Next, let’s go after the parents!


In my previous posts, I’ve discussed how teachers are backed against the wall in the reform argument, and this makes our own efforts at self-improvement harder to start. Here’s another bad place we find ourselves at in this debate. The argument usually goes like this:

  1. Reform-y type: All kids can learn, not all teachers can teach, and they need to be held accountable!
  2. Inner City Teacher: Have you seen some of these kids? What about holding parents accountable?

I cringe every time I see a fellow educator fall into that logical hole, that will lead NOWHERE productive. Pointing the finger at parents and students, just because it’s been pointed at you is the moral equivalent of the kid who says, “but he did it too!” when you bust them for breaking the rules. You’re not on terra firma anymore, and need to stay off that rhetorical no-mans land.

First let me tell you what I’m not saying. When folks make really selective arguments about teacher effects being the most important thing for kids, I usually answer, “They’re the largest in school factor, and out of school factors matter more, like parents, and parent income/education.” Am I blaming parents? NO! I’m stating reality about the fact that if people have a cruddy life, it’s going to affect their kids. You could argue that they are to blame for their own poverty and the situation they are in, but I’m not. Given the rather large income gaps in this country, I suspect that a lot of folks end up poor because of factors outside of their control, and many don’t feel they will get out of it anytime soon.

Does that mean that I’m giving them a “free pass”? Look, I’m just as pissed as the next teacher when a parent shows up high to parent conference meetings, but lack of good paying work tends to depress a person. The lack of easily accessible rehab can get in the way of fixing that problem.  Maybe they are just flakes, and hopeless, but I don’t know them that well, do I? I understand the context intellectually, even as I fume (to myself) emotionally. Frankly, most of the parents and families are doing pretty good. When I taught my own class I would get upwards of 18-20 parents show up for Back to School Night, and Open House out of 30-33 students. That’s not too shabby for a community that was purported not to “care” about their child’s education.

So, I’m not going to throw the first stone, because when it comes down to it, I’ve got to wondering if this rhetorical hole is one that those in the opposition want us to fall into, ensuring that we squabble with parents instead of working together, because when we do, well things like a reform movement in the Chicago Public Schools happen, and a mayor gets voted out of office in D.C.

8 Comments to

“Next, let’s go after the parents!”

  1. October 12th, 2010 at 8:26 pm      Reply Mirna Jope Says:

    While you make some good “let’s take the high road” points, I can’t completely turn the other cheek on this issue. When the student is so disruptive that it’s impossible to teach and all the parent does is point at others, how can I keep going? I’m worn out. After 10 years at Title 1 schools, I’m thinking of abandoning ship.

  2. October 12th, 2010 at 8:34 pm      Reply alicemercer Says:

    First, I’m going to sympathize, because I have been there. I can see you wanting to throw in the towel, and this last year, I saw a lot of co-workers make that choice.
    Are most of your students and families at that level of depravity? I’m guessing not.
    Are you getting support? Are the families getting support? I’m guessing not if you’re at that level of frustration.
    When someone says, hold parents accountable, how do we do that? It strikes me as a rhetorical device that just puts us at odds with parents. With some parents, that’s where you’re going to be, believe me I appreciate that. I wish you luck in the remainder of your school year, and hope that things work out better for you, whatever your choice.

    • October 12th, 2010 at 10:49 pm      Reply Mirna Jope Says:

      While it galls me that they be given, in essence, a free pass, you’re right that the idea of ‘accountability for parents’ really is a rhetorical device. I know that I wouldn’t want to live in such a society. Thanks for the good wishes. One thing that I did to make myself feel a little better this afternoon (other than having some ice cream once I got home) was to call the parents of some of the students that make it a pleasure to teach and let them know how much I appreciate their child’s attitude, behaviour and work ethic.

  3. October 13th, 2010 at 9:41 am      Reply Mrlane Says:

    Nice job!

  4. October 16th, 2010 at 4:18 am      Reply Jenny Says:

    Amen! It is so easy to turn to this because of the impact of home factors on kids. But you are so right that it gains us nothing.

    I constantly have to remind myself that these kids bear no responsibility for their home lives (quite possibly their parents bear little as well depending on the situation). The kids don’t deserve to be hungry, unsafe, neglected, whatever. They deserve to be loved and believed in. If their parents can’t do it, I can, at least for 6 1/2 hours each school day.

  5. October 16th, 2010 at 6:27 am      Reply Mirna Jope Says:

    Me again. Just want to point out that the time that you can invest in creating a relationship with a student is considerably less when teaching high school. I’ve taught grades K-12 sine I got my credential in ’83 so I do understand what elementary school is like, having taught there prior to class size reduction. Since I wrote my original post, the ‘provocateur’ has not returned and the change in the class has been amazing; the lowest common denominator has risen greatly as far as behaviour is concerned. Sure, the kids deserve a lot but I do too.

  6. October 17th, 2010 at 1:25 pm      Reply Mirna Jope Says:



  1. “Next, let’s go after the parents!” | Engaging Parents In School...
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