School to Parents: Volunteer or Else! is the title of a post on one of the New York Times’ blogs. It’s about a school district in San Jose that is planning to require 30 volunteer hours a year from each of their 13,000 students (88% of which are poor, according the the article).
Now, that’s going to work out well….
Why not make something mandatory — which is not going to be enforceable anyway (are they going to punish the child if a parent doesn’t participate?) — instead of putting energy into building trusting and reciprocal relationships with parents; learning their concerns, visions for themselves, and visions for their children; helping families find the energy and capacity within themselves to want to act; and then working together to do something?
Why do people who should know better think of these things?
To paraphrase the late famed community organizer Fred Ross, Sr., “Using shortcuts will take you to detours which will lead to dead-ends.”
Yeah, Larry — I couldn’t agree more. What a flawed approach.
Every successful involvement school and district I’ve observed have started with serving parents and continually focused on serving parents. The connections and the engagement grow from there. This is just the opposite. Sad.
As an aspiring teacher I understand the need for parental involvement. As a parent of five children, I understand that many parents are doing all they can do simply to get their kids to school with all of the required supplies. Sometimes pressure needs to be taken off the parents for not being able to be at every event every time. Sometimes parent-teacher conferences need to take place over the phone at a time convenient for the parent. The schools must remember that they exist for the students, not the parents for the schools.
I may be reading too much into this, but it appears to me that by “requiring 30 hours” the district is sending the message that they don’t trust that the parents are already involved in their children’s education. As a parent, I resent this stance. I am involved, but I’m also trying proactively to raise independent children giving them responsibility and ownership of their learning. Do I have to be at the school or micro-managing my child in order to be involved? What about the conversations about learning, education, and life we have at the dinner table or in the car? The more I think about this policy the more I wonder, “How did these people ever obtain a leadership role in schools?”
I am surprised that anyone is still surprised in the amount of effort and resources school administration and teachers put into reasserting to their community that they are indeed in charge and parental involvement is due to their largess.