One of the biggest problems in American public education lies with how schools deal with families and their children. More often than not, schools treat parents of all races and economic backgrounds as nuisances or worse. And in situations in which kids must be subjected to discipline (and yes, kids do behave badly and schools can’t just let kids run wild), the lack of welcoming environments fosters discontent among parents, who feel even less-respected than usual. In this Voices of the Dropout Nation, Gwen Samuel (who helped foster the nation’s second Parent Trigger law) recounts a recent experience.
What can a parent do when their son is in a school that is insensitive to them and their families? My personal story reminds me of “Parents Just Don’t Understand”, the D.J. Jazzy Jeff and the Fresh Prince song “Parents Just Don’t Understand”. But I change the title to “Some School Districts Just Don’t Understand”
Why am I saying this? We know our country has compulsory educational laws that require parents to send their children to school or you can be charged with educational neglect. We know each day missed from school is time lost from instruction and it becomes harder for a child to make up work and keep up academically thus achievement gaps grow even farther.
But what if the school just does not foster learning because of unconscious or conscious biases, or ideology or personal philosophy that trumps best educational practices and there exist some culturally insensitive teachers in some school districts. What is a parent, student or family to do?
Let me tell you my story that has forced me again, as a parent, to remove my son from middle school. I am financially unable to send my child to a private school. But, I thought my tax paying dollars paid for and the states constitution allowed for my children, all children to access a high quality school that will expose him or her to the tools they will need to become a productive adult in life.
As a parent, I have a role to play by being the first teacher to my children which includes addressing social, emotional and physical needs, addressing challenging behaviors, teaching values , ethics and moral, teaching how to problem solve, analyze and develop coping skills. School teachers and leadership are an “extension” of my family by being the second teachers.
But as I found in my own most-recent experience – this involving the discipline of my own son for alleged misbehavior – I have grown to understand what so many other parents find out every day: Schools and districts can be unwelcoming to parents and families; and how they handle the discipline of students doesn’t always work to teach children positive behavior.
See, my son allegedly engaged in an incident of disrespect with one of his teachers that didn’t involve any violence. He allegedly laughed loudly during the teacher’s class and was accused of cursing (my son stated he did laugh out loud, but says he did not swear). This behavior cannot be excused or minimized. But the steps the school took in dealing with the incident weren’t helpful.
After the incident, he was sent to the school’s uniformed resource officer. What was done sent the message that was sent wasn’t positive. For many black and Latino families, the presence of police in the urban community is often more-associated with negative then images of a role model.
Later in the day, then the teacher used my son “as an example” in a written class assignment that subjected him to humiliation among his peers. This may have in theory been a way to enforce positive behavior as part of a system called Positive Behavior Intervention Systems. But what the teacher did was degrade him in a room full of his peers — especially since he is also the only black male in his class. For a teacher, it would be the equivalent of being put out of a meeting for an infraction that has nothing to do with his or her teaching ability, then being singled out by the principal in front of his or her peers for the rest of the school year.
What was particularly aggravating was something that I couldn’t get information on the incident, either from the school or, initially from my son. Although the school secretary called me asking that I meet with the principal in the afternoon, I got no description or explanation of the problem. When I ask the secretary to allow my son to call me, the secretary said he is not allowed. Given that this call is an emergency, not allowing my son to actually inform me about what I must do as a parent (along with the fact that the school has given me no information) doesn’t work. After demanding my son to give me a call, he was finally allowed to do so, and he informed me about the incident.
By the way, I don’t have negative experiences with every teacher. I appreciate great teachers. That day, I also talked to my son’s math teacher, who sees something, potential, in my son, and told me so. She sees how my son has improved his math performance, and that he’s trying harder and doing better. We are the adults and should not give up so easily on our children.
But in this incident, I’m not alone in my experience. School districts spend thousands of dollars per student a year (the district in which I reside spends $13,595 per student), but lack the capacity to improve how they deal with students, their families and their cultures. Now, I am going to sit down and take an aspirin.