“Parental Involvement”

I find it somewhat ironic that one of the things schools stress when they talk about student success and achievement is the level of “parental involvement” – the more the better – but these same schools (and by schools I mean everyone from administration to teachers) often disdain the idea of homeschooling because we parents aren’t formally trained educators.

One might be tempted to say, “Hey, in or out, people.  There’s no greater parental involvement than in unschooling/homeschooling families.”

Except when schools talk about parental involvement, what they intend is for the parent to be the enforcer of the school agenda and not an active participant in how or what their child learns.  An article that ran in the Sept 2 edition of the NY Times titled “It’s O.K. to Skip That Bake Sale” named the three ways that parents should be “involved” in their kids’ education:

1.  Meet the Teacher.  “The most important thing a parent should do is establish a relationship with their children’s teacher,” [Anne T. Henderson, a senior consultant at the Annenberg Institute for School Reform] said.  “That means getting in there, making sure the teacher knows who you are, and basically saying: ‘I’m here for you.  I want to work with you over the course of the year to make sure my child does well.'”  Teachers have higher expectations of students when they know their parents are involved, she added.

2. Ask good questions.  While there’s no evidence parental involvement in schools increases a child’s performance, there’s abundant evidence that parental involvement at home does.  That includes letting your children know you have high expectations, then following up with specific questions about what they’re studying in class.  “Change the conversation from the ineffective ‘How was school today?’ which usually elicits a grunt and a half,” said [Joyce] Epstein [Director of the Center on School, Family and Community Partnerships at Johns Hopkins University], “to the more interesting ‘Tell me something interesting you learned in math today’ or ‘What are you doing in science?'”  She recommended questions where the students are saying, showing or sharing what they’re learning.

3.  Put your children to bed.  David Levin [founder of the KIPP charter-school network] said the bigger problem plaguing schools these days is not lack of parental involvement, it’s the lack of student sleep.  “Sleep is so critical,”  he said.  “Making sure kids go to bed on time, come to school on time, with their homework complete.  If that’s something all parents committed to, I think schools would be very happy.”

These three items make it clear that for schools parental involvement does not mean being in tune with your child and facilitating learning in a way that suits and fulfills them, but simply carrying out the school’s agenda.  Making the child get sleep, do homework, show up.  Prompting them to relate details of what they are being required to do in classes (in a way that will “engage” the child, of course).   Telling them expectations are high.

The emphasis?  Make the school happy, not the kid.

So parents who are in league with the school are “involved”, but parents who don’t send their kids to school at all are (often) seen as extreme.  Radical.  Even reckless.

But listen, parents of unschoolers know from involvement.   We know the way our kids’ learn and we let them do it.  We support it in whatever form it takes.  We provide assistance when needed and never have to ask what they’re doing in science in order to get them to “open up”; in order to “relate”.    Unschooling parents also know that a happy kid is one who is trusted, not told about the high expectations of others.   Sleep?  Most unschooled kids I know stay up late, sleep late and learn well.   Their teachers are the people they meet, the places they go, the things they experience and of course, themselves.  They write their own curriculum, set their own goals and test their own limits.

Parental involvement?  You bet.   Not as enforcers but partners, leaders, guides and sometimes – and this may be most important of all – as observers.

Observing a lot of happy, educated kids.   No school required.




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