Sunday, June 12, 2011

From the Atlanta Journal Constitution.

Parents, listen more, talk less
By Kathleen M. Comerford
Georgia State University

Lately, I hear more and more complaints about education and educators: Teachers are not teaching well. Students are failing. People graduate with less than the minimum skills needed to survive in the workforce. High school teaches nothing. College costs way too much. Professors are overpaid and lazy, and they indoctrinate students into their liberal ideals. When they create new classes, they focus on worthless topics like popular literature or on ideological pet projects. Education gets a failing grade.

By all accounts, success in school is determined by two factors: good home support for education and good schools. Clearly the first one is there — helicopter parents are all about making sure their kids get a good education. So why is the problem getting worse?Where does all of this anger come from? My generation, which first earned the label “helicopter parents,” seems to be scrutinizing school curricula and college catalogues for their children.

In my humble opinion, the answer lies in the kind of interest that helicopter parents take in their children’s education. Expecting or demanding good grades because your child tries, or shows up, is not taking a genuine interest in education: It’s taking an interest in the degree.

Full article.


  1. "Success in school is determined by two factors: good home support for education and good schools."

    And the student's DNA.

    And lots of other things.

    The Atlanta Journal Constitution is really hard up for writers.

  2. Read the rest of the article, though, Bubba! What she actually says is "parents, step the fuck out of the way and let us get on with teaching, alright? We know what it takes and you don't." Hear, hear.

  3. "It’s time for parents to listen to teachers, and to treat them like professionals."

    Although I agree with much of Comerford's argument, it is an unfortunate fact that many K-12 educators are not the talented, professional experts that she describes.

    As a culture, we've long ago dispensed with the notion that doctors are all infallible experts to be obeyed without question or thought, in deference to their white-coated authority. Good patients are active and involved in their medical treatment, and good parents are actively involved in their kids' educations.

    When Comeford says "shut up and listen to teachers", I'm with her in spirit, but I think we need to articulate much more constructively what it is we want parents to listen to. We should want their involvement (at least in K-12 education, not in college obviously. I'm writing with my high-school-teacher hat on today). I think her article is a great first step and a rousing battle cry, but I don't want parents to trust me without question.

    I'd like it if parents understood that a good education involves sustained hard work, occasional failure, and the confronting of uncomfortable ideas that may sometimes challenge students cherished but narrow worldviews. I'd love it if parents with concerns began their conversations with me by asking about the work we're doing and why we're doing it instead of immediately shrieking about grades.

    But I don't want the parents to go away. I want them to buy in to what we do as a school. And the way to get their support of our mission isn't to tell them to shut up and trust us, it's to help them understand what goes on in our classrooms so as to understand their kid's experience in context. When a kid goes home and says "Mrs. Temple is biased and unfair and anti-religious", for example, the parent might have the resources to understand that Mrs. Temple is teaching religion in a historical context, and that's making Student Sally uncomfortable because Sally's never heard anyone talk about religion in anything other than a faith-based context.

    That's the relationship I'd like to have with parents, anyway. Yes, "helicopter parents" are annoying and counterproductive, but how do we get those parents more constructively involved instead of just trying to swat them away? I don't think I'm disagreeing with Comeford so much as wishing for a broader and more effective articulation of her argument.

  4. Actually Bubba, it's very hard to find people who can make these trite, hackneyed arguements; Thomas Friedmans do not grow on trees.

    "Yes, 'helicopter parents' are annoying and counterproductive, but how do we get those parents more constructively involved instead of just trying to swat them away?"

    Fly them over Vietnam in an old B-52, let the VAF shoot the airplane down, force the parents into re-education camps near the Cambodian border.

  5. Bubba, you are right about DNA. It's extremely unfashionable to say so but it's a fact.

  6. I remember when this shift in education took place. I was in fourth grade when counselors began coming to our classes and discussing self esteem. While self esteem is important, it was taken too far, as "this coalition demanded that everyone get a trophy, that no one could lose (and hence that no one could win); they insisted that every child was exceptional, that no one could be criticized — even in some cases, that teachers should stop using red pens."

    I remember much of this philosophy and we still see it today. I thought it was silly then. In fact, many of us made fun of the whole thing and luckily my parents didn't buy into the new form of raising children and education either. It is clear that this is one of the issues that is plaguing student issues today. The expectation of an A or B for simply doing the work is absurd, yet prevalent. Students are upset when you require them to work hard in a course, blaming the teacher for their poor grade when they clearly did not put in the work required to achieve competency in the course. This has been so ingrained in our younger children and supported by parents and even the educational system that it takes them many years, if ever, to realize that they should not receive an A simply for existing and showing up.

    The question is how do we address this and change this perception? I address these issues the first day of class, to at least tell students they will not receive an A or B simply for being in my class and doing the work, but that does not stop the complaining and dislike of hard work. Parents and schools will have to change at the elementary level if we don't want students believing they are fantastic simply for existing by the time they arrive at the collegiate level.

  7. This Cathleen Comerford must be a fucking imbecile, slapping her name on this crap.

    By all accounts, success in school is determined--not merely influenced, but determined--by two factors: good home support for education and good schools.

    I'd be more inclined to read page 2 of Finnegan's Wake after having struggled for a month to finish a putrid and maddening page 1, than to read beyond the second paragraph of this absurdly inaccurate Comerford shit. If any of my students submitted a paper like this, I'd piss on it before writing a low grade on it and returning it.

    Or maybe I'd write the low grade on it first... and then piss on it.

  8. Fair enough. She ought to have begun "All other things being equal, success in school is determined ..."

    They still tell us not to use red pens. Honest. I flout this recommendation from time to time just to see how crestfallen my students look.

  9. @Merely Academic,

    I've had student education majors tell me not to use red pens; it's apparently too "threatening" and makes them not pay attention to what I tell them.

    I called bullshit on that, after spending a semester marking papers in green or blue or pink, whatever I had handy -- and they still didn't pay any attention to what I told them.

  10. In a TA training session in grad school, we were told by the writing center not to write comments at the end of student papers. The students, we were told, were to "tired" from reading our in-text comments to be able to pay attention to anything at the end of the paper.

  11. I wish they'd told us that! I hate to think how many years I've spent writing detailed and constructive comments at the end of papers. Well, no more.

  12. I'm with Bubba: the missing part in the equation is definitely the student (not just his/her DNA, but his/her experiences from the womb onward, only some of which the parents can control, though a supportive *and* challenging home environment certainly helps).

    I've never used red pen (and, nowadays, reset the default for Word comments from red to blue), but I haven't found the secret to getting (more) students to pay (more) attention to my comments, either. Nowadays, I mostly try to devise ways to figure out which students actually will make good use of the comments, and spend the majority of my time on those students' papers. It's far from an ideal approach, but it's the best I can do given the circumstances.

  13. We're not allowed to use red pen in my department.

  14. I'd use whatever pen the department provided me a box of...but since they're too damn cheap to supply pens, I will use whatever damn pen I can find the most economical.

    Oh, and do you know the fresh hell you unleash when you do not supply comments at the back? The same whiny brats who complain are also least likely to read and use the comments to learn for the future.

    Odd how just today I was thinking of the student who kept stapling his papers in the top center of the page...despite my recurring notes to cut that the fuck out, complete with circling the staple, arrows, lots of notes/explanations, a citation from the text about proper paper format, and even new staples when the papers were returned.

    Guess who failed the class? And not for the stapling issue, but for every other problem he never engaged with fixing....


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