‘Snowplow parents’ bully schools

Pushy “snowplow parents” are afflicting schools, writes Ole Jorgenson, head of a  private school, in the San Jose Mercury News.

Gen Xers orchestrate every move of their preschoolers, from perfect play dates and obsessively healthy diets, to instructional flashcards and hypoallergenic socks.

Once school starts, Gen X parents may become upset to discover other students doing more advanced work than their own, demanding a meeting with the principal about why the teacher is “letting their child fall behind.” Of course the parents have done their research, identified the problem, and it’s clearly the school’s fault that their child is “underperforming” — in kindergarten.

“Helicopter parents” hovered. “Snowplow parents” knock  “all potential obstacles out of their children’s paths to pack their young résumés with successes,” Jorgenson writes. And that may mean bulldozing the teacher or the principal.

In the mid-1980s, when he was a young teacher, most parents would cooperate with the school in dealing with a child’s problem behavior. There was a home-school partnership. Now 75 percent of parents resist.

Jorgenson is head of Almaden Country School, a respected private school in San Jose that charges $15,710 tuition at the middle-school level. It has a “whole child” philosophy, but also brags about high test scores. I wonder if affluent private-school parents are pushier than affluent public-school parents.

About Joanne


  1. Belinda Gomez says:

    If I’d have left my kid to the mercy of the professionals, he’d probably be begging for spare change. They want parental participation? They got it, so don’t bitch.

  2. Telling them not to complain is akin to telling a thirsty person that they shouldn’t complain about having a fire hose turned on them.

    As in most things, moderation is the key. In my urban public school I often see the following dynamic: the parent thinks we’re being too hard on the kids, the grandparent (who ends up doing most of the parenting) grandparent doesn’t think we’re being hard enough. They key point in the article is that it needs to be a partnership. Both sides need to be able to work together.

    The comment about how Generation Xrs grew up is the most frightening. How many generations of damage will the 60s have wrought?

  3. cranberry says:

    In the last 20 years, the tuition’s gone up, hasn’t it? I’d venture that more parents are working longer hours, to make ends meet, pay the mortgage, and pay tuition. There may not be a parent at home to “work with the school.” It’s in poor taste to complain about the effects of childcare when his parent body may need childcare to pay the school’s bills.

    The parents might have been just as pushy with the administrators in the ’80s, but Ole Jorgenson wasn’t privy to those discussions. Perhaps he should make certain his kindergarten teachers aren’t playing favorites, or setting different standards for different classes. Or, on the other hand, he could speak with the parent body about the need for each teacher to be able to exercise her autonomy over classroom matters.

    Writing an opinion piece to the paper complaining about a whole generation of parents is not the best approach to create a fruitful dialogue with his parent body–unless he’s been trying to get the Board to send him on sabbatical.

  4. “There was a home-school partnership.”

    The schools’ idea of a “home-school partnership” is having parents be Stepford Moms and Dads, who are the perfect little subservient volunteer laborers and fundraisers without every daring to have an opinion contrary to the teachers and administrators.

    If I found out that other kids were getting more intellectually challenging material than mine, you can bet I’d be in there requesting a meeting with the teacher to get some answers. Not necessarily blaming the school, but finding out what I can do at home to bring them up to speed.

  5. Michael E. Lopez says:

    Actually, I don’t think we need volunteer labor or fundraising. That’s an entirely different sort of world.

    I rather think that what’s being discussed is parents’ being “on the side” of teachers, such that when the teacher says “Little Jane is misbehaving”, the parent comes down on the CHILD for embarassing the family and disrespecting the teacher.

    Instead what we are often seeing is the parent coming down on the SCHOOL, blaming them for daring to say anything uncomplimentary about Little Jane.

    I think the idea is that both the school and the parent should be interested in shaping the child to better cope with the future. But too often I think that the interests diverge: teachers become interested in shaping the child to reduce conflict and make the teachers’ lives easier, and the parents become interested in the formal rather than the substantive advancement of the child through the semi-bureaucratic hierarchy of the school-college-job track. Actual discipline starts to be seen as a threat to that formal advancement. The resume must be protected at all costs, even if it means hurting the child’s education.

  6. A good private school (with a waiting list) doesn’t have to worry about this type of parent. A public school is at their mercy. Sometimes for good, and sometimes for ill in both cases.

