A Parent Speaks Out – Arlington, Virginia

I received an email from a parent of two high schoolers in Arlington, Virginia, where she articulated the problem with schools that never seek feedback from either students or parents. She wrote:

I recently read the book Cure Unknown on the Lyme epidemic and was struck by a quote from Jonas Salk. He talks about discovery in science resulting from “entering into a dialog with nature.” The truly gifted teachers seems to understand inately that educating a child requires having an ongoing dialog with them. And they continually adjust “instruction” in response to the discoveries they make as they learn from their students. Somehow schools need to find a way to ensure that ongoing dialog occurs so that teachers truly work with students and parents to support learning.

What strikes me as a huge and glaring oversight, when it comes to how our schools serve their clientele, is that no effort is made to regularly solicit feedback from students and parents. If there were a mechanism for ongoing open and honest dialog between schools and their clients then unreasonable expectations would be a rarity. Perhaps homework wouldn’t be such a problem because it would be meaningful, reasonable, and less rigidly applied. Instead, we have a environment where parents are afraid to approach school personal unless/until there’s a crisis. And those who do contact the teacher often feel that nothing is accomplished other than bringing their child unwanted and sometimes negative attention. It seems that most teacher-student relationships are viewed as adversarial, with students as well as parents hesitant to and even fearful of sharing struggles with teachers. Instead parents often end up doing too much of the work for their children rather than approaching the teacher. And then the teacher never learns that the assignment needs adjustment, and the vicious cycle continues. Honestly, I’m perplexed as to how schools continue to operate in this manner.

8 thoughts on “A Parent Speaks Out – Arlington, Virginia

  1. From “Bad Teachers”, by Guy Strickland:

    [The principal] remembers that when Henry Ford was the only supplier of low-priced automobiles, he could tell the customer, “You can have any color Model T, as long as it is black.” Like Ford, the principal knows she is the only supplier of her particular product, low-priced education. Her attitude may be polite, but the essence of her message is, “Shut up and take what we give you, and be thankful we’re giving you anything at all.”


  2. You know, I was just thinking about the process one has to go through in my city, if you want to put your child in a public school outside of your neighbourhood. The process is very threatening and puts the onus on YOU to explain why your neighbourhood school isn’t acceptable. You have to go to the school where your child would be attending, you have to get a form and have it signed by the principal of that school, bring it to the school you want to have your child go to and then wait…until the last possible date to hear whether the transfer is approved.

    There’s no sense of making the system work for parents who may want their children in schools closer to their work, rather than their home. And there’s no acceptance of the reality that some schools are better than others and maybe parents want their children in the better schools. It keeps the kids in tough neighbourhoods in tough schools and keeps the privileged children amongst their privileged peers.


  3. We may think that the purpose of the public schools is to serve kids and their parents, but that’s not the way the schools think.

    A lot of teachers and administrators take an arrogant, patronizing attitude toward parents. A non-compliant parent is believed to be a bad parent, in the same way that a non-compliant kid is believed to be a bad kid. They take the attitude that they are the education experts, and a child or parent who doesn’t like what they do is ignorant.

    As they say over at kitchen table math, the school does what it does. They’ve got their routine worked out, they do their paperwork and get a paycheck. Kids and parents are almost beside the point.


  4. Yes, the world is evolving but public schools seem to be much as they were 40 and 50 years ago.
    Let’s dream about other options for a moment….

    Why do children still trot off to a community school building in 2010? (Why are most parents trotting off to buildings for that matter?) Why are they not learning at home via internet, picked up at noon by a bus, and taken to a sporting activity for the afternoon…everyday?

    Could there not be community children’s centres staffed by highly qualified (and well paid) professionals that work with children all day long…not necessarily doing things to them (like making them learn something), but instead…taking them on nature walks, canoeing, biking, travelling…Expand on the idea of summer camps…and make them all year long. Imagine your 12 year old signing up for boat building in September instead of registering for school?

    Open universities up to include the whole community….have young adults be real role models for a change when they have to lead a group of 10 youngsters through a grocery store to buy the food they need to do a cooking class together. Call it……Chemistry…. for the diehard traditionalists.

    There are so many ways education could have evolved by now……I don’t see much evolution. Do you?


  5. Any suggestions for parents & schools?

    According to the BC School Act, the school parents, through their elected representatives on the PAC executive, may consult with the principal and staff at their school “…respecting any matter relating to the school other than matters assigned to the school planning council”.

    Topics on which PACs offer advice and assistance may include:

    * school philosophy and program priorities;
    * school regulations and general student conduct;
    * the curriculum, new instructional programs, facilities, equipment and learning resources;
    * budget, alterations and renovations to facilities;
    * safety programs and procedures;
    * alternatives for identifying, communicating and meeting unique community needs;
    * appropriate school evaluation matters;
    * communicating ideas from the community to the board of education and school staff;
    * informing the community about decisions made at the school, district and ministry levels;
    * methods to ensure racial and cultural understanding and to improve the sense of community within the school neighbourhood;
    * methods of resolving school-community differences and improving relations;
    * methods to encourage other community individuals and groups who do not have children of school age to attend meetings to express their ideas and share their concerns.

    As a PAC member of my children’s school, I’d love to do something to help get parent feedback, but I’m not sure what would be effective.


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