A few days ago, I read a column in the Toronto Sun by Moira MacDonald titled “Schools won’t let parents in” (H/T Catherine). It was about so-called “parent partnerships” and the frustrations many well-educated and experienced parents have when they are invited to be a parent-partner and then expected to do little more than peripheral activities. For example, in talking about parent Uzma Shakir’s experiences, MacDonald writes that even though she has several degrees, including one in English literature, her kids’ school only asked her to bake cookies.
So, why is that attitude so prevalent? For two reasons: politics and jobs based on the assumption that only graduates of teachers college can understand the learning needs of students, a belief that must be maintained if the teachers unions are to ensure parents do not take jobs that should go to teachers.
For example, read what MacDonald writes about Charles Ungerlieder, a former deputy minister of education in the B.C. government and currently Dean in the University of B.C. Teacher Education program. She quotes him as saying that the “parents as partners” is a silly slogan because parents aren’t partners at school and shouldn’t be. Why not? Because parents are not trained teachers, and therefore sometimes don’t know what their children’s needs or best interests are — something that should be up to”the professionals to decide.”
Now, how offensive is that? Let’s say your child is being taught by a new, or fairly new, teacher education graduate. They are in their mid twenties and have never had children of their own. Yet, they know what your child’s needs and best interests are? Hogwash! Parents like Shakir have far more education than most teachers and they know their own children better than anyone.I mean, prior to attending school, they somehow managed to teach them to sit up, to walk, to talk and to get along with others. They also likely taught them their numbers and part of the alphabet, if not the whole alphabet. And, once in school, it is they who help their children with their homework.
So, what exactly defines the difference between Shakir’s education and parenting experience against a newly trained teacher? The difference is the equivalent of a single eight month teacher education program. Yes, I know, some provinces require three and four-year degrees, but when you separate out the courses specifically geared to teaching, it amounts to introductory and survey courses on teaching methods, basic curriculum planning and classroom management, plus ten – sixteen weeks in a classroom under the supervision of a practising teacher.
Now, why do I say “introductory” and “survey” courses? Because, that is all it is. Everything I know about curriculum I did not learn in teacher’s college. All you learn there is basic unit and day planning. No, what I learned in order to teach pre-service students about curriculum required master’s and doctoral degrees.
So, could parents learn the basics? Absolutely, if the will was there. Why isn’t the will there? Well, imagine the following scenario — how politics influences all this.
New curriculum guidelines for Grade 12 English have just been released. What is the likelihood of a high school teacher going before a microphone to tell the public what they don’t like about the themes in the document? Not likely at all. Now, what might happen if a parent had access to the same document and he or she didn’t like the themes? They would likely have no problem going before a microphone to complain loud and clear. Meaning, that is the political reason the parent as partners is not made workable.
Then, as I also mentioned at the start of this article, there is the issue of teaching jobs. What do parents have to do with that? Well, paranoia aside, if Shakir is qualified to teach Shakespeare, chances are she could teach a whole course. Meaning that hypothetically, if the school board wanted to save money, they could use her to do so. Thus the reason the teachers’ unions will no longer allow that kind of parent partnership. And, that’s a shame because years ago, when I was still teaching at the elementary or secondary levels, parents with specialized skills would frequently spend time in our classrooms and share their knowledge and skills.
So, there you have it. Let’s call a spade a spade. Let’s stop fooling the general voting public into thinking that the governments or school boards really want to have parents as partners. They don’t. And, neither do the teachers’ unions. And, as far as that wall of professionalism separating teachers from parents goes, I have been on both sides of it and most certainly did not like being on the parent side.
Could that “we are the professionals” wall be torn down? Yes, in a minute if there was the political will to do so. All it would take is providing parents with some seminars or courses on the same subjects pre-service students study.
Will some parent organization take on the role of fighting for real parent-school partnerships? I certainly hope so. Which is why I have risked the political fallout from former colleagues and those currently in my profession by writing this article. My bet, however, is that most teachers would agree with me, at least those who are parents themselves.