Education-related posts are a little harder to come by in the middle of July, but here’s something that’s never far from my mind. This letter ran in the March 13, 2007 issue of the Las Vegas Review-Journal:
To the editor:
Your recent editorials about school grades rising in the face of failing test scores, and Jim Day’s Friday cartoon about grading parents, have opened a Pandora’s box of irritation. I can no longer politely shrug when we wonder why Nevada children lag so far behind the rest of the nation.
Our schools do not teach in some backward fashion, while other states use fancy methods we can’t find out about. Here’s the elephant in the room: Our children disproportionately fail because Las Vegas is home to some of the worst parents in America.
I’ve seen too many educations ruined by parents who let kids take two or three vacations during the school year; who spoil their children with so many electronic toys and negative fashions that apathy is the obvious result; and who excuse, ignore or even encourage today’s ubiquitous sex and drug use (to say nothing of those poor students being raised by their grandmothers, who still dress like hookers), to say anything else.
There is an epidemic in our schools of parents who demand that the bar be lowered for their kids, who huff and puff about any poor grade or referral to the office and threaten their way into special treatment, who bully the schools, but who won’t keep up with their kids’ grades or check their homework.
Too many of you see yourselves as little more than landlords whose greatest vision for parenting is just to keep children alive and out of jail.
Stop modeling attitudes that will only be counter-productive for your children. Teach them that you expect results and that you will take the school’s side when they screw up. Don’t let them beg for a schedule change or lamely demand “a sheet of make-up work” to atone for three weeks’ truancy, or skip a class because they can make it up online. Kick them in the butt and take their iPod away. Ground them, for heaven’s sake.
Frankly, my colleagues and I are getting tired of cleaning up your mess.
I’ve had letters similar to this one printed before and since (see, especially, here), but none has ever had such an impact. Within two days of this letter appearing, I received about thirty emails, mostly from other teachers in my school district, and mostly from complete strangers. Every last one was not only positive, but praised me for saying what they had been wanting to say for years. Some of the writers even told tragic stories of their own emotional abuse at the hands of a system that officially places them between a rock and a hard place, assigning us to teach young people, but tying our hands with a hundred knots and ignoring the things that actually hold students back.
I’m told that the principal at another high school posted it on that school’s email bulletin board for the staff to read. At other schools copies were made and passed around among the teachers, samizdat-style. A local AM radio station used it as a starting point for discussion.
That was the best thing about this letter–it really seemed to help release some pent up tension for a lot of good people who needed it.
Wanting to go further with that, I thought about compiling a book of stories from teachers about their experiences with clueless parents, both the hilarious and the depressing. I batted the idea around on some online bulletin boards and got a tepid response, at best. Oh well. At least it did some good.
And the backlash I expected never materialized because, I now see, nobody would want to identify themselves as the kind of parent I was griping about!