Well, it’s that time of year and a familiar theme has once again permeated our social media timelines. Parents proudly post photos of their smiling, “shining like new pennies” children, enthusiastically marking a return to the tried and true rituals of the school year. We pause, like and love these seemingly unending posts and then mentally wish each of them well for the academic year ahead. The larger community fancies ourselves humane, wise and evolved to figuratively place value on the importance of education. Parents resign themselves to only interacting with their own offspring, very early in the morning’s and much later in the evening’s, out of sheer necessity given the rigors of competing work/school schedules. Yet, for approximately 210 days a year, every year, we afford the “heavy lifting” of raising our children to veritable strangers -administrators, teachers and support staff -in our nation’s school systems. Throughout the year, we keep up appearances by posting school pictures, progress reports, report cards and attending occasional conferences, dances, field trips and honors/graduation ceremonies – to duly salute the select few students who met or surpassed their respective grade-level requirements. But what about the 180 days or so without special programming? Those days in which rigorous teaching, learning and high-stakes testing are underway. Alas, these are the days that it seems parents are on vacation from their God-given duties and educators have to shoulder far more than our job descriptions should entail. Sigh . . . Our collective intentions are certainly admirable, and from the outside looking in it would appear that we have duly prioritized education and offered an appropriate level of both home and community support, right? Wrong.
Purchasing individual supplies, school uniforms and sending our children off to school armed with only a daily lunch, our heartfelt love and encouragement is akin to sending them to war with neither an objective, escape plan or weapons to protect and sustain them along the way. No matter how disconcerting, parents continually miss the mark on how to best support our children’s return to school by staying involved and truly contributing to and valuing their education. Because each of us naturally embraces learning, we recognize that growth is synonymous with new and challenging experiences; we collectively exhale, emitting an almost audible sigh of relief when the fall season is upon us and the children return to school. Some parents openly share their glee and contentment about the opportunity to get back to their “me” time and many welcome the routine that each school year brings. Perhaps therein lies the fundamental problem. The sad truth is that the return to school often signals the suspension of parental involvement. And for countless families, the long, lazy days of the carefree summer months are abruptly supplanted by the expectation of discipline, order and full attention to the universal goal of high academic achievement in the educational system. Well the flaw in this grand design is that very few adults excel in the cold, institutional environments of the workplace without incorporating the nurturing warmth of a familiar collegial atmosphere; so why do we subject our children to similar environments without incorporating our own presence as an extension of home? To the extent possible we must extend the comforting embrace of home by parenting beyond our hallowed homes and into the larger school community. This intentional and significant modification affirms our primary obligation to substantively raise our own children to be whole, centered and well-adjusted individuals – capable of leading productive and meaningful lives.
What kind of culture rationalizes our children receiving the bulk of all instruction – moral, academic, social, character building, spiritual and otherwise – in external, institutional sources despite the vast credentials and well-meaning intentions of this nation’s educators, social workers, counselors and/or clergy? Perhaps the same one which rationalizes arming teachers to keep the vast majority of our children “safe” from the increasing incidents of school shootings. Violence enacted upon the whole of society when other people’s children act out by committing mass killings in the most logical source of their rage: schools. Things that make you go hmmm . . . Until we successfully shift our collective consciousness from that of parents taking an unofficial, yet de-facto vacation from the coveted role of parenting right along with the advent of every new school year – we will continue to suffer the uniquely American tradition of neglected, hate-filled and misguided children shooting up schoolyards, church congregations and even entire communities as a means of self-expression and evidence of the extent to which they have been neglected. Only in a completely backwards societal order and in an admittedly altered state, should parents deign to welcome coveted “breaks” from our very own offspring. Educators’ admitted area of expertise is in teaching unique subject areas to your children and facilitating the growth of their natural intellectual genius. Please be clear: we did not sign on (nor are we qualified), to raise your children for 10 months out of every year.
The only solution which even begins to eclipse the veritable failure of our woefully underfunded and overburdened educational system, is for each of us to embrace a new paradigm of parent and community involvement in the education of all K-16 students. Notice, I have included college undergraduates in the population of those who still need and require parental nurturing, wise counsel and life lessons from home (despite the American tradition of hands-off parenting as early as the pivotal middle/high school years). We no longer have the luxury (and should never have established a precedent) of parental involvement during only the primary school and early elementary years, while willingly abdicating our crucial investment in our children’s academic success somewhere around adolescence. In continuing to prioritize work, upward mobility and keeping up the appearance of valuing education, parents are by and large missing the mark on emphasizing that which truly matters most in life: a strong, solid and loving foundation of family upon which to build future generations. Undoubtedly, it is easier to nurture the growth and development of whole, centered, educated and well adjusted youth than it is to repair irreparably broken men and women. It’s never too late to alter our current paradigm of allowing the start of every school year to signal the end to parental involvement. Parents: your valuable presence, academic support, sacrifice of time, volunteer efforts, donation of classroom supplies, snacks and service are welcome in the schools and goes a long way towards modeling the kind of society that truly values education. #EducateToLiberate