Secondary School Parent Involvement
Parental engagement in a child’s learning is typically imperative and required for a student to realize their true potential and this is a generally accepted fact for a number of reasons. However, the level of involvement that a parent or parents have with their child’s learning at the pivotal and important secondary school level that connects elementary learning and college-level learning has to be balanced as going to either extreme can be harmful. Disengaged parents can obviously hurt secondary-level students but students that are too engaged or wrongly engaged need to be managed and massaged as well whenever possible because the damage can be just as bad if not worse than a disengaged parent.
It is customary and expected for parents to be highly involved in their child’s learning at the elementary level and it is also common for parents to start to disengage once the child reaches college-level learning. This presumes the process did not already start at the secondary level which is often (and many say should be) the case. However, some parents are not all that seasoned on how to strike that balance properly and this can harm students majorly if either extreme is engaged in and for a litany of reasons. It can be disruptive to the child of the disruptive parents and/or it can impact people that are nearby the situation as well. In their own ways, a disinterested parent can be just as bad as a “helicopter” parent (Aleccia, 2013).
Many a pejorative are lobbied against parents that are disengaged or disinterested, whether this disinterest or disengagement is perceived or actual. That being said, it is generally not that hard to tell which kids have strong parental involvement with their learning and which ones do not. However, it has seemingly become more common for parents to overcompensate, be too aggressive with their children or school staff and/or not ceding responsibility and accountability to their child that is becoming a grownup.
The disengaged parents are the easier one to cover so that shall be done first. Many school proponents trumpet the idea that schools can be the stopgap for kids with bad parents but that is a hollow argument on a number of levels. If a child is hungry, not instilled with responsibility and accountability and otherwise raised appropriately by their parents or guardians, their chance of success in the school or future career worlds is fairly grim. Even if teachers and schools administrators slave away with a child that is being betrayed or ignored by their parents, any learning or motivation that is instilled at school will likely be lost when the child goes away for summer break for even for the night until the next school day. Sadly, all of the above presumes the school staff are competent and caring which is often not the case, but that is the topic for another report as the focus for this report is parental involvement.
As for the examples of improper or over-involvement, those are more varied and probably more tricky to combat. The first example of parental involvement gone awry is the installation of faulty values that clearly run counter to the societal and educational norms of society. This is not to say that parents do not have the inherent right to instill the values, both religious and non-religious, that they deem appropriate and the omnipresent co-existence between liberal and conservative ideals prove that there is more than one acceptable credo to have in life. However, there are certain ideals and facets of morality that are vastly abused by some parents up to and including misuse and abuse of drugs (legal or illegal), racist ideology (of any type or source), bullying behavior and so forth. This sort of depravity is often disguised and withheld from immediate public view of school staff and/or administrators but it can often come to light at the least opportune times (Romo, 2013).
A related, but definitely different, example of this in motion would include the topics and facets of life that are usually left to the parents and society to decide but are nonetheless covered in school for information reasons. For example, many schools try to teach the basics and history of Islam. The idea is a solid one since Muslims make up one billion people in the world and many of them reside in the United States. There is also the cultural sensitivity factor relating to Muslims being abused and stereotyped due to the actions of extremists committing terrorist attacks on 9/11 or at Fort Hood and other places. However, even a of Islam can lead to parents recoiling noticeably, early and often. This came to life in a school in Wichita, Kansas in the last few weeks before this report when it was shown via a picture that a mural had been posted on the wall that says “The Five Pillars of Islam” (Tobias, 2013). Many parents express immediate and vitriolic disdain and the story got national coverage on Fox News, among other outlets (Starnes, 2013). What was mentioned in passing (if at all) in a lot of the coverage is that the students were also learning about Christians, Hindus and other pervasive world religions as a means to educate rather than inculcate or indoctrinate people for or against any given religion. However, the parental reaction was no less caustic.
The salient point is that is being made above is that there are several “pressure points” that get parents screaming, at least with public schooling, and this would include just about any mention of religion (especially those religions other than Christianity but many atheist groups are being VERY aggressive about that as well), politics, abortion, bullying (or a perceived over-reaction to bullying), racial matters and so forth.
