We Want and Need Parents at the Table
Imagine you have all the education stakeholders at the table: the students, teachers, administrators, unions, lawmakers, state and federal education agencies, professional education associations, teacher preparation programs, education technology experts, and visionary gurus... Even the deep-pocketed philanthropists who want their say. Let's throw a few more tables together... it's getting crowded... and more chairs... we need elbow room...
But wait, there's still something or someone missing. You would think with this many interests represented at the table that we'd have it covered. Let's see... we have everyone with a self-interest in seeing education move forward... no, wait.. No, we don't. There are no parents at the table.
What do you mean parents have no place at the table? What do you mean they are glad just to have childcare covered all day? What do you mean they have abrogated most of their child-rearing responsibilities and left you to pick them up piecemeal behind them? In an age of shifting paradigms, why haven't we accepted the changing role of parents both in their children's lives and in education?
The major issue? Parents as passive stakeholders. Regardless of how mothers and fathers choose to provide an education for their children, having their children prepared for life is a reality of parenting. Why does it seem like once their children are involved in public education, parents become disengaged? Is it really parental instinct to push their children out of the proverbial nest and not look back? What is the true dynamic that shifts parents from being their child's primary educator to being a passive participant in their education in public schools? Somewhere, somehow the shift is made... parents receive the message that education is now the primary role of their child's school.
But what if parents didn't shift in their role and insisted on being a major player in their child's education? What does that mean? Providing structured homework time in the evenings? Attending PTA meetings? Being the homeroom parent for their child's class? These are the ways parents are encouraged to be involved... but are these the roles of true stakeholders?
In an age of education transformation, assuming that parents simply want quality home-school communication and good seats at the annual school musical program is not only presumptuous, but also limits their importance in educating their children, confining them to Industrial Age role stereotypes and insulting them as education stakeholders. If we truly believe it is time to open the schoolhouse windows and doors to let the fresh air of change blow in, we need to allow everyone to enjoy the cool breeze on their skin that refreshes their perspective and awakens them to the possibilities for a new day in education. Does that mean these reawakened stakeholders will add to the shifts in power and control over how public education is run? Absolutely. But if they haven't been engaged to do so already, what's so public about public education? If the only thing that makes "public education" public today is the fact that it's run by public agencies using public monies, then perhaps that is the crux of the problem and the reason why public education is in crisis. Stakeholders, by birthright, have been disenfranchised while keepers of the public law, public policy, and public money have built-in incentive not to hand back public education to the constituents for which it is named.
If we really want to transform public education and not let it be co-opted by politicians and private interests, bring in a whole lot of extra chairs. Have a few of the other special-interest groups push back away from the table to make room, and have parents pull up their seats and take an active role, knowing up front that they're not going to fit into the traditional role that has marginalized them. So the real question is, are educators ready for a new role for parents, defined by today's mothers and fathers and the times in which we live? Give them a seat at the table and enough elbow room to provide them some leverage, and they can be great allies in public education transformation.
Walter McKenzie is a lifelong learner, teacher, leader, and connector. A director of Constituent Services for ASCD, he served 25 years in public education as a classroom teacher, instructional technology coordinator, director of technology, and assistant superintendent for information services. He is internationally known for his work on multiple intelligences and technology and has published various books and articles on the subject. Connect with McKenzie on the ASCD EDge® social network, on his Actualization blog, or by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.