I enjoy writing about things that are thought-provoking and relevant to the struggles that parents and kids today are facing, I feel that it is important to shine a light on these subjects. I don’t, however, like to be divisive or prod people into arguments, so I promise you that as I write this, I am not looking to be controversial. I am looking to move us in a positive direction.
So then, what’s the gentlest way to say this… I am sick of people complaining about schools. Okay, not exactly gentle, but there’s no other way to say it. Is the educational system perfect? Far from it. But the divide between educators/administrators and parents is widening in my view, and this is not the way that things will get any better.
There are different levels of schooling that range from your neighborhood school to your school district to the national system. To be clear, I am not talking about how our system ranks in the world, federal funding rates, or the politics of the overall system. These are terribly complicated. I do my homework on the issues, and voice my opinion through my ballot when possible.
Schools Can’t Win
One of my concerns is the general attitude that results in a ‘schools can’t win’ scenario. In schools where there are no uniforms, people complain about how inappropriately kids (usually girls) are dressing. But when a first grade teacher had a little girl wear a t-shirt over the spaghetti-strapped and apparently too revealing dress that she came to school in, social media blew up and chastised the teacher because “it’s just a little girl.” Similar scenarios play out every day.
Parents at my daughter’s middle school complained so much about the unhealthy lunch choices that the school arranged to hire a company to coordinate new lunches. These were kid-friendly lunches made by a well-known health food store and delivered each day to the school. Sales quickly declined, and the results from a parent survey echoed the same sentiment from parents “my kids don’t like the new, healthy lunches, so I don’t buy them anymore and just send them what they’ll eat.”
At the orientation for kids entering high school, I heard so many parents asking teachers to not allow the kids to be on their cell phones during class. Just weeks into the year, while shopping for school supplies, there was a very expensive calculator on the list. There was a big appeal to teachers from parents, and what did they say? “This calculator is too expensive, don’t you know there is a free calculator app on their phones that they could use that does the same thing?”
Frustrations about all of society’s afflictions are laid at the entrances to our schools, with parents demanding that schools acknowledge and manage these problems. And the schools listen, because they share the same concerns! But so often the implementation of plans to deal with these problems offends someone, and the school gets blasted for being insensitive or uncaring. I don’t have to tell you that parents come with all kinds of viewpoints, priorities, and sensitivities. There is no one-size fits all approach that would ever please everyone. But people seem to take such a singular view about these events, and fail to see that they are rooted in a desire to have high-achieving schools with happy students and parents. And that they are often developed as a result of our complaints in the first place!
Think Globally, Act Locally
I think that’s how the saying goes, anyway. We see a lot of media coverage with heated debates over common core, standardized testing, etc., so we are indoctrinated to feel rebellious toward the educational system. I totally get that. I understand that there are valid issues that need to be addressed, we should be aware of these and voice our opinions. But what happens is that the current concerns get translated into a combative and rebellious attitude toward our children’s schools, and this is what exasperates me.
I’m sure you’ve heard versions of the following rants: “what is the school board doing about all of this testing?,” “why is it so hard to get rid of bad teachers?,” “why is the technology in our school so outdated?,” “why aren’t they doing more to make school lunches healthier?” You could probably add a lot to this list. But how many times have you heard this: “what can I do to help?” Seriously. How often do people really ask this anymore?
My daughter just completed a fantastic project in school (that’s right – school!) called the Be the Change Project, based on the saying ‘be the change you want to see in the world.’ I have seen few people who embrace this saying anymore. While the problems in education seem so overwhelming and daunting, find a way to help where you can. You are not likely to be able to address congress, but you can do something at your local school. Volunteer in the classroom, help plan the teacher appreciation events, organize or participate in a fundraiser. Everyone has different levels at which they can contribute time or money, and there is an opportunity at each level. And every school has different needs, so find out what those are at your school and work with the teachers or administration to find ways to help. Parents often come together to address the principal about different concerns they have, but how often do parents meet with him or her to say “we’ve noticed there’s a problem with x,y, and z – we’d like to work with you to find a way that we can help?”
I have attended our school district’s board meeting to learn more about the issues in our district. I did not learn much that I could actually comprehend. On issues like teacher retention or program planning I kept up just fine. But the graphs, charts, and numbers on budgets and growth models were complicated and I felt like I had just walked into the middle of an advanced calculus class for which I was completely unqualified. But looking around and listening to the people there, I learned something even more valuable. That the people in charge of my school district work unbelievably hard and care a great deal about what is happening in our schools. They are working with needs that outweigh means, and are striving to succeed against constant complaints from parents who have not asked the “what can I do to help” question.
There is a Facebook page for the community where I live. Just a place to ask for repairmen recommendations, restaurant reviews, or to advise others about a traffic jam to avoid. The subject of our schools comes up a lot. And while I hear similar stories from friends and family around the country, this Facebook page is where I see a lot of the complaining, and little of the supporting, of the schools here. I saw a person complain about how meager the second grade Thanksgiving program was, when what that person didn’t see (because they never asked if they could help with the program) is that the second grade teacher bought almost everything with her own money because the budget for the program didn’t allow for what she thought the children would enjoy.
What really put me over the edge, and sparked my desire to write this piece, was a person who asked where she could buy a #fire(name of our superintendent) bumper sticker. And the thread that followed indicated the interest of others to buy one as well. Many members exchanged ideas about maybe getting together to make some, or how they could coordinate an effort to have t-shirts made. They were willing to spend time and money to make inflammatory materials instead of using these resources to help find solutions. I replied to the thread by saying “sorry, I don’t have time to help you find these bumper stickers, I’m on my way to volunteer at the high school.”
Our schools are far from perfect. But if all I do is rant about what they are doing wrong and what they need to do better, I am a part of the problem and not a part of the solution. Making a difference doesn’t have to register on a massive scale. Think small, and momentum will build. Imagine if everyone did something small to support their teachers, their schools, and their districts. The changes that result will absolutely be noticeable to your child and your community.
Debi Smith-Racanelli has earned her Bachelor’s Degree in Human Services, a Master’s Degree in Psychology, and completed advanced graduate studies in psychology and gender studies. She has clinical experience in counseling settings and non-profits, where she has come to appreciate the importance of effective parenting, and is a passionate advocate of parenting education. Her new book Between Baby Dolls and Boyfriends helps parents navigate the complexities of raising tween girls.
About Debi: Debi Smith-Racanelli has earned her Bachelor’s Degree in Human Services, a Master’s Degree in Psychology, and completed advanced graduate studies in psychology and gender studies. She has clinical experience in counseling settings and non-profits, where she has come to appreciate the importance of effective parenting, and is a passionate advocate of parenting education. Her new book Between Baby Dolls and Boyfriends helps parents navigate the complexities of raising tween girls.
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