On a different tangent, there are parents who either push their child entirely too hard and/or are entirely too involved and disruptive as it relates to certain school activities. The nexus of this sort of thing tends to be high school sports where parents will often deride coaches for playing another child over their own or get into spats with one another up to and including fisticuffs. This has even reared its head at the elementary school level let alone secondary sports for near-adults (Burbeck, 2011).
A related, but in some ways much worse, example of this are “helicopter” parents who micromanage and harangue their children to the point that they are never given the privacy that they have earned and/or they are never allowed to learn and fail on their own. As this is a lesson that all of us must learn as we age through our teen years, this can set up a student for disaster when they reach adulthood and do not have the skills and traits needed to be self-sufficient adults (Aleccia, 2013). It is no surprise that with the rise of this phenomenon there is also a substantial increase in the number of “boomerang” children who return to their parents’ home soon if not immediately after going to college or moving out or they just never move out of the parental home at all. It is true that the recent economic travails of the United States could be to blame for much if not most of that but to say that bad parenting is not a part of the problem is probably specious (Rowley, 2013).
Since parents are often the alpha and omega of how they raise their kids, the best stopgap to help guide them if they are noticeably getting out of line would be the school teachers and administrators. If it is clear that the work is not getting done at home and/or that the parents are part of the problem due to too much involvement or not enough, this needs to be made clear to the parents in a diplomatic but frank way. Schools do not have the time or the resources to do any psychological or psychiatric counseling nor than they really stop parents from engaging in disruptive behavior unless a crime is knowingly being committed, but school staff can certainly impart their observations and suggests at parent/teacher conferences and so forth so as to perhaps set off a proverbial light bulb with their parents that the road their kid is going down is probably not a very good one. Parents must be made to understand that the world of adulthood in the United States for unprepared and can be quite ruthless, much more so than it can be for people that got a degree or vocational trade nailed down and thus protect themselves when the jobs are slim. The United States is a two trick job pony right now, in the form of the service sector and the knowledge sector, and anyone not in the latter will typically be in the former.
As noted before, the solution is to have the school and the parents strike the right balances. Parents and staff should be there to support a child that is struggling but when they are getting it right, they need to be praised (but not too much) and allowed to thrive and self-actualize. If the praise or support is not there when it is needed, the installation of good habits and thought patterns might be lost or at least falter and that should be avoided at all costs.
Another thing that has to be mentioned is that not all noble fights between parents gone wild and school staff/administrators imparting their best advice and tactics will end well. Sometimes, expelling the child or letting them graduate ill-prepared is the only realistic outcome. However, if the student does not meet the necessary standards to graduate they should not be siphoned through just for appearances as this would be failing the child along the same lines as what the parents have already done. Also, some students just fall in with the wrong crowd and fall through the cracks despite the best efforts of the parent.
Some parents die or are otherwise unable to assist as they could or should and the depths of society sometimes entangle the best and the brightest. However, strong yet measured parental involvement should be the norm and the expectation as the outcome of this is almost always good. It should also be recognized that school staff and administrators over-react. Zero tolerance policies and ideological (but not legality) spats are but just two examples of this in motion. But again, the focus in this report is on parents and not administrators.
Another solution that is worth of mention is that schools should actively encourage parental involvement in the form of school functions that focus on parental involvement, either directly or indirectly, at regular intervals. Student/teacher conferences are but one example of this in motion. Other common examples are the common recitals and other concerts whereby students are allowed to show off and showcase their talents and progress to parents and other relatives. Science fairs and the like are also great ways to get parents at the school and involved in their children’s learning.
With all the rules and suggestions noted above as far as school and staff behaviors should be undertaken, parents have some guidelines that they should follow as well. First, there is no long-term benefit, there is indeed long-term disaster, to being a “helicopter” parent that does not let their child expand their horizons and responsibility. As noted earlier, this will undoubtedly hamstring their child when it matters the most (right before adulthood/college years) and this can set their child back for 5-10 years if not more. Children should be given the general expectation that if they are not in college in their post-secondary years, they will either be paying rent or they will be moving out of the house as a directionless life will not be tolerated. It will be hard to say this but it needs to be said and it will make it clear that getting the secondary education right the first time (rather than getting a GED later) is the one and only way that one should go.
