Teaching parents

School reform plans won’t work for the children of parents who failed in school, writes columnist William Raspberry. What’s needed is a way to “change the culture in which hard-to-educate children are the majority.”

. . . for parents who have not enjoyed success or seriously envisioned success for their children, it takes more than reorganization and parent coordinators and the like. It takes a consistent, nonjudgmental effort to reach and teach parents how to prepare their children for learning.

Raspberry overstates the uselessness of school improvement efforts, I think, but he’s right to point to family culture as a very serious problem, and one that’s very hard to do anything about.

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  1. Mrs.Ris says:

    Years ago one of my wise mentors reminded me that for some of our parents, just walking into the school building brought on feelings of high anxiety, or worse. I teach emotionally disabled little ones, and many of our parents were (and are) struggling with the same disabilities their children are. They come to the classroom (and to the IEP table) with worries about the innate unfairness of the school system, not to mention it’s irrelevance. Even as I present myself as caring, non-judgemental, fairminded, etc., many folks see me as the enemy—guilt by association as it were. How to break down these walls? The only thing that has worked for me these 16 years or so is to build a solid, one-on-one relationship with the parent. This is surely time consuming, very intense at times, and frankly, not very practical. It is a big problem, that’s for sure. I’d love to hear others’ ideas about this difficult but critical subject.

  2. One thing that would help is if kids were given a better understanding of the kinds of jobs that exist out there in the world, and the educational requirements in order to qualify for them. For the middle class and above, this often comes from family.

    I don’t think most teachers are able to do this all by themselves, because their own exposure to the economy is too limited. So maybe what is needed is a collections of books/videotapes/websites which addresses the question of “What is it like to be (an airline pilot, a medical researcher, a skilled manufacturing worker,…) and what do you need to learn in order to get there?”

  3. Mike in Texas says:

    Raspberry titptoes around the notion of culture but never comes out and says that some aspects of culture are whats holding some ethnic groups back. For example, we’ve all heard the stories of how smart black children are accused of “acting white”. I’ve also seen young Hispanic girls, 15 or 16, married off by their parents and have 2 or 3 children by the time they should be graduating from high school.

  4. BadaBing says:

    Let’s get down to the nitty-gritty. Just who are these parents, whose cultures do not engender warm and fuzzy feelings about education? Where I teach, it’s Hispanic culture. Oh, my God, how insensitive and racist of me to say it. Now that I’ve villified myself and saved others the trouble of doing it, let me continue. 90%+ of the kids that pass through my English classes are the sweetest kids you’d ever want to deal with. I love them and have a lot of fun with them in class. (I happen to think fun is an important part of classroom management). However, a substantial number of them are anti-education, and their parents don’t give a rip how they do in school. They don’t push them. They don’t check up on them. Passing with a D is often met with something akin to the Hallelujah Chorus on the kids’ parts. The flood of illegals into California has provided jobs for teachers and administrators, but performance and individual school cultures have suffered tremendously. These kids don’t care about the world beyond their city confines. They’re not interested in learning. They are totally absorbed in the present, as if school were not a bridge to the future but an end in and of itself, where sitting around warming a seat to body temperature and socializing with your homeys is the order of the day. They’re are exceptions. Duh. We teachers fight over them, will almost kill each other to get the exceptions into our classrooms. Moreover, discipline is a huge problem, but kids that shouldn’t be in school and whose only function seems to be as disruptors keep coming back after suspension after suspension after suspension. Yeah, their parents have come here to work hard and provide a better place for their kids blah blah blah. Very admirable, but the bottom line is that we are only now beginning to see the deleterious effects these migrants are having on education and on society as a whole. Even the kids of which I speak admit their families have very little interest in their education. The kids are honest about it because they haven’t yet been brainwashed by ethnic propagandists or initiated into the politics of identity. As a footnote, I wish I had a dollar for every Hispanic female in our high school that has gotten knocked up. I could retire. And as most of us know, teenage pregnancy is one of the foremost indicators of underclass behavior. I support NCLB but it ain’t gonna make a dent in the problem I see every day because education starts in the home, and kids have already been educationally programmed, for better or worse, by the time they reach kindergarten. Illegals will continue to come en masse because nobody has the balls to stop it. Meanwhile, the quality of education and quality of life continues to slide. That said, I’m off to my favorite bar for a round or two of whiskey sours.

  5. Gawd! What an frustrating editorial.

    It’s like watching a kid slowly…. very…. slowly…. spelling… the……. toughest…… word….. in… the…. spelling… bee… and…. stopping…. before…. the…. last….letter.

    I just want to grab Rasberry by the lapels and scream in his face, “Yes! Yes! That’s it! It’s the districts! It’s the districts you club-footed dope!”

    He comes right up to the precipice, his toes hanging out over the void but he just won’t take that next step:

    But precious few school systems are showing much consistent improvement in educating the children we know to be hard to educate:

    “Precious few” in this context means “not a one”.

    Mr. Raspberry seems a puzzled by the existance of good charters and even good district-based public schools but makes no connection to the absence of good school districts. If he was just a trifle more inquisitive – a trait that one would generally associate with the journalism profession but on the evidence, not that common – he might want to understand why high quality schools are unusual but high quality school district, especially high quality, large, municipal school districts non-existant.

    He doesn’t wonder about that because if he were to wonder about that he might notice that there’s no institutional bias, in school districts, in the direction of educational excellence. Unremarkable mediocrity is preferable to outright worthlessness but mediocrity is preferable to unusually high quality. The former excites the public to interest and action, the latter creates unwelcomed contrasts with the bulk of the district.

  6. “One thing that would help is if kids were given a better understanding of the kinds of jobs that exist out there in the world, and the educational requirements in order to qualify for them.”

    That might work in high school, but in the lower grades, the kids just don’t care about that. And by the time they actually do start thinking about how in a few years they will have to go out and look for jobs, it’s likely to be too late. High schools are supposed to be teaching high school subjects, not basic addition and reading primers.

    It’s the parents you have to reach, while their kids are in the lower grades, so they’ll make the kids pay attention in school. Sorry, I’ve got no idea how to do that, either. TV shows might be able to reach some of them – if you can figure out how to forcibly implant a social conscience in a producer…

  7. Not sure that it wouldn’t work in the lower grades, markm. Didn’t you ever think about what you were going to do when you grew up when you were in those grades? Obviously, the material would have to be made appropriately interesting.

  8. Margaret says:

    Markm, I have to argue with you as well. I distinctly remember talking with friends in fourth or fifth grade about going to college. Neither of my parents went to college and my father did not quite graduate high school because the money ran out (in Ireland.) But my parents both placed an incredibly high value on education and discipline. We were expected to make the honor roll and behave very well in school. We knew that if we got in trouble at school we’d be in waaaay bigger trouble when we got home.

  9. I agree with much of what has been said by commenters above. Badabing hit the nail on the head regarding many schools in “high recent illegal immigrant” states like California and Arizona. We have had students in my junior high who were born here and cannot speak a lick of English. What is worse, they don’t care. Their families seem to be making a conscience effort NOT to fit into the “American” culture and system. Many of these Mexican parents were here illegally, then allowed to stay under the Federal Governments “Amnesty” programs or because the Feds chose NOT to break up the family by deporting the parent(s) back to Mexico because the kids might be US citizens because they were born here. From what I have seen locally, there is a major difference between the children of these kid of immigants and those of parents who are here legally and seek to fit in and be a part of this USA.