My initial idea about school reform is here which basically amounts to nothing more than getting parents in the classroom. I thought about this idea for the past couple of days and now it's time to flush it out a bit more.
I can think of a couple of problems with my idea:
1) What about parents with more than one child - especially when the children are too young for school. These parents would not be easily available to help in the classroom.
2) What about parents who because of work obligations can't get help.
3) What about marginal parents. I am sure there are some parents who would simply not be good in the classroom.
Well, first let's start with the obvious. If in a classroom with say 20 or 30 kids in attendance. Let's say every parent with school age children, that could volunteer as a teacher's aid in the classroom did. My first question, since I simply do not know, would teachers be accepting of this help? My second question is, how many parents could we get in the classroom - certainly we could get at least a few, right - and that would be huge. And even if a parent had multiple school age children and wanted to be in both classrooms, the teacher would at least get this parent a couple of times a week. (By the way, my next door neighbor volunteers at an inner city school in Phoenix once a week - so I know this sort of thing is possible and valued).
Now, if we were sending our kids to publics school, my wife would not be one of those parents (or me certainly) who could easily be in the classroom - with a newborn and a two year-old in toe. But let's increase the numbers slightly. What if (once our newborn got older) we could get a babysitter a couple of times a week - say we split time with another parent who also had young kids. This would increase the level of participation.
Let's expand this idea even more. Let's say the school, in an expansive attempt to get as many parents on the campus as possible, started to accommodate parent volunteers with younger children - say a mother with a slinged newborn could come in the classroom and maybe a day care or pre-school was part of the school where the two year old could be temporarily deposited.
Finally, what about single parents who have to work? Well, why not hire them to be teacher's aids in the classroom? This is a bit tricky and would only work for marginally paid single parents - since I just can't imagine a scenario where we could pay them very well to do this. And it's tricky because you would want other parents who didn't need to work to do the exact same classroom work for free.
But this used to be the way things were to some extent at least.
Consider this passage in this book about the near poor in America, some of whom have been pushed off of the welfare rolls because of the welfare reform bill passed during the Clinton presidency in the 1990's. This book is a bit dated - now with near 10% unemployment, many of these people have probably been pushed back into the realm of the unemployed and poor.
Here's the passage about a mother, Danielle, who used to volunteer at her children's inner city school:
Danielle used to do much more for her children. Until she started her workfare job, she was the treasurer of their school's PTA and she spent nearly thirty hours a week volunteering there. It was a labor of love but also a cause of frustration. Sometimes only ten people would show up for meetings - in a school of seven hundred kids. Though Danielle found plenty to gripe about, she wasted no time mustering a constructiive response. Making a difference at P.S. 57 became her mission.
Ironically, it was her very freedom from work that allowed Danielle to become a fixture at the school. Because she didn't have to clock in at an office, barely a day went by in the late nineties when she wasn't at the school, working in the library, going over PTA accounts, helping out with playground or lunchroom supervision. She visited with the teachers, became a conspicuous adult presence during dismissal, dropped in on the principal most mornings as kids climbed off the school buses, and made sure that she was present to fight for the cause at every District Five school board meeting. For someone fighting depression, her devotion was impressive.
It was also pragmatic. 'If you're not involved with what's goin' on behind doors, then you don't know what's behind [them],' she reasoned. She has seen teachers yank kids by their clothes, push them against the wall, and scream at the top of their lungs. By inserting herself into the school hierarchy, Danielle made sure she could protect her own.
Danielle's proactive presence at P.S. 57 was not without its detractors. Whenever her name came up, school security guards would roll their eyes skyward. Some of the Latino parents thought she was high-handed. Even the PTA president, someone Danielle worked with fairly closely, denounced her on occasion. 'Are you a crackhead or something?' Yvonne, the president, yelled down the corridor during one of their dramas. When Danielle retored with an equally unpleasant rejoinder, Yvonne told her in no uncertain terms whose ass she could kiss. The whole incident left Danielle so steamed that she considered quitting the PTA and pulling her kids out of P.S. 57. In the end she decided against it. The school had become her avocation. She knew enough about its inner workings to guarantee a certain level of attention for her kids, and she couldn't give up that advantage. Still, the episode taught Danielle that you can't rely on anyone but yourself. Nobody covers your back. On the other hand, nobody covers your kids either. That's a mother's job.
Until welfare reform pushed them into the labor force, mothers on welfare like Danielle were the mainstay of many Harlem elementary schools. They were the helpers whom every school depended on to keep things on track. In middle-class suburban schools, this 'job' falls to nonworking moms (and a few dads) who organize bake sales, publicize the school play, ride along on the bus when kids take field trips, and drum up class representatives for as many grades as they can manage. Principals and teachers depend on these parents to keep the institution running, and in big cities, where budgets are always tight, they have become ever more important for maintaining basic order.
When there is no money for official, paid classroom aides, non-working moms - often on public assistance in poor communities - do what Danielle did. They watch the hallways and the lunchroom and pitch in during bus-boarding time, dismissal, and those Friday afternoons when, to hear Danielle tell it, the whole school goes 'off the hook.' They make sure that kids return the forms that qualify them for free lunches, which provide nutrition that is better than what many families can afford.
Welfare reform put an end to this volunteer workforce. Danielle and thousands of other mothers like her now spend their days toiling at the office or sweeping the city park and struggle to find the energy to get to evening school meetings when they can. Their days as hallway monitors are over."
This is the unintended consequences of welfare reform - it drove single parents out of the schools and weakened their influence over their children's lives. Granted not all parents took advantage of welfare to engage in the community and in their children's schools, but certainly some did.
Why not reform this reform? Pay parents who are willing to volunteer in their children's school. Why not provide society support to keep mother's actively involved in their children's lives. I guess what I'm suggesting is that we as a society should reform our schools in ways that encourage parents to get on the campus and in the classroom of the schools their children attend. Because, really, nobody is motivated to teach a child like that child's mother.
My third and final post on this subject will propose an even more radical idea for school reform.