I’ve noticed in some of the teacher comments about NCLB and school reform in general almost a bitterness towards parents and families—”when are we going to hold them accountable for their children.” While I understand the frustration, we shouldn’t let that blind us to some important realities.

For one, how exactly do we expect the government to “force” people to raise their kids the way middle-class schoolteachers would like? I saw one teacher comment that said government should require parents to go over spelling words with their children. HELLOOOOOO…..almost 50% of the adults here in the Mississippi Delta are illiterate. Children don’t pick their parents. Many of our students are being raised in homes that are dysfunctional (in one or several ways); many are under extreme stress to survive. I have been in the homes of my students that were nothing but wooden shacks or trailers with way too many people trying to live in one space. And I’ve taught the children of many homeless families. One family with many children had only two light bulbs in their whole house: one in the bathroom, the other in the kitchen. They had no table, the children tried to do their homework sprawled around the kitchen floor. Children leave our classrooms and go into abusive situations, frightening situations. Some parents are alcoholics, drug abusers, sexual abusers—help them with their spelling words???? I even knew one mother who deliberately put rat poison in her 12-year old son’s food “to teach him a lesson” because she complained he was going in the refrigerator too much and not leaving enough food for his younger siblings. I did NOT want to see this woman at parent-teacher night.

We are PUBLIC school teachers. We should reach out to parents whenever possible; work with our communities as much as possible (Larry Ferlazzo has written wonderfully on this subject). But the children who come to us come from every imaginable (and unimaginable) situation. We have to meet them where they are and teach from there; not from some well-intentioned, but fantasized grade-level curriculum or readiness guide.

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