Education in the hands of parents

There’s a syndicated radio host I often listen to in the mornings. He’s somewhat vitriolic, but in most cases, he’s also quite insightful and smart. Not a bad combination if you’re working out the cobwebs in preparation for a day of work. Occasionally, however, his penchant for generalizing raises my hackles. Today was such a day.

I get that if you’re speaking to a national audience, it’s necessary to speak more generally than specifically, unless you’re discussing a major national figure or event. Additionally, I’m a firm supporter of people having the right to express their thoughts and opinions, especially if they’re considerate and intentional. That said, I think he was full of shit today, and I’m going to use my platform to set a few thoughts and opinions straight.

What was the topic that has me so fired up, you ask? Two words. Public education.

Now, I preface all of this by clarifying that I am not a professional educator. I am the child of an educator (my dad was a full-glory Mr. Kotter-style high school art teacher). I’ve been a writing teacher, an oboe teacher and a Sunday school teacher. I held off sending my kids to preschool until the year before Kindergarten and instead taught them their letters and early reading skills, numbers, etc from home – with a curriculum and a schedule. There was a time when I seriously considered homeschooling my kids. (That didn’t happen because I also firmly believe that the social and cultural education they receive in a structured school setting is a vital part of what my kids need from their education.)

When my son was only months old, my husband and I moved to be closer to his office. We had options about where that would be, and chose a neighborhood specifically because it feeds into one of the top public elementary schools in the state (country, actually). That child has come almost all the way through that school now, and his sister is halfway through, and it has proven to be a very good decision for our family indeed.

I care very deeply about education. I vowed that my career would enable me to be directly involved in my children’s educational upbringing, and have done that in every way possible since they started school. So back to the talk show host. This morning, he was berating any and all parents who would send their children to public (or as he puts it, “government”) school. Calling us irresponsible to our children and to the wellbeing of the country. Generalizing that any private school option is superior to any public school option.

Hackles up.

Here’s the thing. Obviously, not all private schools are superior to public schools. That’s not even the real issue. (Though it is the statement that makes him sound frustratingly nearsighted.) The real issue has to do with us parents.

There are some parents who send their kids to private school because they a) have the means; b) see it as a better option for their children than the public school available to them; c) perhaps need to rely on a small, focused educational environment to do for their children what they can’t…etc…surely, there are nearly as many reasons for making the choice to send a child to private school as there are children in them. Few of the reasons are bad ones, and if the children are getting a solid, focused education that will turn them into high functioning, intelligent, well adjusted adults…well, then the goal is well met.

But private school is not the only road to a high functioning, intelligent, well adjusted adulthood. Without getting overly political, the unraveling of No Child Left Behind and emergence of Common Core Standards as the primary means of organizing the educational checklist undoubtedly will do much to level the national academic rating system. That’s all great, but it only addresses the academic. A child’s education can not be left solely to the teachers in the schools – public or private.

It is so easy to fall into the trap of thinking that school is school, and once the bell rings there is no responsibility for learning or teaching. As parents, the more we know about what our kids are learning and what is expected of them, the better we are equipped to support them toward success. That takes huge intention on our part as parents.

That intention can take many forms. For parents with busy schedules, it might mean little shiny nuggets of focused one-0n-one time listening to the child, helping them through a problem. It can mean spending extra money for a good tutor, and knowing the skills being covered. It can mean putting aside a career for a while to dedicate more time to things like PTA or class helpers.

Educational intent looks different for every parent – whether your child is homeschooled, at a private or at a public school. It just needs to exist – clearly and actively.

As I was gnawing on the talk show host’s statements, it occurred to me that we only have to look at our own upbringing to see the point. I grew up in a tiny town in Minnesota – attending a very small public school well supported by the community in a state known for highest educational standards. In high school (9th grade), my family moved to Florida (not a state known for  highest educational standards). There, I attended the largest public high school in the state. Could not have been a more different environment. Yet, my grades never wavered and even though it I was a public school kid from start to finish, I ended up attending one of the top ranked private universities in the nation. On scholarship. Twice (grad school).

The educational environments found in elementary/middle school and high school could not have been more different – but there was a unifying presence that directed my progress toward becoming the high functioning, intelligent, well adjusted adult I now hope to create in my own children.

It was my parents.

These people helped in classrooms, monitored homework, led the PTA, the PTO, the Junior Great Books. These were parents who could not be accused of acting like helicopters, but who knew their kids’ teachers and what was expected. These parents supported and guided education in a manner that showed they were as responsible for the educational upbringing of their children as the faculty that had us from 8am until 3pm each weekday. What a concept.

Ultimately, it may matter less whether a child is in a home school, a charter school, a private school or a public school. What really counts are the parents who are feeding and kissing their young students in the morning, and who are welcoming those school-weary children in the late day, helping them through the facts and tasks they’ve been filled with for the better part of the day.

It is a lot to expect a child to grow into a high functioning, intelligent, well adjusted adult. Isn’t it up to us parents to be intentional and hands-on as that process unfolds day after day? Let’s get involved. Let’s not make excuses. We made these children. Let’s make adults.


2 thoughts on “Education in the hands of parents

  1. Excellent points Shell. It is absolutely infuriating to hear others say that their children are receiving a better education based on the sheer fact that they attend private school.

    As you know, “A” started daycare at the age of 2. Not because I wasn’t willing or wanting to continue to stay home with him but because I didn’t have any other choice and had to return to the work force. For PK-4 we decided to send him to a private religious school. The education was good but it wasn’t to our standards and, again due to extenuating circumstances, paying for a private school was no longer feasible. For kindergarten “A” was enrolled in an A-rated public school; however, he did not receive the education he should have from an A-rated school. I do not blame the school or even the teacher, although she really should not have been teaching any longer, the fault lies with me. I didn’t work with him the way I should have been. I assumed that since he was going to a “good” school they would take care of his education for me.

    Long story short, “A” is now enrolled (and has been since 1st grade) in a wonderful school, with wonderful teachers and with a mother who is extremely involved and bends over backwards to make sure he has everything he needs to ensure his success. I spend countless nights working him, reading with him, and answering questions. I arrange my work schedule so I can attend the PTO meetings, volunteer in the classroom and I budget my finances to ensure I can afford his tutor.

    I am one of those parents who feels like it is my job to make sure I give my child the best path possible to adulthood. Even if that means I myself have to sacrifice for a bit. In seeing his success I see mine. Not all parents are like this and I am not saying my way is the right way. However, the most important thing a parent can do for his/her child is being involved in his or her education. Just sitting down at night with your child and going over their homework can do wonders.

    Bottom line. you can be going to the best schools in the world and if you are not involved chances are your child is not going to receive the education he or she should.

    Thanks for posting this. We need more dialogue regarding our education system and what truly needs to be done to fix it.

    • Brilliant comments – you say it so well – “In seeing his success I see mine.” and “Bottom line. you can be going to the best schools in the world and if you are not involved chances are your child is not going to receive the education he or she should.” Thank you for what you’re doing as an awesome mom and dedicated educator!

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