I recently retired from a long career as a high school history teacher, and so I’ve had time in front of the television, watching some pretty nasty campaign ads from both sides.
Schools seem to be a focal point of this nastiness, whether it is about mask mandates or vaccines or parents choosing what teachers teach.
I have taught in New York, South Carolina, New Jersey, and Virginia, and although many things about my profession have changed over my 30-year tenure, there is one thing that has been evident from day one: parents love their children and want the very best for them.
The thing is, different parents have very different sets of expectations about what “best” means.
I have been a teacher and administrator, and in both roles have gotten texts, emails, phone calls, and letters; have been stopped in hallways and in grocery stores; have had scheduled conferences and drop-in visits, conversations on the sidelines of sports games and the back of lecture halls. I’ve seen parents at their worst and at their very best — all because they truly love their children and want the best for them.
The difficult thing about parents choosing the curriculum is that they all want something different. For any given class there might be 15 sets of expectations.
“His great grandfather was a pilot in World War II — I hope you spend a LOT of time on that.”
“I’m an art historian — please pay special attention to the Renaissance.”
“Science and economics, that’s all he needs to know. Everything else is just useless.”
“Teach her about women who contributed. I want her to know she can do anything.”
“Women played very little part in history, yet my son only got a 90% on this quiz because he missed Marie Curie. That’s just not fair.”
Everyone has an opinion based on their own experiences and expertise.
I have friends who are still in the classroom, and I watch them work hard to do the job they were trained to do. They have studied instructional methods and curricular standards, have taken advanced courses from pedagogy to discipline, and learned a ton on the job.
This is their profession and their area of expertise. For many, it is also their passion. They love their students. And as educators, their job is to educate.
Education comes from a Latin root which means both “to instruct” and “to develop one’s innate capacities”, according to the American Heritage Dictionary.
Teachers do want to encourage their students’ interests and strengths, help them find their voices, support them in the asking of good questions. Good citizens ask good questions. They think for themselves and make their own decisions. That was what Thomas Jefferson was hoping for when he introduced the bill to fund public education in Virginia.
It is an atmosphere of thoughtful listening, learning, and questioning that teachers are trying to provide.
Parents then, it is hoped, sit around the dinner table and ask their children about what they’re studying in school. Parents are an integral part of schools in so many ways — helping learners to recall information, process that information, asking questions and giving perspective and modeling another form of dialogue or argument.
Parents and families are integral in the process of learning, in the process of growing good citizens. And parents educate their children too, clearly, in countless ways.
They come first, as they are the models of behavior and values for their children. Churches and community organizations and jobs can also be integral in growing good citizens, good people. It does take a village. That’s how societies are supposed to work.
And if it sounds as if I am harkening back to a bygone era and nothing works that way anymore, then I think it is time for us to stop blaming schools for what is missing in our children’s lives.
Instead of seeing each other as enemies, we need to come together and fix what is broken in the very fabric of our civil society. That can happen when we stop fighting, shouting, name calling, and bad-mouthing people with whom we disagree.