My best friend from university lives far from me, but emails frequently about the almost constant conflict she'd had with her school principal over the last few years. I won't go into the details, but suffice it to say that it can be summed up like this: the principal believes that she knows how to educate children, and parents know very little.
This idea that "we know best" and "parents should just step out of the way" is so prevalent in many areas of our culture. Experts are trying to take over parenting. I don't mean to be alarmist, but I see it all the time. And the end result, I believe, is to breed a passivity and insecurity among parents that we really can raise our kids.
As a child I hated summer camp. I hated being away from my mother, I hated sports, I hated the "rah rah" that camp seemed to constantly be doing. I had to go because my mom was a single parent and she didn't have many options for child care. But it was very difficult.
My children, on the other hand, have really enjoyed camp, probably because they're more secure to begin with and also because they can go together, rather than alone as I did. So for the past two weeks they've been at a very good Christian camp. We're all home now, but the general decision was that it was a good break.
Yet summer camp is one more of those areas where I feel that parents are often pushed out. We are given a list of things we must bring, and rules we must obey. We can't phone. We can send letters, but we can't visit except on visitor's day. If we give suggestions that our children are generally well-behaved, but they don't work well if they get overtired, so perhaps they should be excused from some wide games and just let sleep, we're often ignored because the spirit of the camp is that everyone should do everything together.
I wrote a column about this very issue a few years ago, and was reminded it of it this week. Here's a taste:
That’s not all I heard. Just like me, a nurse also came up to work while her three kids attended camp, including one very shy 8-year-old boy. She was supposed to be working at his camp, but was sent instead to the teenage one on the other side of the lake. Her son didn’t fare very well in her absence. The 19-year-old section head and 18-year-old counsellor were sure they knew why. “In our experience,” they said, “these kids do much better if the parents are completely offsite.”
Now these teenagers were lovely people and experienced campers, having spent 8 weeks at camp for the last three years. But she was an expert, too. She could have said, “I know you’ve spent 168 days at camp, but I have 3,000 days of experience with this particular boy, and he would have been fine had I worked here.” It was not to be. She took their criticism lying down.
This incident stayed with me, I think, because it’s not an anomaly. Everywhere we turn, someone else is telling us how to raise our kids (including me!). Even the spanking debate which I sparked a while ago (why do I do these things?) is symptomatic of this need for others to tell us, despite divided research data, how to parent our children.
One of my friends recently had an unfortunate run-in with a teacher, who was upset that this mom helped her fourth grade daughter to understand math. “She has to learn it the way we teach it, not the way you explain it,” the teacher stressed, failing to see the irony that if the teacher had actually taught the child, she wouldn’t have needed her mother’s help in the first place. The mother said little. I think a simple, “my child, my house, my time,” would have sufficed, followed by, in a Shrek accent, “bye-bye. See you later.” But my friend was more polite.
You can read the rest here.
I like being a parent, but I do know best partly because I've got the most invested in my kids. I wish the rest of society would start acknowledging that parents do have a legitimate interest in what their kids learn, who looks after our kids, and how they are taught. I wish the experts would realize who the real experts are. But perhaps that's just wishful thinking.
Labels: parenting, public schools