Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Parental Involvement in School; Today versus Yesterday

My daughter was visiting me in California. She said she had to leave a day early to hurry home to DC to attend her daughter's school's parent's night. She said the school requested/required that parents get very involved in school. I said goodbye. I told her I understood.

After all, my wife and I had been very involved in her schooling when she was in pre-school, kindergarten, grammar school and high school. What is good for one generation is just as good for the next. I watched her drive away to the airport, I thought of my parent's generation...and...a sudden, blasting illumination on the road to Tarsus: I don't remember my parents being involved with my school at all! I don't remember my parents visiting any of my classes, neither in grammar school, or high school, or being in the PTA! I don't even remember if my schools even had a PTA.

Visit a classroom? Are you out of your mind? The only time I remember my parents or any other parents visiting the school was when (and if) the kid got in trouble. And, believe me, our parents were not happy when that occurred.

Generally a teacher's growled warning earlier that they MIGHT call our parents to come to school if we didn't shape up was enough to put the fear of God--and discipline--into us. (I remember if I complained to my parents after school about teacher yelling at me or throwing a piece of chalk at me, the first thing my parents would say was, in an even deeper growl: "What did you do wrong?!" Teachers were never wrong; just kids were.)

Were my parents just lazy? I mean, both my parents were available to come to school and help: my mother was a say-at-home Mom and my Father worked nights. Maybe they didn't love me enough to care to participate? And, worse and more troubling, by their non-involvement did they permanently scar my future; diminish my future educational and occupational horizons?

By the way, my parents weren't unique in their absolute separation from school...the closest most parents got to school involvement was reading their kids' twice-a-semester report cards. And I don't remember any of my friend's parents participating in school activities or attending classrooms to help...or going to school at all...except for maybe school plays and graduation. What was wrong with that generation? Didn't they like their kids? Didn't they care about their future?

Perhaps the depression and WWII had so marred and scarred them that they didn't care? Or perhaps the resultant 1950's economic good times kept them so selfishly hovering over their new porches and backyards and barbecues that they totally ignored their children? A sudden thought: I played high school football AND basketball...and I don't remember my mother and father attending ANY of the games? And I don't remember feeling particularly weird about it? What was going on then?

Conclusion (after much bewilderment and critical self-examination):

My Mom and Dad didn't have to help out at school because they had done all their work AT HOME before we ever got old enough to go to school! Mom and Dad had already inculcated in us--AT HOME--the habits of hard work and discipline and respect-for-our-elders; and so, by the time we went to school, the teachers--and we--didn't need any more of parental educational involvement. Parents had already prepared the way for teachers to teach.

That left teachers, and schools freed-up from having to teach kids social and personal skills, and with plenty of time and energy for teaching academics, the three-Rs: 'reading, 'riting and 'rithmetic'.

Behavioral problems? I don't remember any of us kids acting out in school! Yes...I do remember...once. It stands out because it four years of high school; and I have no memories at all RE grammar school acting out! I do remember there was a fist fight occasionally among boys (we didn't all it 'battery' or 'physical abuse' then) in the schoolyard; but they never last long because a teacher would show up and stop it; and that was that. No one--not even the furious fighters--would challenge the absolute supremacy of the teachers to end a fight.

Now I don't want you to think I went to a sweet suburban or private school. I went to public school, in inner-city public school in New Jersey; a town of one square mile holding 60,000 people. Lots of immigrants; Italian then; Cuban today...the only distinction from then to now is that now they eat predominantly tacos now instead of pizza. But the city is populated with the same people as yesterday: middle- and lower-middle class...or "Upper Poor" as I used to call it. Factory workers, dock workers, petite bourgeois and proletariat.

There was a dress code of sorts--your clothes has to be clean and neat and not ripped. Boys wore sleeved shirts and girls wore blouses and skirts. And sweaters. But cleavage? Only in the butcher shop; when the butcher used the cleaver to cut the rump roast. (I don't even think boys were allowed to wear jeans!). Guns? Knives? Are you kidding? No one ever considered the option.

Yes, it was the 'boring' 1950s; when my mother or father never locked the front door when we went out, or certainly not the car. Thieves stole from thieves, not 'citizens'.

Granted these memories are all from my childhood, from my child's point of view, and therefore probably somewhat naive...and perhaps even romanticised. But, discounting all that, the salient fact, my mothers and fathers participation --or rather non-participation--in school...that is true. And I wound up passing my SATs on my own (without parents or tutors), and I got into a very "good" college; and I made decent living after that...and have had and am having a good life...without any history of direct parental involvement in my school.

Mom and Dad stayed home and worked; I went to school.



Blogger Kate said...

I just took my son out of public school(8th grade) and he now attends a Charter homeschool, that also offers workshops. It truly amazes me the lack of respect so many kids have, for themselves and everyone else. After my son's first "workshop" he came back smiling and said "Everyone was quiet! And everybody there really wants to learn. It's awesome!" A sad comment from a 13 year old on the public school system.

3:32 PM  
Blogger Cliff Osmond said...

Hooray for you and your thirteen year old son. I hope he continues to love school, in whatever form. I still enjoy it.

12:40 PM  

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