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Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Problems in education? We can't just blame the parents

Let’s Talk about Bell Curves

The bell curve is a normal distribution curve with the most common item being at the center of the curve. The farther you move away from the center typically in units called standard deviations the more and more and more rare whatever is being distributed occurs. That’s a little simple but I think you get the gist. Now let me tell you about the really neat things about bell curves. It’s they can be used to predict things, and in education we can use it to predict which students might need more help or extra resources.

In schools we can put children on an academic bell curve. On the far right we have the students at the top, the ones who do well almost effortlessly. On the left we have the ones where almost no learning seems to occur. Most students fall somewhere in the middle. We could have a similar bell curve for students behavior as well, the best being on the far right, the worse on the far left with again most students showing up somewhere in the center.

Now let’s put parents on the bell curve. Parents on the far right about five percent, are extremely committed to their children, they are very involved, they make all the parent teacher conferences, they help their children with their home work and more than a few relive their childhood by creating elaborate science projects as well. Unfortunately the parents on the far right represent the smallest group of parents.

The vast majorities of parents fall into the middle and are very well meaning. To different degrees they ask about their children’s home work, check their report cards, try and make parent teacher conferences and open houses. They love their kids and want them to do well, but they likewise work long hours and generally have lots of things going on. I am not being critical at all, I say above matter-of-factly. That’s just how it is.

Then there is the far left, some of the parents there might love their children though it might not always seem like it. But regardless of how they feel about their children this group for what evr reason has abdicated their parental responsibilities. Sadly they are parents in name only. They take no interest in their children, they don’t discipline or provide structure, and they often don’t even provide the basic necessities either.

We can use parental involvement as a bit predictor for both children’s academic and social success. It’s not an end all be all but its pretty close. And let’s just say what the bell curve predicts for children whose parents are on the far left, those parents who have abdicated their responsibilities is pretty grim.

Schools only have less than a quarter of the time at most to make a difference. That the rest of their days many spend living in dangerous neighborhoods with families that don’t care. Their influences and role models are the drug dealers or dropouts next door or even worse in their kitchens. Everyday they get an education in apathy and violence, hopelessness and desperation. Every day they get a little bit angrier and care a little bit less. And you can see this at their schools.

Often times when students act up at school it’s just an extension of what is happening at home. They mirror the disrespect and foul language they see, or they were simply never taught discipline or self restraint or learned it at the back of a hand and that’s because their parents never learned it or learned it through a slap or a punch themselves.

When some children don’t make an effort in school it’s often because their parents don’t understand the importance of an education or understand the material themselves. They don’t care or are uninterested. Like the Greeks chained to the cave wall in Plato’s metaphor of the cave these parents only know what the know and often that’s just anger and violence and not the importance of school.

People write, say and scream to the heavens all the time if only we could get these parents more involved the the
fate of their children wouldn’t be sealed, it would be better. That the children could grow up and break the cycle of poverty, violence and apathy that their parents grew up in. And I say to all the people who say. that you are wrong, and I want to scream that to the heavens too!

So many times as a teacher I have called home about misbehaving students and been told they act the same where there and the child was my problem. Soon however if nothing is done they will be all of societies problem and waiting for some of these parents to wake up/step up and do the right thing is like planning to win the lottery. Sure it might happen but we shouldn’t count on it. We as a society can no longer sit back and blame the parents anymore and nor can we wait for them to do the right thing.

We can’t say if only little Johnnie’s parents would have taken an interest he wouldn’t be such a behavior problem or if only little Suzie’s mom would have read to her she would be doing better in school anymore. And blaming some parents for how their children behave is like blaming fire for burning. The fire doesn’t care what it burns, even if it is hopes, dreams and opportunities.

If some parents aren’t going to do it and we know they are not going to do it then we as a society have two choices, do nothing and reap the consequences of a never ending, expanding cycle of poverty, violence and a lack of civility or to do the right thing, to step and reap a whole host of potential rewards. Well I guess there is a third option and that’s to wish upon a star.

I wish there were no parents at the far end of the bell curve and all parents loved and provided for their children and then consequently all students knew how to take care of their responsibilities but at the same time I live in the real world and have experienced firsthand in my classrooms and in the halls of my school, those parents who don’t care either through the words or actions or both. I read about how a young person has tragically altered their life or another’s life everyday in the law and disorder section of the paper or hear about it on the news. What part of the bell curve to you think the vast majority of their parents fell on?

When I look at my sink and see it filled with dirty dishes, I don’t just hope they go away, on the contrary if I want something to happen then I have to do something. I have to step up and make sure they get done. If we want the children of parents who have quit, who have turned out to be everything but parental to grow up and achieve something, to be productive members of society we can’t just sit around and hope it happens. We have to do something more than just blame the parents and wish upon stars.

Students failing in school or students who are misbehaving in schools are the kids that need the extra resources. We might not always like them, we might not think its fair but they are the ones we have to stand up the most for because if not us then who? It has to be us, it has to be society collectively making a stand and saying enough is enough because even though, and I agree with so many it’s not how it is supposed to be, we’re going to do it because we know it’s not going to be their parents who do so.

It’s either we work together to make things better for these children and hopefully break the cycle and reap the rewards or it’s do nothing and see the cycle continue and reap the consequences of more crime, more poverty, less civility and no hope.

What’s it going to be? What do you want to do?

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