  7. The article contradicts itself. He says
    “As a young teacher in the mid-1980s, I could depend on parental support when I had a concern with a student.”

    Really? He just told us that the Gen Xers–those who were school children between 1968 and 1995– were “the neglected generation,” among the least-parented and least-nurtured children in our nation’s recent history. Half of Gen Xers grew up in divorced households; the majority of them were raised in day care, and 40 percent of them were latchkey children.”

    The parents of those in day care, divorced households and latch key kids were working with him? “The vast majority of the time, a child’s parent would work with me to correct counterproductive behaviors.”

    Which is the misremembering? The idyllic past parents, or the terrible ones now?

    In truth, the good private school absolutely has to worry about this type of parent, and it’s figured out how: make them your best cheerleaders. Give them what they want when it’s even remotely reasonable, interact with them liberally, help them understand your philosophy, and get them to trust you so they slowly back off. And then watch as they become the schools’ biggest fundraisers, biggest recruiters, biggest supporters.

    where in the world did this “75% resist, and that’s a conservative estimate” number come from? Evidence, anyone?

  8. dangermom says:

    And here I thought we were supposed to be the slacker generation. We just can’t win…

    I find it odd that he says that Gen Xers lost trust in institutions because they failed us, and then exhorts us to trust the institutions.

  9. dangermom says:

    Also, it seems to me that many Gen X parents distrust institutions not only because of our own histories, but because we see those institutions failing our children now. We’re just much less likely to assume that it will all work out in the end, and therefore quicker to object.

    Did anyone else like the jab about ‘hypoallegenic socks? As the parent of a child with severe allergies, I get tired of the assumption that I’m just overprotective and hysterical. I came by my protectiveness through painful experience.

  10. Stacy in NJ says:

    On behalf of GenX, I’m calling this story crap. There have always been aggressive, protective, demanding parents; there is nothing new in that. The ’60’s generation told us endlessly to question authority. So, how can anyone be suprised that we’re less trusting of institutions/authority figures? During our lifetime we’ve watched the slow illegitimatization of institutions. Duh!

  11. Here’s another thing to consider–

    As a genX parent:

    -You probably learned to read with phonics
    -You probably had to memorize multiplication tables in third grade
    -Calculators were probably a ‘treat,’ not a fact of life.
    -You probably had science and social studies EVERY DAY. WITH AN ACTUAL CURRICULUM.
    -You probably got to play red rover and dodge ball and whatever else you came up with on the playground.

    Maybe it’s not that parents want different things for their kids now… maybe it’s just that the schools have really gone downhill…… and the bad pedagogical methods have infested private and parrochial schools as well as public ones, because all these young teachers came out of the same warped ed school curriculum……

  12. I think it’s the whole cultural shift away from blind faith in the wisdom of so-called “experts”. I’ve heard similar complaints from other Baby Boomers who are in authority positions- doctors, literary and movie critics, etc. Andrew Keen wrote a whole book whining about the fact that most folks these days turn to the “wisdom of the crowd” rather than “experts” (Amazon reviews rather than professional ones, Wikipedia rather than Brittanica, etc.) How *DARE* we, the untrained lay people, presume to question the credentialed “experts”?

    I’m sorry, but with the democratization of information provided by the Internet, I’m not going to put up with paternalism on the part of “experts”.

  13. A more fine-grained way to look at this issue: there are certainly some “bulldozer” parents. More numerous, however, (and leaving aside the issue of student misbehavior), there are many parents who attune their approaches to teachers to how much value they can detect in the teacher’s methods and expectations. They will cooperate with a reasonable teacher, show respect to a talented teacher, but stiffen up when they see a teacher who uses no detectable curriculum, skips over important parts of the curriculum, shows movies several times a week, etc.

  14. cranberry says:

    Parents are older, too. If they can pay tuition, both parents have (or have had) careers. They are not inclined to meekly agree that the school knows best.

    If 75% of parents are afraid their child is being left behind in kindergarten, perhaps the school does offer different opportunities to different children. The head should investigate, rather than complain about Generation X parents. Is there a faster stream, and a slower stream, even in elementary school? It sounds funny, but it can happen.

    Our own public elementary school had a secret challenge system for children identified as gifted. But–you had to wave test scores around in private meetings with administrators. It was neither announced, nor acknowledged.