CBC's “The Sunday Edition” on March 17th looked at increasing incidents of violence against teachers. To be sure, this is an important topic, and warrants attention and analysis from a national news programme. Hence my disappointment that both the host - Michael Enright - and one of the guests - Wayne MacKay - seemed to believe that much of the blame lay at the foot of parents.This is an insulting and ridiculous insinuation, rooted in downright boring stereotypes and myths surrounding the role of parents in schools.
Mr. Mackay yearned for the old days, when, “"If you came home and said you got in trouble at school, the likely result is you're also going to get in trouble at home.” Indeed, if only we could return to the halcyon days in which the disruptive students, likely with undiagnosed learning exceptionalities, were relegated to the back of the classroom to flounder, with a series of warnings sent to parents. Or, that old standby, physical abuse (aka, ‘the strap’), enacted upon students as school-sanctioned punishment. Is this the system to which we should return?
The practice of blaming parents for everything that goes wrong with students in the classroom, and wider world, is a lazy way out of examining the vital, broader issue.
I adhere to the first Core Belief of family engagement - every family wants the best for their child. But I also know that many families do not yet have the capabilities to make that happen. Their experiences in schooling have taught them that they aren’t trusted and that they should not trust. Their child is “that child” and they have countless phone calls to prove it. They are afraid and that fear, coupled with a poor school-home relationship, causes them to lash out. The unfortunate result is a toxic relationship between some schools and families, which ultimately does nothing to improve the behaviour or academic success of the child.
One of the guests, Professor Santor, stated that principals are “afraid in some instances that parents are prepared to litigate and they are prepared to make a lot of noise. They are prepared to go to superintendents. They're prepared to go to trustees.” I recognize that it is difficult to reason with a parent who is afraid. And I acknowledge that many parents do not understand the situation in the classroom, nor the best way to resolve the issues. I even agree that some parents have agendas that cannot and will not bend to reason. But to suggest that parents shouldn’t advocate for their child is absurd and, I dare say, contrary to what the panelists would do if they believed their child was at risk. It was irresponsible to not highlight the nuances and necessary details of any scenario.
Fifty years of research prove that when families are engaged in their children’s learning, the children do better - academically, behaviourally, socially. When I work with teachers, they are stunned to learn that only 15- 17% of a students life is spent in school. To ignore what families can bring to the table, clinging to an outdated belief that only school knows best, is to deprive teachers of a support system beyond the walls of the school. Perhaps parents have some insights into dealing with their child that would be helpful in the classroom. Perhaps the teacher has discovered some methods that could be used at home. Sadly, we cannot know if school and home distrust each other and cannot build a meaningful relationship.
Of course, this alone cannot solve the problem of violence in our classrooms. But surely the solution is not to create more barriers and toxicity between educators and parents, who should view themselves as partners in a child’s education. Why are we not demanding support from our Ministries of Education and school boards? Is there some reason “The Sunday Edition” spent more time blaming families than asking why those who control funding have not found better ways to prepare and support educators for the realities - and benefits - of inclusive education?
I was heartened to hear Patty Coates call for “more support…( and for)teams available to help and support the schools and the classrooms”, as well as Professor Santor’s suggestion of national standards for psychological health and safety in the workplace. Even Professor Mackay called for “a situation where parents and teachers were seen as allies in trying to advance the education and future prospects of their children”. Yet this can only occur when the blame game stops and schools build meaningful relationships with families aimed at success for all our children.