Graves: Are we educators sure we want parental participation?

Parents, usually those upset by mask mandates or other restrictions, let school boards and administrators know, unflinchingly, of their unhappiness with what they viewed as unnecessary and Draconian rules.

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Be careful what you wish for. You might just get it. -- Aesop

Normally, I’d put something like that in quotes but translating from Aesop into modern English makes that a questionable endeavor. Suffice it to say, though, that this observation — or moral — is hardly novel. It’s as old as any of that venerable Greek’s fables.

Educational research from as long ago as the 1960’s focused educator’s attention on the importance of parental involvement. More important than socioeconomic status or any of the other contributing factors in the education of a child is the presence in the home of a parent who is actively engaged with that child’s schooling. Hence the frequent educator’s lament on needing the help of a partner at home to achieve student success in the classroom.

The issue is so prevalent, in fact, that the federal department of education has been issuing broadsides on this issue for decades, certainly for as long as I have been involved in schools. Federal programs, like Title I and special education, require schools to involve parents. Many, in fact, issue allocations to schools for specific programs like reading and mathematics remediation and then require that a certain percentage of those dollars be spent on parent engagement activities. Thus, Title I will often hold “Parent Nights,” events during which parents and their children will read together, hear tips for boosting student literacy, and even enjoy a meal or book giveaway as a way to attract attendance.

Education’s commitment to parental involvement was and is the impetus for parent-teacher conferences. That teachers genuinely believe in their importance is demonstrated by the oft-heard disappointment that a certain parent didn’t make it to their child’s conference.


Which is why what has transpired over the last few years has left many educators engaging in some soul-searching. During Covid, for example, attendance at board meetings by parents skyrocketed across the country. Parents, usually those upset by mask mandates or other restrictions, let school boards and administrators know, unflinchingly, of their unhappiness with what they viewed as unnecessary and Draconian rules. Somehow, though, some educators weren’t happy with this upswing in parental involvement. The National School Board Association, an organization which had advocated for higher levels of parent involvement for decades, was so aghast, they complained to the Department of Justice, asking for measures to be taken against some of that involvement. I wrote about this at the time. Yet this was only one example of the confusion of the educational community.

As it turns out, I guess, educators are only human. We ask for parents to step up but, at least sometimes, what we want is for parents to step up when they agree with what we are doing, less so or not at all when they don’t. And Covid restrictions aren’t the only examples of late.

Another would be book banning. Our nation’s very early commitment to free expression makes removing books from libraries or classrooms highly suspect. Then again, certainly there is some literature which does not belong within the school walls. So, shouldn’t there be room for reconsidering certain works? And if so, why do so many instantly vilify those who raise objections? My guess is because it’s easier to win that argument that way than by reflection on content.

Or how about concerns over curriculum content — sex educaton or current issues classes or even, these days, American history. Witness the Kerfuffle over the new state standards. Parents are manning the walls on both sides of that issue, yet many educators, not content to simply consider their views, object to parental involvement at all. A recent survey by an educational foundation asked teachers who are leaving the profession just why they are doing so.”

Progressive political activity” was identified by 21 percent as their main reason for departing. Some of this means intrusions by politicians but they only engage because ]their constituents, i.e. lots and lots of parents, are demanding they do so.

Educators, like all professionals, believe they have an expertise which should be respected. And this is true. But also like all professionals, we need to listen to, although not necessarily obey, those we serve.

Even when we don’t like it.

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