Tuesday, November 07, 2006

Parents and Education

This was supposed to be yesterday's post but I had a fight with Blogger last night and lost. I'm going to try to get as fired up as I was yesterday...

Parent involvement in schools and in their child's education is wonderful, unless it becomes a long-term hindrance or...disaster.

Sorry to those who might read this because I know it's loaded with my very best sarcasm. Years of pent up frustration will spew right here and right now.

While shuffling papers in my office yesterday and minding my own business, I overheard a young male student talking to a teacher across the hall. That's normal around here. It's a good thing, but not when Mama is there, too. My reaction was, "What in the world that that woman doing on this campus if she's not a student?" Took a little nonchalant walk nearby and heard talk of a grading error. The discussion wasn't three-way, either. It was MOM vs. teacher. Please, give me a break! This kid had to be at least 18 years old and his mother is still wiping his nose.

For fifteen years in Maryland, I was a registrar in a private, Catholic, co-ed secondary school, grades 9-12. It was a fantastic school that upheld it's mission statement in every way and was filled with bright students with great futures and some not-so-bright students with questionable futures. The environment was caring and nurturing enough to be on the brink of being too enabling for the wrong set of students and their parents. A Parent Advisory Board had a strong and influencing presence there but I regarded most of their efforts to be "tail wagging dog".

In the early 80's I noticed philosophies on parenting take a turn to something so different from the way I was raised. Nowadays, the rights of children overshadow the rights of their own parents and anyone else in authority, for that matter. When I was a student (at any age) and failed to turn in an assignment on time, I got a zero - goose egg - no points - period. And a sneer from my teacher. I suffered that consequence and never even dreamed of asking my Mom to write a note or call a teacher. She would have flatly refused!

Never did I need to do a song and dance to get Gina to behave. Nor did I need to promise her new toys for good behavior. Nor did I need to kindly persuade her that my idea was a better one. I had rules and I was fair and consistent. Gina liked it that way and I think she was (and still is) a good kid, just for the sake of being good.

Back to the school: Whenever the receptionist was at lunch or out for the day, I would be one of the few who would sit in the main office to greet visitors and answer phones - a nice break away from registrar duties. But sometimes, the students and parents really ticked me off! Here are a few cases that were way too common and took up most of our time in the front office:

A famous student (one of about 40), known for never having a copy of his schedule, shows up for the 60th time asking for another copy. I grit my teeth, make the copy, and place it on the counter for him. He finally opens his eyes and asks, "Where's it at?" I quickly snap, "Where is IT! And tuck in your shirt and don't come back for another 6 months." We always rolled our eyes with kids like this one, but, lo and behold, his parents appeared at the counter one day and we said in unison, "The nuts don't fall far from the tree, do they?"

Forgotten lunches and lunch money brought Moms and Dads to the office every day. "Johnny forgot his lunch again. Can you call him to the office to pick this up?" Dutifully, I looked up his schedule saw he was in class. Apologetically, I replied, "No, he's in class. I won't interrupt his teacher and 25 students for him. Sorry." A furrowed brow from Mom in whiney voice, "But he only has one mod for lunch." I reply in a sympathetic tone, "Oh, he won't starve. He'll either come here looking for his lunch or borrow money from a friend." What she didn't realize was that about 80% of those bag lunches are either traded or aimed straight for the trash can. She leaves the office and I throw a pencil across the room.

Another issue all too common were parents who, rushing into the office, breathless, pleading, "Sally left her French paper at home and it's due today - (heavy breath) - can you deliver this to her before 1:00 - (pant pant)?" Being a customer service oriented school, I had to do it. But I would have loved to say, "Lord have mercy on your daughter. Why don't you let her GROW UP and stop teaching her to become an irresponsible dumb cluck? Let her take the freaking zero and live with it!"

Moms and Dads wanted ME to change a grade on the report card and wanted ME to talk to the teacher to find out why Lizzy didn't get the 98 her teacher promised. I always told them, firmly, "Send your student directly to the teacher to solve the discrepancy." And they hated it. Isn't that the way it should be, though? I would have loved to say, "In one year, Lizzy will need to deal with it herself. And it won't be pretty because she's bound to meet up with a professor who won't give a rat's ass if she passes his course or not! And you won't be able to do a damned thing about it. So there! HA!"

When parents pay tuition they develop a strong sense of entitlement. And when you see so much spoon-feeding and coddling day after day after day, you become spiteful.

Here are two more serious cases of parents who were determined to get what they wanted, only to see their whole plan backfire, and badly!

Both parents marched into the main office one afternoon to see the Principal and they would not wait. Their daughter earned Salutatorian, just 4 one hundreds of a quality point away from Valedictorian. Not trusting our computer grading system, they demanded that I manually calculate the cumulative QPA for the top two ranks, and, of course, it was correct. Their daughter was a lovely Asian girl and very bright who took every AP and Honors course offered (against the school's recommendations) and also scored near a perfect SAT. If she received a 93 in AP Physics, it wasn't good enough, and because she studied so much, she did nothing else to contribute to the life of the school. That's why Harvard and Columbia didn't accept her but her parents would not listen to any advice we offered. The family was disgraced.

