement with their children’s school and classroom a kind of second job. I see many moms who volunteer at school several days per week. When they aren’t actually AT the school, they are selling candy bars and wrapping paper to raise money for the school. These moms know more about the minutiae of their kids’ classwork than the kids themselves, and they expect to spend hours each night sitting next to their children as they complete their homework. Prep for a school project – like the annual science fair – is a major family undertaking requiring intensive maternal involvement at every turn, as well as expensive and fancy supplies.

Sometimes it really does feel like we live in two countries. As often as I hear complaints about this, I also hear complaints from others (including educators) about how school is viewed as daycare and it’s the lack of parental involvement that is to blame for our education system’s failures. While some of that is passing the buck (educators have an incentive for parents to be blamed) and some of it is smug superiority (parents have an incentive to feel superior to other parents and none of them are going to think that they are the problem, it still rings true. Perhaps by sheer repetition.

Granju, though, is making the other argument. Never has more been expected of parents. And you hear these complaints, too. So-called “helicopter parents.” Ironically, these complaints also come from educators, though more of the upper level variety. Perhaps some of this is coming from parents that are resentful about being “judged” by having a job and therefore not being willing to work for the school district 40 hours a week, there is an element of truth to it.

These two ideas are not mutually exclusive. It’s more than possible to have one set of parents that won’t let go and another set of parents that simply doesn’t have time to care. It does make it, however, difficult to really approach from any sort of policy or public meme perspective. Talk about how parents should be more involved, and it’s those that are already involved that are most likely to listen. Talk about how parents need to be more laid back, and those same parents are not going to want to sacrifice any perceived edge that their involvement gives their kids while others may (to the extent that they’re listening) take it as a pat on the back for doing something right (if only by default and circumstance).

What this gets me thinking about, though, is the degree to which, if this continues, it will further create a disparity (along economic lines) among the youth. Maybe not, if the helicoptering actually doesn’t do any good. In the Sigmoid view of the world, though, it’s that sort of hyperinvolvement that gets kids to do the right things to get into the right college and avoid the abject failure that occurs with regard to anybody that doesn’t go to an Ivy League (or perhaps Public Ivy) institution. As with most things, while dramatically overstated and false in scope, it’s hard to deny there being some truth there. You may not have to go to an Ivy League of Public Ivy, but it sure is helpful to have a degree of direction and if you go to a commoner university to get into the honors college or have a realistic game plan to get into a good field upon graduation.

I am an example of how having on-guard parents can make a real difference. Academically, I was headed absolutely nowhere until my parents put their foot down and my father watched over me to make sure that I was going what I needed to be doing. Had I been raised by another set of parents that didn’t do that, it’s likely I would have ended up a college dropout and in a much worse situation than I ended up in. Mom would later put the foot down when I started making noise about going to trade school instead of college. Well, she wouldn’t have stopped me, but she urged me strongly not to and had the moral authority for me to listen. On the other hand, in an alternative Sigmoidian view, my experience is irrelevant because the entirety of my failure or success is due to my genes.

Anyhow, all of this is the long way around saying that if competition between upper class (and upper middle class) parents has never been greater and more and more is expected of the parents, while it becomes increasingly common among working class families and below to let the school districts (inadequately) raise their children, this portends bad things for the future of equality. I know that this is hardly an original thought, but considering all of the objective factors that make it harder for people from poor families to get ahead, the consideration of the additional layers added by hyperparents who believe that their livelihood exists in the success of their parents and that State College is death, is pretty depressing.

On the other hand, Granju’s kids attend Episcopal schools, which are both private and Episcopalian. It’s not hard to imagine that her experiences are not universal. I went to a very strong public high school, which followed a moderately strong middle school, which followed a pretty strong elementary school. Past grade school, the expectation of parental involvement was pretty slight.

Category: Home, School

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3 Responses to Parental Inequality

  1. web says:

    The problem is there isn’t a “one size fits all” solution.

    Yes, you have the “absentee parents”, the ones who see school as daycare; don’t show up for parent-teacher conferences; don’t supervise their kid to make sure the kid’s doing the homework; or anything else for that matter.

    Some of these “absentee parents” also fall into the “lawsuit happy asshole” category, the ones who never want to admit that little johnny is a retarded bully who is causing trouble and beating other kids up, and are willing to sue the school if they give him the bad grades he’s earned.

    On the flipside you have the “helicopter parents”, who seem to do more of the kid’s work than the kid does. Again, not helpful to the kid’s development.

    What is probably best for the kid is a middle ground; the parent who ensures that the kid is doing the work, helps answer questions if the kid is having problems with a concept, volunteers a little time (as much as they can anyways) with the school, and shows up for parent-teacher conferences.

    Granju complains about everything she does – perhaps she’s one mom being asked to take up the involvement to make up for 5 or 6 sets of “absentee parents” who are not doing much of anything.

    Oddly enough, helicoptering and absentee-parenting do not seem to (on a percentage basis at least) differentiate by class. You get absentee parents and “my johnny could never be the cause of trouble” types from the welfare-mom class just as often as (again, percentage basis) from the “lawyer dad-doctor mom” pairs.

  2. web says:

    After rereading the proposed law, I think Granju is going way over the top. I’ll go point by point:

    Parental response to requests for conferences or communication.

    Let’s face it; if the parents are refusing contact with the school/teacher, something is already wrong.

    The student’s completion of homework and preparation for tests.

    If little Johnny isn’t doing his homework, there ought to be communication between parents and teacher as to what goes on at home, right?

    The student’s physical preparation for school that has an effect on mental preparation.

    Again: this is a basic catch. If the kid’s showing up for school overly tired, having skipped breakfast on a regular basis, then it’s at least worth a discussion between school administration/teachers/parents on what’s going on.

    The frequency of the student’s absence and tardiness.

    Again: the parents should know if their kid’s frequently showing up late or if he’s skipping out.

    Parents will be able to appeal the involvement grade assigned by the teacher and there is no consequence to having a low rating. Through the appeal process, the principal, teacher, and parent would meet to discuss how the grade was determined and discuss the steps needed to improve the grade.

    This is the most important part, and I bolded these bits for a reason. First of all, there is not a major “punishment factor” for the bad grade. Second of all, the prescribed process is for the teachers, principal, and parents to meet and try to work out a solution to help the kid.

    By the criteria they’ve listed, “sewed costumes for the school play” or “wasted time fundraising” don’t matter for the parental-involvement grade. It’s about making sure the parents are ensuring the kid gets to school on time and with breakfast in him, does his homework and at least turns it in, and gets adequate sleep.

  3. trumwill says:

    I think the “punishment” factor is mostly social. Women sitting around, drinking coffee, and bragging about their grades. I’m mostly indifferent to the grades question. It seems like it’s one of those things that is going to take the helicopter parents and put them in overdrive while the less engaged parents will just ignore it. My guess is that Granju would score really well excepting, perhaps, this past year with all that she has been through. But even then.

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