There are no handbooks to parenting your child. I don’t remember reading anything warning me of the morning battles between the first attempt to wake my child[ren] and finally tumbling out the front door. Then there’s a daily storm of school stuff, social situations, health, homework, after-school activities, meals, and life. It’s hard.
Parents are blamed for low reading scores and low performance of entire schools. Parents with limited resources (money, time) are criminalized for not being in the school building and inability to contribute. So naturally, I have a problem with school leaders or politicians who create systems/policies that make parents’ role even more difficult. Like the Memphis lawmaker who made the news this week. Rep. Antonio Parkinson, a person elected by the people to work for the people, is set to propose a law that enforces a dress code and standard conduct — for parents, better known as the people.
Rep. Parkinson’s district includes Shelby County Schools, one of the largest urban districts in America where ninety-one percent of its 106,000 students are Black and Hispanic and fifty-seven percent low-income. The gentleman from West Tennessee says this law “… is creating a standard of awareness.” Nope.
Schools As Police State
Rep. Parkinson is, in the worst way, making schools extensions of the communities where many parents live in the state’s largest urban school districts. Communities with beefed up patrols and searches without warrants or reason. Further, this proposal forces administrators to take on law enforcement responsibilities effectively erecting yet another barrier between the school and parents, in general, and marginalized parents specifically. Because let’s be honest, do you think the good man from Memphis is talking about policing the bodies of parents in, let’s say, swanky Germantown or wealthy Williamson County?
According to the representative, the ill-advised proposal is, in fact, getting positive feedback. Sadly, he’s right. I’ve spent the past couple of days mining social media comments on articles about this effort to enact a school dress code for parents and many of the commenters were, in fact, in favor of the idea. Don’t they know the real scandal is that only thirty-four percent of Tennessee students read at grade level? Grrrr. Thankfully, The Memphis Lift, the powerful parent group that is unapologetically all about kids, is having none of it.
Encourage, Don’t Demoralize
It’s hard to imagine intellectual beings expending energy crafting and garnering support for legislation that shames parents. We need laws that encourage parent investment and partnership. Not sexy, but worth it. How about a law eradicating the achievement gap between children of color and white children? Hell, I’d lobby legislators free of charge to pass legislation making it against the law for any school to have less than seventy-five percent of its students read at grade level. See how that works? As Ms. Fields states, there are far more serious issues concerning our students that require our elected officials’ attention and energy free of petty distractions.
I’ve been in hundreds of school environments where strong principals set the culture and expectations of their building in ways that don’t alienate and shame. Allow principals to be instructional leaders, not junior cops. We need a statewide effort that encourages and supports the relationship between school and home. Results from a recent EdChoice survey of parents and teachers found that teachers trust parents about as much as they trust their school board. We already have a problem and the proposed legislation will do more harm than good. Leave the door open for parents — parenting is hard enough without laws that make it damn near impossible.