An Obvious Answer?
Later, my answer seemed obvious, but it wasn’t the same as my gut response. The question was so important that our facilitator wrote it on the board:
Who is primarily responsible for a child’s education?
I didn’t speak up immediately, but inwardly I thought, Teachers and schools, of course. Next question. It was like an elementary school test about community helpers: Who is primarily responsible for fighting fires? Firefighters. Who is primarily responsible for keeping us safe? Police officers. Who is primarily responsible for a child’s education?
“Parents,” another participant responded confidently.
Parents? Maybe when they’re toddlers or if you’re homeschooling. I certainly didn’t teach my kids consonant blends or how to add fractions. I looked around the room to confirm my confusion, but was surprised to see everyone else nodding in agreement. I wondered if they all heard the question correctly: Who is primarily responsible? We weren’t talking about homework help, reading at bedtime, or after-school activities. We were talking about a child’s core curriculum and daily instruction. I don’t think that any of them homeschool. Why are they still nodding?
“Parents are primarily responsible,” someone else said. “But they can delegate some of their responsibility to teachers and schools.” Later, still trying to figure this out, I looked up the word delegate. Delegate: to entrust (a task or responsibility) to another person, typically one who is less senior than oneself; to send or authorize someone to do something as a representative. This too was strange. I’m used to thinking of my kid’s teachers as the experts in education, my ‘seniors’ if you will, so how could they act as my representatives?
Unless, of course, the task at hand was not primarily fractions, but knowing my child.
We have two girls in elementary school. One loves math, and one mostly despises it. For the math-despiser, this year has been very hard, and harder still because the memorization she struggles with comes so easily to her sister. She feels the pressure, she gets angry, and then she shuts down.
Blessedly, she goes to a school that encourages and facilitates communication between parents and staff. So I emailed her math teacher and her homeroom teacher; we met and worked on an evolving plan. The school counselor called, and we talked for a half-hour. She helped my daughter with some coping skills, and referred us to a math tutor. The whole time, I was checking in with my daughter, discussing concerns and plans, and helping her with her homework. Slowly, she began to gain some confidence, some traction, and things got better.
All of this took several months, and it wasn’t easy. In fact, it was downright painful at times. But it was necessary. And it was both my right and responsibility. Leadership with this particular issue with my particular child was my due as her parent.
This language is new to me since “The Community Institute for Education” began, but the idea of giving something it’s due has been a helpful lens, especially as a parent. Since we don’t homeschool, I have delegated a good bit of my children’s education to their respective schools and teachers, but this doesn’t mean that my rights and responsibilities, my due, have been reduced to ‘homework coach’ and ‘after-school chauffeur.’ If I know my child, and if I am indeed delegating, then the paradigm shifts.
And it makes me wonder: What would change with our educational systems and institutions if this paradigm shifted more broadly?
How would you answer the question: Who is primarily responsible for a child’s education?
If parents, how does the school system empower or disempower parents to fill this role? What if parents refuse to meet their obligations?
If teachers/schools, what is the role of parents? What are the advantages and limitations of this paradigm?
Case study: One of our guest speakers at the Institute was Jeremy Samek, a school board member from the Franklin Regional School District. He described the district’s efforts to create options for students and their parents, allowing high-schoolers to supplement homeschooling or cyber-schooling with on-campus classes. Is this private/public hybrid just? Who receives their ‘due’ from this arrangement? Who does not?
About the Institute's Resident Writer
The Institute is excited to be able to share these stories with you, courtesy of one of our participants, Jennifer Pelling. Jennifer is a freelance writer based in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. She and her husband have two daughters--one in second grade at an independent Christian school, and one in first grade at a local government-run school. This arrangement has given her a greater appreciation--and endless questions--about the benefits and drawbacks of diverse types of schooling.