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The Degradation of Parents
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.

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At 8:55 AM , Blogger LAURA said…

All I have to say is Amen to that! Couldn't agree with you more.


At 9:34 AM , Anonymous Prodigal said…

I think you're in the minority and therein lies the problem. Since most parents are less involved, the rules are derived from the norm.

There's a famous quote, I can't remember the author, but it's something like this:

Good people don't need rules and bad people won't follow them.


At 10:55 AM , Blogger Christine said…

Yet another reason to homeschool: authoritarian school administrators who probably don't know even half the names of the children in their buildings!


At 11:37 AM , Blogger elaine @ peace for the journey said…

Oh boy, you've hit home on this one. My son is dyslexic; fortunately, my kids attend a private school where my "bucks" are paying the salaries of employees. I have to be constantly vigilant about what's going on in the classroom as it pertains to his educational needs. My next option is to home school; thankfully, we haven't needed to go that route yet, but don't think I won't.

I'm all about keeping watch and speaking up Sheila (which hasn't always worked in my favor); your post is a good reminder to me to keep to it!

blessings and peace to you this week~elaine


At 4:56 PM , Blogger Ashley said…

This is one of the reasons we decided to homeschool. When my brother was in elementary school they called DFACS because my parents wouldn't give him Ritalin. And they tried to force them to do several other things "for" him before they decided to take him out of that school district.

Anyway, I fortunately work for an organization that knows and teaches all their staff that "the parents know best."


At 9:25 PM , Anonymous Anonymous said…

I think it's awesome for parents to be involved in their children's lives; as a (private school) teacher, I do have a major problem when parents are immediately defensive or even combative when I try to suggest something that might help their child at school.

I totally agree that it's ridiculous that principals and teacher and camp counselors and the state think that they can tell parents what to do. But I also want to just put out a gentle caution: I have encountered just as many parents who flat-out refuse to let anyone, no matter how closely involved in their child's life, make any kind of suggestion or criticism. As Christians, defensiveness is not an OK reaction, and a lone-ranger, "I don't need anyone's help" mentality isn't what God has called us to. Consider critiques and suggestions, accept them or reject them, but do so graciously! I recognize (and value, and have no desire to usurp) parents' authority. Obviously it's your decision to figure out if you're going to make your child say "yes sir" and "yes ma'am" at home like we do at school, or if you're going to feed him something besides Pop Tarts for breakfast because he's having a melt-down every day at 10:00, but it doesn't make me your enemy to suggest it, you know?

I have watched my mom (a veteran teacher) come home in tears far too many times after a vicious lecture from a parent on "minding her own business" and "not telling ME what to do" etc....

Boy, I guess this is a sensitive subject for me!


At 3:18 PM , Blogger LaShaunda said…

Good post.

I've been on both sides of the fence. I've been lectured on what I should do with my kids. And as a Sunday school teacher I've had parents who refuse to listen about their kids.

It is a win/lose situation.

I wish my kids would go off to camp. One would love it, the would want to come home the same night. LOL

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About Me

Name: Sheila

Home: Belleville, Ontario, Canada

About Me: I'm a Christian author of a bunch of books, and a frequent speaker to women's groups and marriage conferences. Best of all, I love homeschooling my daughters, Rebecca and Katie. And I love to knit. Preferably simultaneously.

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