As if parents didn’t already hold enough of the responsibility for their children’s misgivings, a new Associated Press-Stanford University Poll on education found that 68 percent of adults believe parents deserve heavy blame when children perform poorly in school, more than the educators who are actually teaching children, school administrators, the government or teachers unions. In a city where the motto is No Child Left Behind, the sad truth is that today, in New York schools particularly, many children do get left behind.
But are parents to blame?
Among those polled, respondents who said parents are to blame cited lack of student discipline and low expectations as looming issues. An Evansville Courier and Press article on the subject quoted a father who said he split shifts with his wife so one parent could always be home after school to help with homework, console tired and hungry kids, and generally be there to keep an eye on the kids.
I have mixed feelings.
If a 7-year-old fails first grade and gets left back a year, I do believe it may be the parents’ fault. It might sound unsympathetic, but let me explain. Parents are typically informed of the hurdles a child is facing at the first report card. I’m not addressing the children that have learning difficulties and the parents who work with the teachers throughout the year, those parents who despite the efforts from all involved parties remain unable to get that child to move to the next level. I’m talking about the countless kids that get no help and are just told to do their homework (or not told at all) yet somehow expected to excel. These are kids that never get bedtime stories read to them or the simple attention from an adult to sit and go over spelling words or math problems. Children need help, period. No one is good at everything and if you have a child, it is your responsibility to help them through their struggles.
Often a child just needs some patience and a pep talk to get them through a difficult snag. It sounds like a no brainer, but without that attention, a child might go into school confused about last night’s homework, maybe feeling a little embarrassed about being confused, and then losing the lesson completely. With lesson building upon lesson in many subjects, it’s easy to see how a child with no parental help or encouragement can fail.
Yet the simple truth is parents are busy and they have to work. It is idealist to say that one parent should always be available for their child during the day. But if you can make it work, it can be great. My husband and I both have demanding careers but have split shifts and have taken flexible jobs so we could be more available. It wasn’t always like that. I was the Managing Editor of a group of parenting magazines and was working 80+ hours per week, and knew something had to change. So I changed it and went freelance. It was scary but the best thing I could have done for our family.
On the other hand, my mother worked two jobs out of pure necessity throughout my childhood. I was home alone many days and learned how to be competent on my own. I got my homework done, helped start dinner, and did chores. But she always made time for me when I needed it, no matter if she was exhausted or not.
I’m convinced that each family situation is individual. Each child learns in their own unique way and every child requires different attention. Moms and Dads have to be just as committed and involved as the teacher. When one side fails, it is the child who suffers. The parent-teacher relationship is a joint project and each has to hold up their end.