Monday, August 29, 2011

Parent Reform

If schools, faculty and/or their unions, if government cannot solve the myriad of issues and problems in public education, then who can? I think we can. We have to reform our thoughts about education and what having a good education means. We have to make sure education is accessible to our children and that it is accessible to us. Education has been elevated to a point where only experts have a say, even teachers are being left out of the loop. There are many things happening around the world that should outrage us, but education is something that we can tangibly influence.

We need to join forces with teachers and demand very specific changes. We need to let the government know that they will not get away with promoting policies that hinder the learning environment of our children and then blame dedicated teachers when those ridiculous policies fail. We, unlike politicians cannot afford to remain silent. We must rock the boat.

We must engage and commit to our children's education as if their very lives depended on it, because it may well be true. We can start small. A ripple that gathers momentum is all we need. Here are my suggestions:

1. Start where you are. If you are pregnant, educate yourself about your child's development. Start reading aloud to your baby. If your child is older, find out how he's doing, physically, cognitively, emotionally. Don't panic if your child is lagging in any one area. There are differences in the rates of development, but knowing where your child is will help you engage him and thrive. Make sure you are establishing good habits in your child. Healthy foods, well baby visits, fresh air. These things give your child every advantage in growing up happy and healthy.

2. Get yourself ready for school. Be an informed parent. What are your child's strengths and weaknesses? How have you helped your child in the weak areas? How are you encouraging their gifts/strengths? What help would you like from his teachers? This information should come from you. Don't wait until a teacher points out a problem. Be proactive and engaged. Speak with your child's teacher often. Become antiquated with the school staff. Join the PTA/PTO.

3. Learn to deal kindly and effectively with a difficult teacher. Do not allow yourself to be bullied by teachers, office staff or the principal. You know your child better than anyone else. Take control and be a decision maker. Speak your truth clearly, calmly and with conviction. If there is an on going problem, make sure to document EVERYTHING. Every conversation, meeting, conference should be documented. Be an advocate for your child.

I recall years ago and incident with my oldest son. He had heart surgery when he was eight and as a result of that he needed to take antibiotics before every dental appointment. I made his appointments well in advance because I also schedule one with his pediatrician, so I could get the prescription for the antibiotics. So in July, I called to schedule an appointment for August. Turns out the dentist was going to be on vacation the entire month of August, so we scheduled for mid September. The day of his appointment I dropped my son off at school at 11:00 am. I was met by a very rude and somewhat angry Vice Principal who proceeded to reprimand me for bringing my son late on a TEST DAY! We had the following exchange:

"Mrs. Chacon, are you aware the today is a TEST DAY?"
"I am."
"You have brought your son to school late!"
"I have."
"Now, he'll have to make up his test!"
"He will."

She sputtered and turned around and walked away from me. She never once showed concerned or asked why he was late. Her concern was the testing. Testing, in my book, gauges where the child is at the moment. It may or may not be indicative of any future results on the child's abilities or knowledge of a particular subject. I knew where my son what academically. I knew where he was physically and spiritually. At that moment his health was more important to me that his test scores. Knowing these things gave me the strength to stand my ground.

Knowing where you child is, where you want him to go, knowing what his strengths and weakness are will help you stand strong in your convictions and will help you be an advocate for your child. Once we start to speak out. Once we start pointing out what our children need, the changes will happen. They are starting to happen with school lunches. Next on the agenda, class sizes. Send a message to congress and the Secretary of Education that class sizes do matter. Complain clearly and loudly at PTA meeting, to school boards, to local governments, to the media, to the state government and to the federal government.

Keep in mind, that no one gave women the right to vote. Women had to demand it at a great sacrifice. One hundred years after the signing of the Emancipation Proclamation, people had to protest loudly and with great peril to demand protection of their civil rights. The difficult tasks are never voluntarily solved by government, they are solved by the concerned citizens who sometimes sacrifice life and limb to insure a better life for future generations. That is what our children are demanding of us. Let the great Parent Reform begin.