Better Policy, not Parent Bashing
September 7, 2010
School has reopened so it’s high season for parent-bashing. Here’s my response to the latest on the National Parenting Policy proposed a few years back.
To the Editor:
As a parent with a child in Jamaica’s gov’t-run schools, I have long opposed such lofty propositions as a “National Parenting Policy” for both its elitism and shortsightedness. In particular, Andrew Holness needs to remember that “fixing” parents is not part of his portfolio. In seeking to “fix” parents and so-called broken families, such policy does little more than continue to heap disrespect onto poor people. After all, that is the group which is the target of such policies. Any fool can see that.
What’s more, those who are charged with the job of educating our children already have a set view of what constitutes “parents” and what role such parents should play, and will not take any responsibility for how educators themselves have marginalized parents from active participation in their children’s education. Just look at the quality and content of the communication between principals, teachers and parents over the past several months, and it will be clear what I mean.
So, for Andrew Holness to say that “[w]e want to bring parenting and the family structures formally into the education system,” is to ignore the way that families are already part of the system. For one thing, all those children came from families, whether he likes the family form or not. In addition, constantly singling out children whose family arrangements do not conform to what he and others imagine as “normal” is simply wrong. One anecdote does not make a pattern. I daresay, if one cannot identify who the child’s current caregiver is, then there is a serious problem in the record-keeping abilities of teachers and principals! If Holness looks to the policies that he has championed, parents’ roles are already carefully prescribed in them: the only thing that we are supposed to do is pay the required auxillary fees so that the child can attend! We are certainly not required to send our children to school, let alone to make sure that the child has all the necessary supplies. Where has the MoE carefully defined and communicated to parents the desired relationship between schools and families? That’s a true failure in educational policy, not in parenting. A top-down National Parenting Policy is certainly not going to fix the problems that currently plague Jamaica’s education system.
I believe that when the MoE chooses to change it’s approach i.e. to treat parents with respect, acknowledge the jobs we already do, and see us as partners in the education of our children, I am sure there will be a lot more cooperation and far less distrust. Right now, the only message that Jamaican parents get from the MoE is that we are lackeys who do not perform a good enough job and are a burden to the MoE. That is hardly an empowering message or wins you any friends.
If Holness wants parents to be more proactive and present in their children’s education, then he will have to make room in all relevant education policy for that to happen. For one thing, that means challenging the historical relationship between parents and schools in Jamaica, where parents were expected to “send” their children to get something that said parents, because of their social inferiority, were “lacking”, and where teachers were considered to be of superior social status. That attitude is pervasive in our society, and is certainly reflected in the skepticism and latent hostility directed against parents by the employees of the MoE, which gave rise to such problematic ideas as a “National Parenting Policy”.
Holness can’t have it both ways: either parents are partners or they are not. Such a shift in emphasis – from demonizing to engaging parents – will require the MoE to include parents as a group at every level of participation and decision-making, from the school level up to the national level. To date, parents are left on the sidelines, perhaps because we are not considered knowledgeable, important enough or credible on the subject of our children’s education. And yet, we are gladly blamed for whenever something goes awry in the schools. Go figure.
Lashing out against parents and diverse family arrangements that children come from is not the answer. Only when the MoE creates systems and programs in the schools to make it meaningful and welcoming for parents to participate will we see any difference in the quality of parents’ engagement. Only when the MoE attempts to meet parents where they are at rather than chastising them for not being good enough will we see any turnaround in the academic achievement of our children.