The New Stupid: Parents

CJ Westerberg, September 10, 2013 7:30 PM

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Illustration by PC Vey

Update: Must-Read: The Passion of Parenting by Charles Blow

"I think you're Crazy . . .
 . . .You really think you're in control??"
-Gnarls Barkley (video below)

Pegging and Labeling: Parents & Kids
What we love to do in education circles

by C.J. Westerberg

Why does it seem like parents have become the new stupid?  Headlines such as
Why Back-to-School Night Made Me Feel Like a Bad Mom - hard to believe this came
from The Atlantic, once the go-to magazine for "deep" thinking and research - continue to promote the idea that parents are always on the wrong side or second-guessing anything
they do like a vat of bubbling nerves, while hiding more important issues among parental confessions like this quote from same post:

Our schools and other institutions, such as organized sports,
are set up as hierarchies with evaluation, social comparison,
 and "weeding out" as part of routine practice. (Labaree, 1997).
Indeed, Labaree (1997) argued that the goals of education
have moved from obtaining knowledge that will be useful for children
in their futures to obtaining credentials
that will give them an edge over the competition."
-Wendy Grolnick 

During the course of one day recently I've been called a "chill-parent" with an eye-brow raise (meaning: you are too relaxed and therefore suspect of letting a teen run wild and unguided), and a "you're not one of those Brooke Shield's mothers, are you?" (meaning: controlling, helicopter, Tiger).

Yes, I am both of them. Many times, sometimes in one day. Hopefully, I've have that may interactions with my child-tween-teen to warrant such critiques.  Sadly, sometimes there are missed times or days of connection completely.

So there.

Catch me one moment and I'd get a D-, another moment, Mary Poppins.

At least I've had the luxury of time and experience to understand that at a certain moment, I may be true to one label and moments later, not.  Our youth do not have that perspective built in yet.  When they get pegged, it stings far worse.

Yet we label parents as we label students.  And we think teachers have had a few rough years of no respect?

Someone high up in edu-circles said to me recently that I should write a parenting book since my perspective crosses a lot of designated boundaries, like business, technology, and of course, education. Presently, I am writing a book about the people and the interesting conundrums that go with the intersection of those big topics through my work with The Daily Riff and my research about learning. I am also on a founding team for a platform to change some of our stuck-thinking about learning and student engagement.

While I am including parenting in this upcoming book, I've noticed an alarming rate of labeling parents as we've labeled students for far too long: Students as smart, not so, challenged, athletic, artistic, or different (meaning: holy cow: no clue what this kid is about!).  I hear this a lot:  this child is "smart" (meaning: getting good grades) or "artistic" or "athletic" (gives them an out), or has a "learning difference." 

What is a learning difference?  Different from whom or what?  One school leader a few years ago said to me something that continues to resonate in my thinking:  "Seems like all the teachers here say most all their students have learning differences. Maybe it's not the students who have 'issues', but us."  Okay, I digressed.  But we are talking about labels.

So here we go again with how we label parents: out-to-lunch or over-bearing - that is pretty much it.
It's about context.  And place.  And time.

And most importantly, behaviors just may depend upon the quality of relationships in the learning process, in and out of school. But how often are we really talking about and thinking about the quality of the relationships in school? These affect how we all may 

So enough of sweeping do's and don'ts.
I've been a parent very available, and sometimes not, due to travel and deadlines. Same with
dad, who lucky enough, is also a part of a two-parent household.  How many are not?  Doubling the difficulty?  There are times when a parent may "lean in" more due to circumstances and back off other times - it's not a perfect science.  It is an ongoing series of
wonderful, human interactions.

It has to do with time and place. Child development. Age. Those sort of things. And we haven't nearly addressed those in need of the basics: food, healthcare, security, >and direct, personal attention of any kind.

After all, it's not really teachers, parents or students who drive K-12, it's the dictate of the culture of a K-12 school and, as importantly, higher education admissions, which include some very standardized and rigid protocols.  Step in line or not. 

Until higher education entrance standards change, parents, teachers and students will always be dancing between learning or getting better grades and test scores because sometimes those trains don't meet. 

Gnarls Barkley has it right, "Maybe we're crazy. Probably."  

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It had long since come to my attention that people of accomplishment rarely sat back and let things happen to them. They went out and happened to things.
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