In 2001, the Valedictorian was a young lady who had it all. She was a varsity athlete in 3 sports and exceptional in fine arts. She was accepted to MIT and Princeton and was offered full or partial scholarships elsewhere. Her Mom was a strong force in everything her daughter did. Sadly, though, a few weeks after graduation, the burn-out set in. So instead of shopping for dorm stuff and looking forward to a new life in college, she took a job at the Home Depot.

I think I've gotten off track. Yeah, like WAY off track! I'm trying to end this commentary but I forgot my point! Forget it.

Now for something a little lighthearted. My poor girls listened to me curse a lot last night and waited patiently for a game of golf ball...


LauraHinNJ said...

I don't have many stories to share about this as a college teacher, surprisingly. There was a student that I worked with in the learning lab who was very learning disabled - his mother clearly did all of his work for him because he would come to lab with it done and could not explain or reproduce a single bit of it. I wondered what she hoped to accomplish for him by doing his work?

The ladies I work with at my day job are a whole other story! One in particular. She has a son in medical school and she still calls to wake him up each day and reminds him about what he has to study for an upcoming test. In medical school!!

Her daughter just started at NYU and she's doing the same thing with her. The girl can't function independtly of her mother. It is really sad for both of them. I overheard her talking to a coworker about the upcoming Parent's Day and how she couldn't wait to talk to the professors and tell them all the things they were doing that she didn't agree with and how she couldn't understand why her daughter wasn't getting straight A's on every assignment. Ridiculous!

My sister-in-law does every homework assigment with my neice - has done so since kindergarten.

My parents went to conferences and asked if my homework was done, usually. The responsibility was mine and I understood that, even as a kid.

I don't know that we can only blame parents for being hyper-involved. Education has become so high-pressure and high stakes and it's hard to get a decent job even with a college degree.

Most of my students seem to think they deserve an A just for showing up and doing all the work. I don't think that way and figure that is the minimum and earns a C.

Sorry to go on so, but you've hit a nerve with me.

LauraHinNJ said...

Sorry for the typos!

Susan Gets Native said...

I have two girls, (as you know) and they are in preschool.
And I can feel the Parent Pressure already. IN PRESCHOOL. Most of the other moms are of a type I can't stand. They are pushy, flighty, shallow, too-damn-perky types. There are two moms that I feel that I can actually have a conversation with, that doesn't involve Precious Little Olivia's newest accomplishment. I can see the future in these women and kids.

Isabelle and Lorelei are young, but I am drilling into their heads responsibility, ownership of their lives, and consequences. They know that life isn't fair and they need to learn to deal with it. And they GET it.
I liked your rant. I'd like to print it out and paste in on the preschool doors.

Mary said...

Laura and Susan,

Working in a community college, I was shocked to see a mother challenging a teacher and, it really hit a nerve with me! I agree that education today is pressure packed and way too competitive for parents and their students, for sure. And it's a shame that some parents you and I describe live their lives fretting over a 90 in U.S. History vs. a 95... It's so complex.

My daughter learned very early on that I had my job to do and she had hers to do. I encouraged her, listened to her, and helped her when she needed it. But, frankly, past grade 4 I just couldn't do the math! LOL! And there were a few times that I can count on one hand (once in her college years) that I typed a paper she had written to save her time while she headed to swim practice every night. She's 24 now and made it, earned her own grades, and took some hits she earned, too.

NCLB and Exceptional Children are two topics deserving another post one of these days.

Laura, keep your standards and give those C's. Susan, I don't know you very well yet, but there's no doubt in my mind that your girls will be strong and independent, like you.

I'm glad my rant didn't offend anyone (yet).


Mary said...


Post this rant for those too damned perky types. They have always irritated me.

Mary said...


I don't know how you are able to listen to the Mom who calls her son in Med school to remind him of things...

One day your sweetness will flip on her! LOL!

LauraHinNJ said...

Have to laugh at Susan calling those moms *damn perky*!

I have no choice but to listen to her - she talks so darn loud.

And I am not sweet with her. Actually, this old post was mostly about her.

Mary said...

Laura - that post is hilarious and so familiar. During our 3 years living in DE, I worked at the department of education in a building of 170 employees, 85% of them were menopausal women. I was lucky to be in two real nice workgroups but I peeked over my cubicle once to see a lady trash a box of files outside the director's office door, yelling like a nut...we tiptoed around the office for the rest of the day and she retired a month later. There was a physical girl fight there once, too, between two pre-menopausal women but that happened before my time. I kind of miss the cubicle atmosphere and the camaradary that went with it. Some of the workgroups were downright scary, though.

That was a great rant! Love the bunny.