Next, parents need to understand that there needs to be a smooth transition between the elementary school years and college/adulthood (NJ.gov, 2013). It should not go too fast but it should not go too slow either. Many kids in their college years rely a lot on their parents even after reaching adulthood. Some of this behavior is normal and expected but it should be minimized and controlled as much as is possible. The key to making this transition is to be involved as is necessary during the secondary years of learning but excess should be an anomaly and should only happen when the situation is truly dire or important like a teenage pregnancy, an arrest or something else of that nature. If values are properly instilled during the elementary years, events like this should be minimal to none but anything can happen at times.
One of the earlier points needs to be stressed a bit more here. Parenting is a full-time job and it should be both encouraged and fostered. Being lassiez-faire and permissive about things like daily habits like doing homework and getting to school on time should never be allowed (ParentingCounts.org, 2013). Children need structure instilled in the elementary years or the secondary to college/early adulthood years will tend to be a mess. Some children acclimate and adapt to being give wide range but many others go straight out destructive or at least lazy. Having to deal with a secondary-age child with no structure, no morals and/or no accountability is a lot harder than getting involved earlier on and instilling the proper habits and tactics in the first place.
There are a few hot topics that have been present in the news as of late. One of them was mentioned earlier in this report, that being the Wichita/Islam debacle that was seemingly blown out of proportion. Interweaving Islam at all with public school curriculum tends to get parental blood boiling, but it is far from being the best example. That title, at least as of this time, would probably go to gay marriage. Christianity has been and will probably remain for some time the dominant religion of the United States and probably the West at large (if one includes Catholics and all of the other different sects) but one of the main lessons of Christianity than tis often taught is that homosexuality is a sinful and immoral lifestyle. It is considered by many to be a choice rather than a genetic happenstance. This runs sharply contrary to the commonly held standard of many other people (including many Christians) that take a more moderate to liberal view on the topic and insist that gay couples as well as trans-genders and the same rights to marry and legally associate that married couples enjoy. One side clings more to faith and religion while the other focuses more on humanity and equality for all. Having these two very divergent points of thought combined with the fact that the public opinion on the subject is roughly 50/50 in many to most polls as well as the fact that some laws are being passed that are very controversial doesn’t help things at all (Shih, 2011).
Perhaps the most extreme example of allegations of a state or school system run amok is the recent law passed in California and signed by Governor Jerry Brown that allows children to choose the bathroom that matches their “gender preference” even if that does not align with their biological sexuality. On the moderate to conservative end of the spectrum is the law passed in fairly liberal New Jersey but signed by Republican Governor Chris Christie that states that gender reassignment surgery is outright banned in the state would seem to be the yin to California’s yang in some respects.
Another topic that has engendered and created some tense moments all around the nation, and in Florida in particular, was the recent shooting of Trayvon Martin and the ensuing trial for murder that was brought against George Zimmerman. Zimmerman was acquitted, ostensibly on the grounds that while there was reason to believe that George Zimmerman overreacted by using deadly force it was also forensically supported that Trayvon was the aggressor at the time of the shooting (even if he did not initiate the contact or pursue Zimmerman) and thus this absolved Zimmerman of being found guilty beyond a reasonable doubt. This topic is relevant to school-age children as proven by the beating, in the same state, of a white student by three black children because the former would not participate in buying marijuana from the latter. There is no evidence that the beating was anything race-related or anything other than retaliation for the “tattling” about the weed dealing, but many pundits and societal icons have made it a point to try and browbeat the same people that made light of the Trayvon spectacle. The point is that race relations are nowhere near an afterthought and this is a major factor in the aforementioned parental involvement and tensions both the school, between students and between parents. Schools often become effectively segregated because the neighborhoods themselves are segregated and this has a dire effect on morale and perceptions on both sides of any given argument about the topic, whether it be where the money is for school supplies and books, whether the school is doing all that they could or should and what should be done about parents that are disengaged or otherwise causing chaos through their action or inaction.
In the end, the main point to be absorbed and learned is that parental involvement should be fostered and encouraged but there should be some pushback if the parents get out of line with their ferocity or tactics in general. There are the obvious points of intervention like obvious abuse or neglect but there are other areas that are much more gray and much more hard to parse at times and a ham-handed approach by either the school or the parents will both fail the child in the end, more often than not.
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