Parent involvement: Be careful what you wish for

I love those TV home design shows. You know, the ones where an interior designer comes in and completely renovates somebody’s living room or kitchen (sometimes at no cost to the owner!).

These shows generally come in three types: The ones in which the work is done as a total surprise for the owner; ones on which the owner knows about the renovation, but is not present while it is being done; and the ones during which the owner is there every step of the way, often participating in the work, sometimes to the chagrin of the professionals.

What a great analogy the design show genre is for the school-parent relationship. Educators and administrators across the country are wringing their hands and shaking their fingers over the need for “more parental involvement in our public schools.” But what exactly do we educators mean by “parental involvement”? There are at least three possible scenarios:

  1. Send us your child. Clean. Well-dressed. Fed. Disciplined. Obedient. Eager to learn. Cooperative (and preferably already reading, counting, and computer literate). In 12 years (give or take a few months), we’ll send the little darling back to you ready to use that college trust fund.
  2. Come to school when we call you and deal with your child (this usually means there is a disciplinary problem); send money, supplies, science fair project boards, and your signature when required. You may come on parent night or to special events. Then there’s another possibility….
  3. The parent who thinks public education means the public gets to run it. The parent who wants to approve lesson plans, classroom rules, and the reading list. The parent who questions the necessity and logic of homework or class assignments. The parent who demands to see credentials, has a copy of the curriculum guide, and highlights the school’s published report card, noting deficiencies. The parent who has the principal’s cell phone number, and the school board president’s on speed dial. The parent who visits the classroom frequently, and stays. The parent who never misses PTA meeting and always has questions, suggestions, or criticisms for the staff.

When I hear fellow educators lamenting the lack of parental involvement and blaming parents for not supporting their children’s education, I wonder which of the scenarios they’d wish to see instead? There are some places where meaningful parental involvement is routine. In those places where it is not, there are reasons–and some of those reasons are us. If we had genuine parental involvement from the majority of our parents, how many of us could really take the pressure?

More on this topic next time.