There has always been what I call a ‘soft’ boundary between home and school. It’s the reason kids don’t see their teachers as working or why they don’t understand that taking an eraser from the supply closet without permission is, in reality, no different from taking an eraser from a store without paying for it.
Ideally, home and school should work in conjunction with one another.
On the surface, parents and educators are both working toward the same goal: raising functional, respectful human beings that can multiply and know when the Magna Carta was signed. When parenting and education go hand in hand, reinforcing the messages that are integral to both, it is overwhelmingly positive. But in order for that to work as it should, there need to be clear boundaries.
A spate of recent articles, reminders, and conversations with other parents has lately got me to thinking. Are schools taking on roles that should fall squarely on the side of home? Are parents responsible for influencing educational policies that should solely be the role of schools?
I don’t think there is a cabal of evil teachers sitting around trying to usurp the role of parents. Nor do I think a group of masked parents meet in the dark of night plotting a malicious coup to seize control of the classroom. What I do think, for the most part, is that parents and schools have the best interests of children at heart.
Yet I also strongly believe there needs to be a firm separation of home and school. There need to be clear lines drawn in the sand of childhood. And those lines are getting smudged.
Take for instance, what one article refers to as Lunch Box Policing.
Should a school be able to dictate what someone else’s child has for lunch or snack? Telling a parent that they can’t pack X or that a child must have Y as part of their food intake is not the business of the school, that is the responsibility of the parent. While the intentions may understandable and good, the outcome is often not. Should physical activity and outdoor free play be a priority in gym class and recess? Absolutely. Should schools ban selling soda and chips and chocolate bars? Yes. Should a school integrate a lesson about making healthy choices? Maybe, although even that gets a bit dicey in the wording.
Within bounds: “In an effort to combat childhood obesity, we’ve decided to stop selling soda on campus.”
Out of bounds: “Your child must have a banana and an apple for snack.”
The same is true in reverse. The majority of us did not go to school and study education. The majority of us are not keeping up with the latest research on how kids learn or what the latest recommendations are. Therefore, we really have no business demanding that a school does or does not do something with regard to learning. A prime example? Homework.
Within bounds: “Mrs. Z, I’ve noticed that Zander has upwards of three hours of homework a night. It’s affecting all the other aspects of his life; his friends and sports, even time with his family. Is there a time we could meet to discuss?”
Out of bounds : “I don’t care that the latest research says homework has no benefit. I think my child should have homework. I’m going straight to the board about this.”
Should a school integrate lessons about inclusion? Yes, absolutely. Should they work with children about respecting the feelings of others? For sure. Ideally, school should reinforce what is being taught at home, the same way that homework, if given, is reinforcing what a child learned at school. Should those lessons in inclusion include a policy regarding birthday parties and who a child can or cannot invite? Nope. That is overstepping the role of school, in my opinion, regardless of intention.
Parents can be wonderful resources, and a smart school knows how to tap into those resources. But it’s easy for parents to overstep that boundary, and if that happens, things can get ugly. Parents have no place dictating what does or does not go on in the classroom. I’m not addressing those times when you must advocate for your own child, but normal circumstances. A parent should never be in the classroom to the point when it is interfering with a lesson, and never ever uninvited. That would be like having the nosy intern spend the day sitting on the corner of your desk while you’re trying to work.
Can a teacher, who spends six or seven hours a day, five days a week with my child tell me things about him or her that perhaps I’ve missed? Most probably. Can that same teacher tell if I don’t love my child enough or don’t give him enough attention? How could they possibly? And yet just this week two friends have been on the receiving end of such instructions from teachers.
Within bounds: “Hey, Mrs. Jones, I’ve noticed that little Jemina has been pulling her friend’s hair a lot this week. Has she been acting out at home or mentioned anything happening at school?”
Out of bounds: “I think you should spend more time with Jemima, just the two of you. This hair pulling seems like a cry for more attention from you.”
Within bounds: “Xavier’s behavior in class has been disruptive lately. How can we work together to help him get along with his classmates better?”
Out of bounds: “You should focus more on your children and less on conversations with other adults when you’re picking your kids up from school.”
Them there are fighting words. They’re also way overstepping the boundaries of school and home, not to mention making that parent feel like shit, even if the intention is a good one. It would be like going into the classroom and saying, “You know, Jimmy cries everyday when I drop him off at school. Do you think it could be because you seem to have clear favorites?”
The cross-over between school and home has become less definable in recent years. We’ve become less involved while becoming more involved, often assuming that one or the other will pick up the slack while simultaneously not trusting the other to do the right thing. The lines have become blurred.
And if you’re going to cross a line, I highly recommend seeing it, lest you trip and fall.