June 6, 2020

The Two Faces of Parental Involvement

The Two Faces of Parental Involvement
by Steve McFarland

Dr. Doolittle made famous an animal likened unto a llama only with two heads. As I recall it was known in Doolittle books as a “Push Me – Pull You”. In order for one end of the animal to go in a forward motion, the other end inevitably traveled in reverse.

Contemporary education must be familiar with this “push me – pull you” concept. It has been yanking us around with two headed notions for longer than we care to remember. About the time we become familiar with the direction it takes, something new and profound catches it’s eye and we are suddenly off to another new method, philosophy and learning technique. At times educational concepts go in opposite directions simultaneously.

We have been told for several years now that parents cannot and should not be depended on for educational support. The idea inside this notion is that educators know best and that the majority of American parents will only confuse children. There is also an assumption that all parents are too busy, too drugged, too complacent or too divorced to be anything but a signature on the bottom of a permission form.

So while one end of this animal moves toward a system devoid of parental influence, the other pushes for a statistical increase in the very parent involvement it has for years tried to supplant. Bizarre animal indeed.

In order to make this work, education has redefined parental involvement all together. For its statistical cravings, schools have devised elaborate and creative ways of simply getting parents inside the building. Parents inside the walls of a school constitute involvement. A fall festival will draw 800 families and we describe our school as having great parent involvement. A school offers parent classes and have three show up and the school is described as being “parent friendly.” Some schools have taken to counting parents who come to the school for reasons ranging from bringing a forgotten band instrument to using a telephone due to a flat tire.

Time to get real. I am a parent who works in a school where both my children have attended and even I cannot keep up with all their work or understand all the things they are supposed to do. But, I am a parent involved with my children. I know them. I know what they need, what scares them, what they like, what they want. I know because I am at home with them. My wife and I put them to bed and wake them up. We discipline them and love them. We encourage, demand, make mistakes and show our own weaknesses before them. They know us as well as we know them. That is involvement.

It needs to be said to the experts that parents generally know more, care more, and want more regarding their children than does a school system. To be involved with my children should not be equated with number of times I have been to my daughter’s class or volunteered at the school car wash. Too few parents are able to have the luxury of spending that kind of time in a school. Typically the parents that top the list for volunteer hours are those not having to work and we should not assume all other parents have no interest in their child’s education.

A survey was released recently by the Horatio Alger Association that stated most children want their parents involved in their lives. Eighty four percent of those surveyed said their future success would be defined by their having a close family relationship. Over half surveyed indicated they would prefer confiding in a family member over anyone else.

Educators need to listen to the children on this one. They want parents. And they want teachers. They do not want an animal with both heads.

There is no denying that some children lack parents capable and/or willing to provide proper support. But let’s not paint all parents on the same canvas. I am convinced that most parents care and are involved with their children – more than expert educators would care to admit. It is far easier to blame poor academics on a nameless, faceless parent than face up to the harsh reality of the system’s continuous failure.

Perhaps its time schools throw out the book on parental involvement and promote real educational involvement. I have personally crusaded this message for the past few years in my school and the result is an increase in the number of parent-teacher conferences available through the school year. Parents have the right to know their child’s teacher and the subject matter they study. If they want to stop by the front office and answer the phone for an hour a week, great! Just make sure to sign in so you can get counted.