My parents went to every parent-teacher conference I ever had—usually mom. Not that there was any particular reason, it was just how the “zone defense” got set up when two parents raise seven children.
I don’t think she ever really needed to go to conferences. For the most part, I was a good student. I had a few bad habits, like being … inconsistent … about my math homework, but, the grades were fine, and the behavior was fine, too. Except for 8th grade. But that’s another story.
At any rate, by my expectations as a teacher, I would say that, most of the time, my parents showing up at conferences was unnecessary. A pleasant diversion in the night, but not particularly important. It was simply their way of building the parent-teacher partnership.
I know—that sounds bizarre these days.
My parents believed in maintaining close contact with my teachers, not because they didn’t trust them, but because that would foster the sort of collaboration that they thought would bring out the best in me. And, believe me, that partnership wasn’t always a great thing for me: I knew very well that if I got in trouble at school, I would get it double at home.
But, in turn, I—and my teachers—knew that if something was going off the rails at school, my parents would be in the building, would be calling them by name, and would be unflinching in their defense of right and wrong (regardless of which side of the issue I happened to stumble upon).
That sort of dynamic seems so quaint to me now that it could be out of a Jane Austen novel. As a teacher, the idea that parents would side with me instead of reflexively defending their kid is rare, if not ridiculous. The tacit message teachers have heard over so much of the last three decades is “take care of my kid and don’t trouble me.”
Which is, I think, why the sudden new fault line in society.
“Fault line in society?” Why, that’s so strange.
The new fault line in society seems to be exactly who is responsible for children, and to what extent the two sides get to assert themselves and their values into the others’ demesne.
Some of these battles aren’t new. The Charter School movement grew out of dissatisfaction among some parents with what they felt was a watered-down educational philosophy starting to permeate the curriculum. And even that isn’t exactly unique to charter schools: the reason we have the intense standardized testing regime we have these days was a reaction to a creeping softness in the curriculum which was, perhaps, best represented by the idea of “self-esteem education.”
But it grew to be more than that. Eventually, old-school values of excellence and achievement have become replaced by many public schools choosing to downplay those values in favor of equity and accommodation, and the like. So then, it’s not just about the curriculum but the entire approach to teaching that curriculum. Is there anything wrong with equity? Absolutely not. Should that be foremost on schools’ minds? Instead of achievement? That’s a matter for debate—it wouldn’t have been for my parents. Think I’m overstating it? Check out the San Diego schools’ new grading policies. And, as we know, what starts in California eventually makes its way to Colorado.
And now we have school-side battles about Critical Race Theory (yes, it does—check out National Education Association New Business Item 39 from 2021) and whether 7-year olds should be advised by their teachers whether they should consider gender reassignment. Has it really gotten that bad here? We’ll never know—our State Legislature killed a curriculum transparency bill in committee.
It doesn’t have to be this way. Relationships, partnerships, go a long way towards balancing extremes. Our kids deserve as many sane voices working together for their good as we can muster.
Michael Alcorn is a former teacher and current writer who lives in Arvada with his wife and three children. His new novel, “Valkyrie’s Kiss,” a finalist in the ScreenCraft Book Competition, is available now at firstname.lastname@example.org. His opinions are not necessarily those of Colorado Community Media.