Open Letter to Parents: You Are Not Helping to Raise Leaders
As someone who is typically disinclined to hear parental advice from others, I do my best to avoid dishing out my own. Recently, however, after witnessing firsthand some extremely disturbing trends in parenting that are tough to ignore, I have found it difficult to sit quietly.
For starters, I should disclose that I do believe that the majority of parents are good parents -- and in fact, great parents. For the most part, this diatribe does not pertain to you. I also believe that all parents are generally good, decent human beings who, deep in their heart, mean well for their kids. You may disagree, but I simply point to Darth Vader as an ideal example.
With that said, the problem I am watching unfold seems to have much more to do with a generational shift in parental guidance. It is not necessarily a particular handful of parents who are the problem but rather a macro-level generational understanding of a parent’s role in a child’s education.
I should start by describing how my generation’s parents -- and many generations of parents before mine -- approached the concept of childhood education. The responsibility of education fell on the shoulders of the parents, then students, then on the teacher and schools. When we failed an assignment or received a less-than-exemplary grade, the result was a stern reprimand followed by the loss of a privilege for a time, the duration of which varied based on the severity of the grade.
Rarely, if ever -- that I remember -- did a parent reprimand a teacher for doing a poor job when a student received a bad grade or simply acted in poor judgment in school.
That is not to say that our teachers did not have a role in poor performance or judgment, as in fact some did (that’s my stance for my poor grade in high school English, and I’m sticking to it). Rather, parents and students were responsible for filling in any gap in education delivery at home or on their own -- for good or bad -- and it taught us accountability.
These days, the exact opposite is happening. Parents are going back to teachers and placing blame on them for their child’s failing grade or misconduct. Moreover, any issue that shatters, or even scratches, the perfect image of their child -- be it bullying another kid at school, cursing in line or being disobedience in the classroom -- is now either becoming the teacher’s responsibility or, as I have seen, a lie made up by the school to besmirch them.
It is insane.
I know for certain I wouldn't last a day in our public elementary school system as a teacher. Not because I don't like children (sure, I have my moments, but I certainly like them more than some common household items), but rather because the first day I have to serve in the car drop line, and a 9-year-old kid sits smug in his seat, staring and waiting for me to open the car door, either because he is too spoiled or simply has not the common knowledge and dexterity to operate today's automatic door locks, I would flip. Teach your child to open his or her own damn door.
I also understand that the first time I would receive a letter -- or, as is much more common these days, an email or text at 9 p.m. at night -- from a parent calling into question my morals, ethics and teaching methods, because their son or daughter failed his or her writing assignment -- a writing assignment, I might add, that was to be completed at home -- I just don’t think I would have the patience to respond with any level of dignity.
So, with that off my chest, I’d like to offer parents who feel inclined to scold their child’s teacher for any performance or attitude related failures in school some help. Below is a template letter that I welcome and encourage you to copy and send to your teacher -- today. Be sure to adjust the name of the teacher first, as well as the child’s gender assigned within, as it might look suspicious and insincere.
Dear Mr./Ms. Smith,
First, thank you as always for your time and dedication to the education of our child. I understand and appreciate that you are probably well-suited for another profession, most likely one that compensates you much better for the level of education and experience you have and certainly one with much more attractive hours, but instead you have chosen teaching because of your love for children and your commitment to the youth and future of our nation.
I write because I have a concern about my child’s education. You see, we are trying to teach and instill real-world life skills, and we feel some of the experiences at school are not helping us establish a pattern of responsibility and accountability.
For starters, we ask that you do not coddle our child. Please do not give him special attention and personally remind him to remember his homework, or pack his backpack, or remember important dates. We already have this formation in the weekly newsletter and at your classroom website and Facebook page, which you graciously provide and update often.
We will take responsibility and check these at home. If our child forgets an assignment or a date, you can, at your discretion, provide him with an opportunity to make it up, but do not allow him to simply get away with it. Consequences are how children learn, and the absence of consequences only breeds apathy.
Second, please do not give our child participation awards. I know you are required to by the school, but we would appreciate knowing how he performs compared to his classmates. It is not your responsibility to teach him how to handle failure -- that is our responsibility.
We ask that you provide him with the environment needed to instill in him the fact that life is a competition, and it is perfectly fine to be competitive. When he stumbles, we will be there to lift him up, make the failure a learning experience and do our best to develop the character needed to bounce back and push forward in the face of setback.
Third, we have no problem and actually encourage you to grade with red pen, even though I understand you are not permitted to. Red markings on homework and tests provide a clear and contrasting visual of poor work, and I believe it will teach him that poor work and effort has consequences. He needs to understand this as he grows and matures.
Fourth, I am completely fine with allowing my child to play tag, touch football, soccer and other sports during recess, even though I understand that many of these activities have been banned because other parents have raised concerns over their children getting hurt. I am fine with my child getting dirty, scraping a knee, or even landing in the nurse’s office.
If it is a result of his negligence, then I will reprimand and discipline as needed. For certain, I would rather him run, trip and fall -- and learn and mature -- under the watchful eye of capable teachers, rather than on his own when nobody is around.
I do ask, however, that you kill fire ants on the playground. That, actually, should be the responsibility of the administration.
Side story -- when I was in first grade, I fell off monkey bars at recess and broke my arm. The monkey bars were not removed, and I managed to learn and never fall off them again. In fact, what I remember fondly is getting a cast and having my friends sign it. It was awesome.
In closing, we understand you have 30 children in your class and probably more than a few challenges daily. We know you teach nonstop, from the start at 7 a.m. to the close at 2:30 p.m. with only 30 minutes for lunch -- 20 minutes of which is corralling your classroom children and getting them to eat their lunch -- so we understand that any and every ounce of attention you provide our child is more than you can probably afford.
We also understand that after you work your eight-hour day, you spend the next several hours in after-school volunteer programs, grading papers and addressing parents’ emails (boy I'll bet you wish email wasn't invented, am I right?). And, of course, after all of this, you still manage to go home and spend time with your family.
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For this, again, we thank you. And we appreciate you allowing us, the parents, to take an active role in our child’s development by taking responsibility and accountability at home. Your responsibility is to provide our child with the tools necessary to learn and the environment in which best to apply them at school -- our job is to make certain that those tools and skills are being applied as best they can everywhere else.
Mr. and Mrs. Gasca
Entrepreneur Leadership Network Writer