Tennessee Law To Criminalize Parents’ Clothing; Literacy Rate Gets Pass

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 b035a06b-1175-4c73-9086-8c2eaa434f2c-1752-0000012e5e0091b3-3another 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.

“Our state representatives, there are far more issues, more severe issues that they could be tackling, writing bills for,” said parent Dianechia Fields.

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.

5 thoughts on “Tennessee Law To Criminalize Parents’ Clothing; Literacy Rate Gets Pass

  1. hope…, thanks for your comment
    The point of the example legislation proposals in my post is an attempt to highlight things that matter – to me and thousands of TN families. Policing parents’ attire is hardly worthy of the laborious effort to craft legislation and make into law.

    “By the time the students who are failed by the system realize just how badly they have been failed, those who perpetrated the fraud are long long gone.” I agree.

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  2. “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.”

    … but these are not the sorts of things that can be “legislated.” This was the whole idea behind No Child Left Behind, and you see what that gave us.

    When the solitary focus, like a laser beam, is on “eradicating the achievement gap,” as if that’s the only thing that matters, the easiest way to achieve that goal is to stunt the growth of your upper tier kids — and presto, you have shrunk that undesirable achievement gap, in a way that is in fact to nobody’s benefit. We have enough of that stunting happening already, thank you very much. Better is to have all kids improve, but if we have that, then there may always be a gap.

    And how, pray tell, does one make it “against the law for any school to have less than seventy-five percent of its students read at grade level” (what sort of penalty do you propose?), without inviting just some new version of playing fast-and-loose with the stats? TNDOE and MNPS have already shown themselves to be masters at the skewing-the-numbers game. By the time the students who are failed by the system realize just how badly they have been failed, those who perpetrated the fraud are long long gone.

    *what #nonstarters look like

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  3. Hey, Vesia …

    Why my schools always had extensive parent education programs aimed at helping parents acquire the skills needed to do the best job possible …. at one point made it “mandatory” that parents participate (I use that as a cultural expectation not a real mandate). If there are best instructional practices … stands to reasons that their are “best parenting practices.” Classes were provided in English and Spanish. Classes were taught primarily by my social workers and counselors and visiting instructors, but arents taking the class were also selected to teach classes the following year. Classes ranged on “creating a learning compatible home,” “how to set limits,” “reasonable consequences to misbehavior,” “the power of story telling at the dinner table and before bedtime as a teaching tool,” “substance use intervention,” etc. etc. Tried to convince MNPS to do this. Parenting skills is innate for some … acquired for most. You are not good at being a parent just because you are one … just as you at teaching if you are not properly trained and know best practice. You heard me say this during our Report Card days together.

    Hope you are well. Have been enjoying your well written blogs.

    Avi

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    1. AVI, I miss you! Thank you for sharing your leadership experience. I love “cultural expectation not a real mandate.” I believe in the power of strong school leaders to set the tone. And, yes, parents skills don’t come naturally for many of us.

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