April 20, 2024
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Parent Accountability: The Impetus Behind Academic Excellence

When did society forget that a child’s first teacher is his parent? As a novice kindergarten teacher balancing first year navigations with completing my masters, it had been drummed into our collective heads that although it seemed the children were in our care for an infinite amount of time, in truth the majority of the day is spent away from school.

Yesteryear—gone the way of the dinosaur—saw the parent as the mainstay in a child’s upbringing and recognized the value of the teacher and his/her authority in educational matters. Today confusion reigns supreme as discord and unbalance in the internal and external relationships that are supposed to create the dynamic in the school-child-family continuum holds sway. The lack of defined authority, fear of being politically incorrect, and an overly magnanimous attitude results in blurring lines and an ever increasing unstable environment for child development. Familiarity breeds contempt.

In the past, parents—mothers in particular—recognized the necessary school/home partnership in order to see academic gains and embraced their role as an active participant, supporting teacher initiatives, opinions, and decisions. Children thus learned each adult’s position in the hierarchy of their lives. Since the value of structure and ritualization to foster stability in a child’s environment has long been recognized, the clearly defined roles lent a sense of self and security to the child. He knew and understood home and school expectations and thus was able to thrive.

The parenting landscape has been altered irrevocably, and by virtue of this fact, so has the nature of our children. In my workshops we address “hyper-parenting.” In addition to the imbalances in the school system, the structure of the household dynamic is skewed. Parenting ranges from ineffectual or non-existent to the now famous “helicopter” mom, who hovers over her child’s every move and governs every thought. It is why many of today’s children are incapable of using higher-level reasoning, mastering social relationships or problem solving. An example: 10-year-olds who do not know how to tie their shoes!! Exposure to Velcro-only footwear allows for a need to be self-sufficient, provides easy access, and frees up mother’s time. Problem solved! Or were new ones created and compounded?

Ironically, the stay-at-home moms of the past actually parented from afar. If you speak to the memories of the ’50s generation, they will recall fondly eating dirt and playing in the street. These activities by today standards are unacceptable and assail our common sense, my own included. But there is something to be said for play in its purest form, free of the hindrance and judgmental eye of an authoritative figure.

Movies are supposed to reflect society. Stand By Me and others that depict the 1950s culture, screen a group of boys wandering aimlessly on deserted train tracks. By today’s standards their parents would have been jailed for allowing those kids out on their own! Yet those children are my parents and the grandparents of our youth. They recognize the value in freedom and independence. Of course today’s world is much darker and dangerous than the so- called innocence of that time (they had their own struggles, as each generation does), but that doesn’t mean we can’t loosen and tighten the reigns accordingly.

We must find a balance between the benefits of the past and the need to embrace the awe-inspiring future. Old- fashioned values of honesty, integrity, and righteousness are, and should be, in fashion, now more than ever. It is imperative that we create nation-wide reforms that begin and end with our most impressionable: our youngest minds and the future of our country. Strong initiatives need to be set in place in every school and classroom across the country with the same expectations and enforced with everyone. No exceptions. Uniformity is tantamount when creating qualitative change.

Begin by redefining teachers’ and parents’ roles. Recreate PTA’s to reflect opportunities for educators, administrators, and parents to have a safe place to express and brainstorm. Most important of all, have great expectations for all—including, or even specifically, parents. For the truth is that parents are the majority stakeholders in their children’s lives. I predict that with the inclusion of more digitization and homework being accessed on devices that are already at our fingertips, it will be easier to assign work where parents will be able to participate. The mobility and digestible length of online lessons will answer a parent’s chief complaint: not finding enough time and/or energy. And added digital home involvement will necessitate carefully vetted programming on the part of the administrator, who can craft and determine the level of involvement.

This increased responsibility can and will make a difference ultimately in the academic future of our children. Return the balance; shift the paradigm now for society’s sake. I want to be able to look into my child’s eyes and know that I am an equal partner in his role of becoming a responsible active citizen of the world.

Annette Simmons, or Ms. “K” as she is affectionately called by her students, is an early childhood consultant, academic interventionist and Kindermusik educator. A veteran of the NYC Department of Education, she is a master trainer and works with many agencies and their families, and is most currently credited with bringing ABC Music & Me, an early literacy curriculum, to Yeshiva Rabbi Samson Rafael Hirsh, the first Yeshiva to implement the program.

By Annette Simmons, M.Ed

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