New Internationalist

A Parent’s Primer

Issue 122

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EDUCATION [image, unknown] Parenthood

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A Parent's Primer
As parents most of us have little choice - we send our children to school. And though we may have misgivings and doubts about the process, we are often puzzled about what we can do to improve things. Robin Richardson outlines some typical parent dilemmas and offers some suggestions, sympathy and support.

Injustice Injustice
There's a teacher at my son's school who is an extremely harsh and mindless disciplinarian, and who has a reputation also for being overtly racially prejudiced. Last week he was attacked and beaten up by two pupils, who finally had had enough of years of his harassment and unfairness. He gets nothing but sympathy from his colleagues and most parents, and it' s his victims who get the blame. What should I do? What should I have done?

WHAT TO DO
At the very least the school needs a formal and explicit policy against racialism, and all the hard arguing and thinking that the process of producing it will involve. Write to the head teacher or principal. Follow your letter up with a visit, and find - as a matter of urgency- allies and supporters amongst other parents, staff education officials and local politicians.


No way out No way out
There seems to be no easy solution. My children are given a schooling which they find boring and I thin
k is useless. If they are docile and deferential they may be rewarded with 'success', but the vast majority of children are being schooled for failure-dead-end jobs, or no jobs at all. If I speak out against the system I'll get labeled a trouble-maker, and my child will lose confidence both in me and in school.

WHAT TO DO
Clarify your aims and hopes for your children, and talk about this not only with other parents but also with your children You can probably help them to see that schools are a reflection of not the actual cause of- the imperfect and unjust world into which they have been born. Injustice should be opposed and your children should know that no school - and indeed no institution- is wholly bad There's always space somewhere if we look hard enough, where some- thing valuable can be done.


Parents are so useless 'Parents are so useless'
My daughter had to write an essay for her geography homework on 'The Value of Overseas Aid.' I advised her to consult some back numbers of New Internationalist She did, and was grateful, until she got into trouble with the teacher for bringing politics into school. She was really distressed. 'Right,' she said, 'that's the last time I'm asking you for advice. Parents are so useless.'

WHAT TO DO
You can write or speak to the geography teacher who is much more likely to listen at other times you have given praise and encouragement The main thing is to help your daughter to learn from this:
no one has a completely unbiased view of the whole truth.


Christmas is coming Christmas is coming
It's coming again- a dreary, highly forma used nativity play with Joseph and Mary played by the 'nicest' kids in the class, and
2-3 weeks of paper-chains and Christmas trees. The whole thing, I think, Is silly and maybe even harmful But should I complain?

WHAT TO DO
For some teachers of small children,celebrating Christmas in the classroom seems to be the key stone of their personal identity, and the basis on which all decent social values stand You're probably going to lose this one. You'll have to minimise the harm done at school by making extra special efforts at hornet.


Childhood revisited Childhood revisited
Whenever I go to meet my children's teachers I feel as if I am a child again. I feel anxious, afraid, inarticulate. It' s ridiculous and irrational I know, but the fact remains that this is howl feel- completely powerless, completely at the teachers' mercy, completely dependent on their decisions and views.

WHAT TO DO
It helps to be reminded that we all have feelings like this, even though they maybe ridiculous. Talk about them with other parents, and also with the teachers themselves and with your children Make a conscious effort to treat teachers as fellow adults rather than as professionals-on-a-pedestal And remember that they are almost certainly more frightened of you than you are of them.


Little girls Little girls
My eight year-old daughter's teacher said last night, when I met her at a parents' evening, 'of course, girls are much better behaved than boys... they're really nice and quiet, scarcely require any attention at all... if there's anything heavy to carry I always ask the boys, they have to learn early in fife that it' s the man's job to do heavy work... - boys are much better than girls at mechanical things... I don't expect girls to be much good at mathematics.

WHAT TO DO
You have a clear duty to your daughter to resist and to help her to resist this stereotyping - which is all too common Contact other parents, and go as a group to the head teacher or principal Marshal and rehearse your arguments well in advance. Of course, find men as well as women to be allies and supporters.


Child minding Child minding
So much of education nowadays seems fine in theory but pointless in practice. Take child-centred, progressive methods, for example. For many children these amount to little more than baby- minding. A way of making school tolerable or even enjoyable, but not of helping children to join the real world of politics, economics, science and technology.

WHAT TO DO
So-called progressive methods can be nothing more than child- minding - they're used to keep ha If the population happy whilst the other, luckier half gets on with real work But what's wrong is how the methods are used, not the methods themselves. To go back to basics would be even worse. This is an important issue so try to get parents and teachers in your school together to discuss it at length.


Preaching Preaching
Religious Education at my child's school seems to consist of dreary lectures about the journeys of St Paul, and impassioned attacks on Jews, Muslims, Hindus and agnostics. I would like my child to be excited and challenged by religion not alienated and infuriated.

WHAT TO DO
Write calmly and courteously to the head teacher or principal. Raise your concerns and ask for advice Follow your letter up with a visit and contact other parents and staff for support.


QUICK TIPS FOR PERPLEXED PARENTS

1) Find allies and supporters - with other parents, teachers. school administrators and politicians. Solitude is weak ness, alliance is strength.

2) There will be many battles you cannot win. But at least learn from them, and help your children to learn. See defeats as resources, not losses.

3) As a rule, both write to the principal or head teacher about your concerns and go to see him/her. Make an appointment to visit the school and work out all your arguments in advance.

4) Treat teachers as fellow adults. They are victims of their roles, not petty dictators.

5) Support teachers when they are fighting against budget cut backs, low salary increases, school closures and layoffs. Support them also when they are battling to bring in official policies against racism and sexism, and new developments in the curriculum.


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