By Gustavo A. Ramirez, Guidance Counselor / Education Consultant / belizeguidance.blogspot.com
This week’s article focuses on an issue that I have been asked many times before to address. Since 1978 I have worked as a professional educator, both as teacher and guidance counselor, in high schools and classrooms throughout Belize and in the United States. Working alongside students, fellow educators, and many concerned and hard-working parents in Parent Teacher Associations, I have tried repeatedly to address this situation that continues to baffle many teachers. The issue I refer to affects both students and educators every single day, and is a frustrating classroom management issue that can also limit students’ entire futures. I am referring to those parents and guardians who show no interest whatsoever in their children’s work, or lack of work, at school. It simply does not seem to matter to these parents whether their sons or daughters are progressing at school, are on top of the class, or are failing one or more subjects in their class. School, to these parents and guardians, is merely a place where we send our children everyday; once our children are in school everyday, educators/teachers will take care of them and deal with whatever issue(s) the children/students may have because that’s just what educators/teachers are supposed to do. How, then, do we educators, other concerned parents of students, and the community at large motivate these indifferent parents or guardians to actively participate in (care about) their children’s education? A lifetime career as an educator, while also being a parent, has shown me that when our children fail in school, we too fail as parents (or guardians) and the entire country loses; however, when our children shine at school, we parents also shine and the entire country wins!
Actually, there are several issues involved here, not just the constant need for parents to participate in students’ education. The proper parenting of students, or lack thereof, is a moral issue just as much as it is a legal one; as such, it is neither an easy nor clear cut matter to discuss. Nevertheless, lack of parental participation in students’ education is an issue (like so many others) that we cannot ignore. I encourage discussion of this issue, and welcome feedback from new and/or returning readers, and especially from parents of current students. Your suggestions can be a first step in a difficult but feasible journey to pave a positive path for students, educators, and our jewel: Belize.
First of all, though, I am adamant that no one should ever point fingers at students’ parents, or judge them or compare them to other parents. Although, educators who work with much dedication everyday to educate students, only to notice that their devotion and continuous hard work with those students remain totally ignored by the students’ parents, may find it difficult not to want to judge. Nonetheless, despite how indifferent the parent(s) of a student may be, judging a student’s parent solves nothing nor helps educate anyone! Rather, just as the core of an educator’s work everyday is to motivate students to want to learn, likewise, we could keep finding ways to also motivate students’ parents to want to participate in their children’s education. We could have exciting (not boring) Open Days at school and PTA activities; we could send regular letters and notes to parents to keep them apprised of their children’s activities at school. We could encourage students’ parents to participate in and enjoy student field trips, instead of asking them to chaperone only. An important step in trying to motivate parent participation in our students’ education is including them in the “fun” of Education.
I wrote my very first online Guidance Counseling article, Wake Up and Smell the Coffee, Oct. 2011 to stimulate discussion about a key issue in the education of high school students where I worked at the time. Similarly, that first article discussed the issue of parents who were not actively involved nor seemed to care about their children’s day-to-day education. I argued then that most parents assumed that the newly introduced “In School Suspension” would not work simply because they themselves had never been exposed to it when they were in school umpteen years before. I asked parents then to consider the program and review its Pros and Cons before jumping to conclusions – which most parents had already done. This week’s topic has a similar assumption: my parents did not actively participate in my education, and I turned out all right, so that means that neither do I as a parent have to actively participate in my child’s day-to-day education. As a school psychologist, teacher, and parent I repeatedly and unabashedly remind all parents that they do not ever have any right to assume that any student must do what the parents did 10, 15 or 25 years (or longer) ago when they were in school. That line of thinking is totally illogical, makes no sense whatsoever, and proves nothing to no one. That line of thinking merely allows parents to conveniently feel guilt-free for not participating in their children’s education; and, of course, it also allows parents to have more “me” time to enjoy themselves. That, however, I see as selfish.
As a fellow parent, not as an educator, I often remind the parents of students wherever I work that no child comes into this world with a “To Do” list for parents to follow. However, once a child is born to us, we parents proudly take on the responsibility to protect and guide him/her into adulthood. A large part of the responsibility includes making every effort to educate our children and help them to develop mind, body, and soul -- for longer than the law may require. The fact remains, though, that throughout the entire world, including Belize, not every child is born into ideal circumstances or ideal families, whether rich or poor. For that very reason I always encourage new parents to start considering decisions regarding a child’s education right after the child is born, and not to just leave such decisions to the haphazard rule of “we’ll deal with it when the time comes”. In countries like Belize, where Education is not free nor automatically provided to everyone, planning an education is very important! (In 1978 the University of Wisconsin published my pioneering 12 month research study of Seniors in 3 high schools in Belize on this very topic; and in a recent online article I pointed out that “Learned Helplessness” is perpetuated from generation to generation when parents simply live from day to day, hoping blindly that perhaps somehow and sometime in the future something will work out to their benefit – but actually doubting it all deep inside everyday.)
Yes, parental participation in a child’s education is very much a moral issue, more so, perhaps, than it is a legal one. However, each individual parent has to make his/her own decision about just how much he/she wants to get involved in each child’s education. Moreover, I strongly believe that no educator or PTA member should ever attempt to coerce or guilt another student’s parent(s) into participating in their child’s school activities. Why? In the same way that educators cannot force any student to learn, because genuine learning can only come from within (is inherent), neither can educators ever force parental involvement in any child’s education. The key to promoting any student’s learning, and at the same time encouraging his/her parents to remain involved in the student’s education is “motivation”. (Already, I see a flood of comments from readers to point out to me that educators’ responsibilities are to students, not to their parents!) Nonetheless, even if I must step on toes (educators’ or parents’) to discuss this issue, I remain convinced that active parental participation in each student’s education is an important issue that needs to be discussed and encouraged, rather than ignored or filed away somewhere in someone’s old PTA meeting notes.
In view of recent “en masse” high school suspensions in Belize City I strongly encourage readers, especially local school administrators, to review Wake Up and Smell the Coffee, Oct 12, 2011 and San Pedro High Introduces New Suspension Program, Oct 4, 2011.
These articles on Education are not intended to be comprehensive or complete. They are written and contributed in an effort to provide a “starting point” for valuable discussion amongst educators, students, and the community. When we discuss and review students’ learning capabilities and the ways in which we currently try to educate them, we learn from our mistakes as well as success. Here’s to finding the best path to follow, fellow educators!