Fine and Henry once said that “the acquisition of knowledge about how to raise children to be well-adjusted adults is not something that a wise society would leave to chance,” and Alvin Toffler said that “parenthood remains the greatest single preserve of the amateur.”
Every school should have a formal and well-organized parent involvement program, using Epstein’s six criteria: parenting (parent education and voluntary home visits), communicating, volunteering, learning at home, decision-making (power sharing), and collaborating with community.
Schools in general have been good at having parents volunteer, and with the pandemic, learning at home. Parenting and decision-making are probably the weakest areas. Many school officials are afraid of parents as if parents were the enemy; but partnering with parents is the equivalent of two horses pulling the wagon in the same direction.
Every school should have a parent education center filled with books and videos on parenting and child development. It would also serve as a place to hold parenting classes during days, evenings and weekends. Schools should also have a parent advisory council under the leadership of the school principal. The principal would regularly seek advice from this group as one principal of an elementary school in Lynn, Mass., does. When the city council tried to take land away for a future school, the principal told the advisory council, whose members met with the city council resulting in stopping the land sale.
At another time, the school committee wanted to cut the kindergarten program, but the advisory council not only got kindergarten back, but also they got a full-day kindergarten program. State boards of education should require schools to have a parent-involvement program, and accreditation agencies should evaluate schools on having such a program. Universities should train parent educators so that just anyone would not be using that title, and state boards of education should certify the graduates.
Parents want to know about child development, but they don’t want to be told how to raise their kids. They want good, scientific information to guide them in parenting to reinforce their role as experts in raising their own children. They also want to share their experiences with other parents and to engage in mutual learning.
We all suffer the consequences of unintentional, wrongheaded parenting but rather than complain about faulty parents, we should help them to do one of the most important jobs in the world.
LEO R. SANDY