Thomas Friedman's op-ed on parental involvement in schools has been on the top of the most e-mailed list at the New York Times for the past couple of days. Let's talk about it.
Friedman says that instead of blaming teachers for our failing schools, we should blame the parents. He points to a recent study that found that parental involvement in a kid's education is a huge predictor of performance in school. (Is it more important than teacher quality? I don't know; the op-ed didn't say.)
Monitoring homework; making sure children get to school; rewarding their efforts and talking up the idea of going to college. These parent actions are linked to better attendance, grades, test scores, and preparation for college,” Barth wrote. “The study found that getting parents involved with their children’s learning at home is a more powerful driver of achievement than parents attending P.T.A. and school board meetings, volunteering in classrooms, participating in fund-raising, and showing up at back-to-school nights.
I'm not sure why this op-ed irritates me so much. I spend an hour or two everyday helping my kids with their homework. We read books together. I take them to museums and watch the history channel. Steve and I do all those things. Why should Friedman's op-ed irritate me?
I guess that Friedman ticks me off, because in this article, the word "parents" is code for "mothers." In most homes where all this school supplementation happens, it's the moms who do this work. I wish he would just be honest about it. So, any critique of parental involvement is really a critique of women, and that is bound to tick me off.
The problem is that schools have not yet adjusted to the fact that most women work. Their work days are longer than a school day. They don't get a winter recess or half days before Thanksgiving. They can't come into the school for parent-teacher conferences at 11am. They can't watch the chorus production at 2pm. They have to go to work. They can't spend two hours reviewing homework, because they don't get home until 6 or 7 and then have to make dinner.
Any critique of parents (mothers) has to take into account these limitations on a parent's (mother's) time. Also, schools need to adjust to the fact that it is impossible for many parents to live up to this perfect parental model.